Panthers forward Radek Dvorak has experience playing outdoors in an NHL game. Dvorak played for the Edmonton Oilers in the Heritage Classic on November 22nd, 2003. (Getty Images)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
Panther forwards Radek Dvorak and Richard Zednik have a good idea of the conditions the Sabres and Penguins will face Tuesday when they play before a crowd of more than 70,000 at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium in the NHL Winter Classic.
That’s because both Dvorak and Zednik helped make history back on Nov. 22, 2003 when they played in the NHL’s first outdoor game.
Zednik, then with the Canadiens, and Dvorak, playing for the Oilers, played opposite one another in the Heritage Classic before a crowd of 57,167 at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.
“A great experience,” is how Dvorak recalled that afternoon.
One Zednik said he’d do all over again. “But not at minus 20 degrees,” he said with a laugh.
While the Sabres and Penguins are looking at temperatures in the low 30’s with a chance of rain and/or snow showers, the Canadiens and Oilers played the Heritage Classic in freezing temperatures with wind chill at minus 19 degrees.
“I just remember it was freezing,” said Zednik, who scored the first and winning goal in Montreal’s 4-3 victory. “It was so cold I remember you could only stay on the ice for 30 seconds and then you’d have to change because of you’re breathing. It was pretty hard.
“But then when you went to the bench it was too hot because they had these big tubes with hot air on the bench hitting you. It was difficult to deal with.”
To stay warm, Dvorak recalled; “You had protection with special (clothes) under your uniform and special underwear.”
Montreal goalie Jose Theadore wore a ski cap atop his helmet as fans watched through fogging eyeglasses while holding cups with icicles.
Dvorak said it was hard adjusting to the ice – “Every time you made a turn your skates came out” – and basic equipment.
“When you have cold like that your stick is harder so when someone slashes you or something it feels like metal,” he recalled.
“You feel everything in that cold,” Zednik agreed. “Even the skates felt different. The stick felt different. Everything felt like it was going to crack.”
Despite the cold, Zednik and Dvorak said playing outdoors was a great experience. It’s also very rare.
Only 47 current NHL players have played in the three previous outdoor games: the Heritage Classic in 2003, the 2001 Michigan – Michigan State “Cold War’ at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, and the 2006 Wisconsin – Ohio State ‘Frozen Tundra Classic’ at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The Winter Classic will be broadcast on NBC-TV beginning at 1 p.m.