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NHL Stadium Series

Capitals, Maple Leafs cope with winds of change

Both teams unable to practice on outdoor rink due to gusts, but can't wait to soak up electric atmosphere

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Because of the windy conditions, the Washington Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs weren't able to hold practices or morning skates at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium prior to the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVAS, NHL.TV).

That means the first time either team will have a chance to check out the ice and boards for the outdoor game will be during pre-game warmups.

"It definitely is weird," Maple Leafs center Zach Hyman said. "We've been in this [locker] room twice now. I don't think I've walked up to the ice surface, yet. I've just seen it from afar. Maybe it's a little more exciting because you're just anxious to get out there and feel the ice and see everything. But it'll be cool, the first time I step out there, there will be fans in the stands and it should be rocking."

This will be the third outdoor game for each team. The Capitals defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field and defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Nationals Park.


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The Maple Leafs defeated the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout in the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium and won 5-4 in overtime against the Red Wings in the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.

In those games, the players had an opportunity to practice on the ice. Many of the players got their first look at the setup at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday morning.

The players plan to do some looking around to take in the atmosphere at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, which is a little smaller than most of the previous venues to host NHL outdoor games with a capacity of 34,000. The field is transformed to look like an aircraft carrier with an ice rink on its deck.

"I've been here for football and it's fabulous," Trotz said. "So, I'm looking forward to seeing what the NHL has put together. You stand from the top seats and you look at the rink and it's pretty impressive, and it's going to look a lot more impressive by 8 o' clock tonight. This game is special, it's at a special place and you're having two really good teams."

In warmups, each team will try get a feel for the ice and see how the puck bounces off the boards. 

"Usually they're pretty dead," said Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk, who will play in his fifth NHL outdoor game. "It's usually the same boards they use for all the [outdoor] games. You try to get a feel for the ice and a little bit of depth perception and stuff like that."

The wind had died down considerably from Friday and is expected to further subside in time for the opening faceoff, but gusts might still be a factor, particularly if players try to flip the puck up in the air.

"I was thinking about that," van Riemsdyk said. "In today's NHL, there's a lot of that that goes on, so it could be one of those things you've got to watch when you get a gust. You flip it out of your zone and it could be back towards your net or shooting out over the [glass] on the other end."

The ice conditions were a big topic of conversation because the rink has yet to be skated on, but Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said in his previous two outdoor games the ice was better than most arenas.

"Whoever does the ice here is good. They're really good," Niskanen said. "I wish they could work in more buildings in the League. The [game] at Nats Park and [the 2014 Coors Light Stadium Series against the Chicago Blackhawks] at Soldier Field, the ice was awesome there too, minus the snow on top of it. It's just going to be wind, I don't think the ice is going to be a problem."

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin expects the teams to play it safe in the first 10 minutes so they can get used to the conditions. But that won't take away from the experience of playing in this special setting.

"I always have fun," said Ovechkin, who will play in his third outdoor game. "It doesn't matter that the ice is bad, the atmosphere is unbelievable. You have energy from the fans and you go and play."

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