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NHL Heritage Classic

Laine eager to create new memories with Jets at Heritage Classic

Forward loved playing outdoors growing up, cherishing chance to do it again

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- When Patrik Laine steps on the ice for the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic, the Winnipeg Jets may have a hard time getting him to come off.

The 21-year-old forward not only loves to play hockey outside, he said it was all he wanted to do growing up in Tampere, Finland.

"We didn't care about the time," Laine said. "We just wanted to play for five hours or more. Playing was everything. It always [disappointed] you when you had to go home to eat."

Laine will have to take a few line changes and likely have a meal when the Jets play the Calgary Flames outdoors at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN1, CITY, TVAS2, NHL.TV), but no doubt memories of his childhood will come rushing back. 

Laine said nothing could stop him and his friends, including brothers Niko and Aleksi Ojala, from playing in driveways, streets and outdoor rinks during winter. 

"You could play when it snowed or no matter how cold it was," Laine said. "You just put more clothes on. But you could play no matter what the weather. It's such a different atmosphere compared to playing inside.

"Outside is more natural and anybody can play. You didn't need to be anybody to play. So many kids haven't played inside, maybe on a team, but you can go outside and play whenever you want. And that's why it was the most fun."

The location varied regularly with Laine and the Ojala brothers -- Niko was the same age and Aleksi was two years older -- but there was rarely a day without outdoor hockey.

"With a bike they lived five minutes from where I lived, so we always played somewhere," Laine said. "It was always changing, sometimes at my friends' house, sometimes at mine. Everybody had a net and a driveway so we could play. So it was always playing after school every day, pretending we were actual players and going against each other."

Laine couldn't remember which Finnish League players he pretended to be, but he recalls going in net when needed. 

"I played a lot as a goalie," Laine said. "We were always changing. One of us had to be the goalie. It was a lot of fun."

Maybe once or twice a week, the friends went farther afield to play on outdoor ice.

"The one that was always there, it was downtown, so maybe 30 minutes from where we lived," Laine said. "It was farther, so you didn't want to go there every day or have the chance to.

"We liked the ice, but you had to plan it beforehand, that everybody knew before that today was the day for the outdoor rink to play. I remember another rink we went to, walked through a small forest, that was cool, but it wasn't always there if the weather wasn't cold enough because it was all-natural ice."

The Heritage Classic will be the second outdoor game in the NHL for Laine, the No. 2 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft who has 196 points (113 goals, 83 assists) in 247 NHL games. He played for the Jets in the Heritage Classic at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, a game won 3-0 by the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 23, 2016.

"It was great, my first actual game outside," Laine said. "It was a big deal. The whole experience was great and that alumni game the night before was awesome. 

"That game was only my fifth NHL game, and it was pretty cool. Hopefully we'll get a better result this time."

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