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NHL Heritage Classic

Tkachuk relishes opportunity to play Heritage Classic with Flames

Forward raised in Arizona says outdoor game against Jets will be 'great experience'

by Aaron Vickers / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

CALGARY -- Matthew Tkachuk is excited for the chance to take his game outside when the Calgary Flames play the Winnipeg Jets at the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN1, CITY, TVAS2, NHL.TV).

The Flames forward wasn't afforded that option all that often when he was younger. 

There wasn't much outdoor ice in Arizona, after all. 

 

[RELATED: Complete NHL Heritage Classic coverage]

 

"To say the least," said Tkachuk, who was born in Scottsdale. 

"I think the first time I ever actually went for an outdoor skate was our team, the US [National Team Development Program], either the U17 or U18 team. It was snowing in the winter. We had guys from all over the country. Some from Arizona. Some guys from down south who had never seen snow. It was snowing crazy one day and we had four or five guys and we all went out and played one day. I think it was a Monday. It was awesome. That was probably my first. 

"But nothing growing up."

The 21-year-old's lack of pond hockey will make his first outdoor game in the NHL that much sweeter. 

"I think it'll be loud and it'll be fun," Tkachuk said. "Hopefully it won't be too cold. But it'll be a great experience. Not many people can say they've played outdoors. It'll be fun."

Video: Mosaic Stadium gets set for 2019 Heritage Classic

The 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic will be the first outdoor game in a non-NHL Canadian city, and 28th NHL regular-season outdoor game.

It'll be the second for Calgary captain Mark Giordano. 

He was in the lineup when the Flames defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-0 in front of 41,022 fans at McMahon Stadium in Calgary in the Heritage Classic on February 20, 2011. 

"It was really cold that day," Giordano said. "But the atmosphere was great. It's a pretty cool event. Any time you play in an event like that you've got to enjoy it and take a second to really look around and realize where you are. It'll be a fun one. It'll be cool."

It'll be a throwback of sorts for Giordano, who did get the opportunity growing up to hit the frozen ponds and outdoor rinks in and around Toronto. 

Unlike Tkachuk, Giordano always had options. 

"Me and my cousins lived right next door to each other," Giordano said. "We used to always play in the backyard. We had some ice in the backyard. The local park always had a rink. There was no shortage. Wherever we could find ice we were always playing there. I even remember growing up we had some outdoor practices with our AA and AAA teams in Toronto. 

"Honestly, you remember growing up playing ball hockey in the street outside, and then when it was time for ice and the ice came in, you're always there."

Defenseman Rasmus Andersson had to pick his spots a little more than Giordano but had better success than Tkachuk. 

Growing up in Malmö, Sweden, and on the Öresund Strait, the oceanic climate didn't lend itself much to pond hockey. The average low in December would be 33.3 degrees Fahrenheit. January, at 29.5 degrees, and February, at 29.3 degrees, weren't much cooler. 

Andersson still found a way to play, though.

Sort of.

"My dad grew up six hours away from where we lived," Andersson said of Örebro, Sweden.

"There's a sport in Sweden called bandy. They had a soccer field as an outdoor rink. We skated there, me and my dad and my brother a few times. Just skating around. It's amazing how you feel like when you skate on that big of ice, you almost feel like you're free and there's nothing around you. There's 50 kids out there, but the ice surface is so big. You just wheel around.

"It's something when you get to play outdoors, you look back on it and you had no worries in the world. You just enjoyed your friends. I'd be there with my best friends. We'd have a lot of fun."

The ice surface won't be quite the same in Regina, but it might offer a similar feeling as Andersson, Giordano and Tkachuk get set to return outdoors.

"It'll be exciting. It'll be fun," Andersson said.

"I hope there will be a lot of Flames fans, that's for sure. It'll be a good experience. Playing outdoors, it'll be my first time and it'll be a memory for sure. It'll be a lot of fun."

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