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Over the Boards: Equipment staffs gear up for Classic

by Dan Rosen

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The players and coaches have done their share of personal prep work for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, such as securing enough tickets and making sure their families got on the University of Michigan ice to skate.

However, such prep work pales in comparison to the ongoing efforts put forth by the hardest-working guys associated with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings these days.

The equipment managers and their staffs are in charge of making sure every player is comfortable enough to play at a top level and every coach is warm enough to work the bench the way they normally would in an indoor game.

Preparing their teams for the Winter Classic has been the equivalent of a second full-time job for Red Wings equipment manager Paul Boyer and Maple Leafs equipment manager Brian Papineau.

"For the last six weeks, it seems like your main focus is getting ready for this big event," Papineau told as he watched the Maple Leafs practice Tuesday. "As excited as we are to be here and to be a part of it, it will be rewarding when it's over to look back at a lot of good memories."

Papineau is experiencing the Winter Classic for the first time, but Boyer is in his second go-round, having worked the 2009 game at Wrigley Field.

The on-ice competition between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings did not extend to the equipment managers because Boyer said he spoke with Papineau in the weeks leading up the arrival at The Big House to offer guidance based on his prior Winter Classic experience.

"I'm not going to hold out on that," Boyer said. "It's not going to win or lose the game. They play the game out here on the ice."

The Maple Leafs and Red Wings began getting the players ready for the Winter Classic weeks ago, when the respective staffs started outfitting the players with new pants, socks and gloves they will wear during the game Wednesday. The goalies each have new helmets and pads as well.

In addition, Detroit's skaters will be wearing new helmets; Boyer said it would have taken too long for his staff to apply all of the proper decals on the red helmets they will wear after the team played Monday night against the Nashville Predators. Toronto's skaters will be wearing their regular blue helmets with all the Winter Classic decals on them. The Maple Leafs have not played since Sunday.

Boyer said the Red Wings' players practiced in their new equipment for two days earlier this month to break in the equipment. Papineau said his guys started breaking the gear in six weeks ago.

"The biggest thing now is dealing with the cold weather, making sure the players are well-equipped with extra layers of underwear," Papineau said. "Actually, before we left Toronto we had all the guys pick out some cold-weather gear, but now that we're here and it's much colder than what we were hoping for, they've grabbed some extra layers as well."

The forecast is calling for temperature in the mid-teens with the strong potential for snow flurries Wednesday afternoon. The weather is a major factor in how the equipment managers do their jobs.

"It's everything from equipment to getting gear on guys to making sure guys are warm enough to making sure the hollows of the skates are done right," Boyer said. "It all depends on the weather. If it's cold outside, the ice might be brittle, so you want to pull a hollow out and make it shallower, not as deep, so the guy can skate on top of it, not through it. A deeper hollow would shatter the ice apart and then you'd have ice good for margaritas."

Most players commented on how solid the ice was Tuesday, but Papineau said he will have to wait to get more feedback before deciding how he'll need to sharpen skates for the game Wednesday. He also said he's not sure if players will want to have hand warmers inside their gloves, feet warmers inside their skate boots, tinted visors, eye black or balaclavas underneath their helmets.

A balaclava is a cloth headgear that covers everything but the eyes. The mouth can be exposed as well. Several players were wearing them for practice Tuesday.

"It's different things that you just never think of," Papineau said. "Guys will wear them in practice, but sometimes you get to game time and you never know. I think [Phil Kessel] was looking for something to keep his toes warm, but sometimes you put stuff in your skate and it changes your fit."

Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said he will be wearing eye black.

"I remember back to Wrigley Field, I thought it looked kind of silly when guys were doing it, but it does actually help," Kronwall said. "That's definitely something I'll wear."

The equipment managers also have to outfit the coaches. Boyer had the Red Wings coaches wearing collegiate jackets and fedoras at the Winter Classic in 2009, but he said they'll be wearing regular jackets and toques Wednesday.

"I didn't feel there was enough nostalgia in our uniform to bring the fedora back," Boyer said. "The last one we wore was an old Red Wings jersey, and I felt it was a better tie-in, but I didn't want to do the same thing twice."

Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle and his assistants will be outfitted in collegiate jackets and toques, Papineau said. They'll have the option to wear insulated shirts.

"I've talked to other trainers about what they've experienced in the past Winter Classics, and guys all talk about how much prep it is to get ready for it, but they also say make sure you enjoy it because it's quite an event," Papineau said. "We're so fortunate to be a part of it, and it's something I'll always remember."

Venue for 2015 Winter Classic to be named soon

The League is getting closer to naming the venue for the 2015 NHL Winter Classic, which will be hosted by the Washington Capitals, NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins said Tuesday, noting the League has done site visits at FedEx Field, RFK Stadium and Nationals Park.


Ex-NHL coach Paul Maurice, who is working at the Winter Classic for NHL Network, talking about being at the big event for the first time:

"I'm really glad I'm here to take this in. I'm really glad I got invited to cover it. You go on the air, and you want to tell people what's going on in the game, but this is a new experience for me. I had no idea what to pack. I'm wearing a shirt and tie, but I went out and bought some boots. Had I known, I would have brought the ski underwear too. I'm looking forward to it. I really am."

Pierre McGuire talking about what he expects the atmosphere at The Big House to be like from his vantage point between the benches:

"When you just walk down this tunnel and you see the stands empty, I can only envision what it's going to be like with the stands full. I remember Pittsburgh (in 2011) so well, and all the noise just cascaded down on top of you because it was a football environment. I've got to think it's going to be the same, with maybe 40,000 more people here. I think the game will be played at a high pace just because of the caliber of the ice. I think the ice will be really good."

"We're into it now, so I think soon," Collins said. "No timeframe, though. It's important, a priority, and we want to get it done, but it's in the hopper with all the other outdoor games, the Olympics and World Cup talks that we have going on."

Collins said the opponent in the 2015 Winter Classic likely won't be named until around the time the NHL releases the full 2014-15 schedule in June.

"The opponent is something that is ultimately part of the whole scheduling process, so that comes a little later," he said. "We've been announcing the schedule before the [NHL] Draft."

Jaffe completing the Michigan round-tripper

Billy Jaffe, a Michigan alumnus, is covering the Winter Classic as an analyst for NHL Network. Jaffe has already worked three outdoor games with ties to his school.

He was an analyst for the Cold War game on Oct. 6, 2001, at Spartan Stadium between Michigan State and Michigan. Nine years later, he worked The Big Chill at the Big House between the Spartans and Wolverines on Dec. 11, 2010. He also was on the broadcast team that worked the Frozen Diamond Faceoff on Jan. 15, 2012, between Michigan and Ohio State at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

"To have been in the Cold War, when it had never been done before, that was like, 'Whoa,'" Jaffe said. "Then having gone to school at Michigan, having done that game [at Spartan Stadium] and then to come here [Michigan Stadium] for The Big Chill, it was even more 'Whoa.' It went from 74,000 people to 104,000 people. It was awesome."

Jaffe said the buildup to the Winter Classic has a much different feel than any of the previous college outdoor games he worked.

"It's the NHL. It's just bigger," he said. "The Michigan people are very excited to have the NHL people here. They want to see how the NHL is doing things here, so if they want to do it again, they can see how they can do it better. Remember, they didn't put anything on the football field around the rink, but they're looking at that now and thinking that it looks cool."

Jaffe got to interview his former coach, Michigan's Red Berenson, as part of his duties here for NHL Network, and said it's always surreal for him when he gets the chance to control the conversation with Berenson.

"Let's just say I wasn't the most talented player, so I didn't see the ice a lot, but there are two times in my so-called career that I could control it with Red," Jaffe said. "One [was] when I was a linesman in the CCHA, and he was standing behind me and yapping at me because he didn't like the referee's call, and now for the interview here. He is the epitome of what a passionate college hockey and hockey man is about."

Mini ice-resurfacing machines at the Winter Classic

The ice-resurfacing machines that will be used Wednesday are smaller than the normal machines used in indoor rinks. NHL Senior Director of Facilities Operations Dan Craig said he could use the regular machines at The Big House, but he needs to test the smaller machines because he will need them in Los Angeles for the 2014 Coors Light Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25.

Craig said the warmer L.A. climate requires him to build a thinner sheet of ice, likely around an inch and three-quarters, because thinner ice allows him to remove heat from the surface faster. If he used regulation-size resurfacing machines at Dodger Stadium, they could crack the thinner ice.

"It's totally a weight thing," Craig said. "We remove heat. That's refrigeration 101. With a thinner surface, I remove heat faster. I need them here so we can do a good test run here so when we go to Los Angeles and get into a warmer climate, I get that thinner ice surface, can run the machines, and have as good of an ice surface as we have in this type of climate [in Ann Arbor, Mich.]."

'Canadian summer' for one analyst

NBC's Pierre McGuire said the coldest he's been at a Winter Classic was in 2009 at Wrigley Field. He expects to be colder Wednesday at Michigan Stadium, but he's not too concerned considering how cold he was as recently as last week.

"Last week, I was skating in Northern Quebec, in Mont Tremblant," McGuire said. "Mario Lemieux lives not far from me, and I said, 'Come on out and skate.' He says, 'My old bones aren't going out there.' So I went out there, and it was close to minus-30 degrees Celsius. That's cold enough. This is Canadian summer here [in Ann Arbor]."

He was joking because he's aware that the temperature for the game is supposed to be somewhere in the teens with snow flurries. McGuire won't have a heater beside him when he stands between the benches to help Mike 'Doc' Emrick and Eddie Olczyk call the game for NBC, nor will he be wearing feet warmers inside his skates.

McGuire doesn't think the cold is going to affect him during the broadcast, saying he's too excited to let it because the Winter Classic gives him a chance to tell different stories than he normally does during indoor games.

"Part of the reason why is you're not just celebrating the great hockey play, you're celebrating the stories," he said. "Whether it's the fans in the stands, the players on the bench, a heating situation on the bench, a stick snapping because of the cold -- there are just so many different storylines."

This and that

* Red Wings players and Michigan natives Danny DeKeyser and Justin Abdelkader said they have attended one football game at The Big House.

DeKeyser, who is from Macomb, Mich., which is approximately 70 miles from Ann Arbor, attended a game against Illinois before he started going to Western Michigan University. He said he grew up a Wolverines fan, but dropped them quickly when he went to WMU.

Abdelkader, a Muskegon, Mich., native who went to Michigan State, watched his Spartans lose on a last-second field goal.

"But it was pretty neat seeing a game here," Abdelkader said.

* Toronto forward James van Riemsdyk is appearing in his third Winter Classic and hoping for his first win. He played for the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park in 2010 (a 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins) and at Citizens Bank Park in 2012 (a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers).

"The memories will be a lot better if you win the game," van Riemsdyk said. "I haven't won one of these yet, so I'd like to win one."

* Abdelkader said he is planning to watch Michigan State against Stanford in the Rose Bowl after he plays in the Winter Classic on Wednesday. Michigan State is making its first appearance in the Rose Bowl in 26 years.

* The NHL released some interesting numbers associated with the Winter Classic. A few were quite eye-catching, such as the 350 gallons of white paint that was used on the rink at Michigan Stadium, and the 3,000 gallons of coolant used to freeze the rink. The League estimates that the 1,846 people manning the concession stands Wednesday will brew 3,688 gallons of hot chocolate and sell 14,150 hot pretzels and 38,450 hot dogs.


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