"I told him our kids will play their kids. He said, 'Well, our kids are Toews and Kane, so I think that's going to be one-sided.'" - Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, talking about a conversation with Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville
Live the experience and enjoy it, but don't change a thing because of it.
That is the advice Pittsburgh Penguins coach Michel Therrien would offer Detroit's Mike Babcock and Chicago's Joel Quenneville if the men preparing to coach in the 2009 Winter Classic called him today.
"From our standpoint it was perfect," Therrien told NHL.com. "After everything was done and you're going home the next day, you're just like, 'Wow, that was something special.' "
Babcock and Quenneville aren't there yet. They don't even want to talk about the Winter Classic because there still are a handful of games to play before the calendar turns to 2009, including a big one in Detroit two nights before the big day.
"I haven't talked to anybody about it," Babcock told NHL.com. "I know it's on the schedule and we'll get to it here in the next couple of weeks, but I haven't gotten to it yet."
Oh, but he's thinking about it. He can't wait for it. Neither can Quenneville. Neither can anyone associated with the two clubs or the NHL.
Wrigley Field in the dead of winter. A specially constructed hockey rink covering the legendary baseball diamond. Ice hanging off the ivy. Hopefully snow falling from the frozen sky. An Original Six matchup. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg.
Yes, the romanticism surrounding the 2009 NHL Winter Classic runs deep. All you have to do is watch the commercial, with Harry Caray singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," to understand that.
The coaches, stoic as they may be about a game that still is a battle for two points, aren't immune to the love affair.
"I'm excited about it," Quenneville told NHL.com. "We all have that on our calendars. It should make for a great day. Everybody wants to come out for the game. There is a lot of talk about it everywhere. It'll be a privilege to be a part of it."
How, though, do you coach in such a game?
Well, Babcock said, first you have to remember the rink dimensions are the same, 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. The lines and faceoff circles all will be in the same places. The goals are the same.
"It is going to be played on ice and it is going to be in a rink," Babcock said. "So to me, all of that part is going to be pretty straightforward."
Everything else, though, is a mystery, which is why Therrien believes you can't change anything in your preparation. Treat it like a normal game and adjust on the fly, he said.
"How windy is it going to be and how much is it going to snow?" Babcock asked rhetorically. "I don't know the answers to those questions, but it's going to be the same for both teams.
"I know our players watched it before our game last year and it was such a nice setting, with the snow coming down when they came out of the runway, and yet it ended up being a hockey game and it was a lot of fun."
If Quenneville has any surprises up his sleeve, he's not dishing.
"I'm not going to approach it any differently," he said. "We always put our lineup out there that we feel gives us the best chance to win. That's our approach."
Therrien said Babcock and Quenneville should expect a slower game, especially if it snows. It basically was a blizzard in Buffalo last season and the League had to add extra stoppages to clean and patch the ice.
"The pace of the game is a bit slower, but the game remained a game," Therrien said. "It's more like a childhood game. A lot of those guys played outside when they were young and that's why it was a great experience, to see the fans and everyone involved. The thing I do remember is the pace is slower than the usual pace that we play."
Babcock believes game day "is going to be exhilarating," but one of the greatest thrills for his team could come the day before, when, after the Red Wings practice at Wrigley Field, the players will bring their families out for a community skate.
"Kris Draper talked to me about it already," Babcock said. "He's thrilled about getting on the ice with his kids."
In joking with Quenneville recently, Babcock issued a challenge.
"I told him our kids will play their kids," Babcock said. "He said, 'Well, our kids are Toews and Kane, so I think that's going to be one-sided.'
"When you coach a veteran team like I do that has been through a lot of stuff, sometimes it's pretty hard to get them excited," Babcock added. "On the other side, Chicago, they're kids so they're always excited, whereas this will be exciting for our players, too. It will almost be like playoffs. It's something different. It's not Groundhog Day. That's a great thing for us."
For everybody, in fact.
"Let's just hope it snows and it's cold," Quenneville said.
Indeed.Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer