There is no one in the NHL who can speak with greater authority on this event than Conklin, who has played every minute of both previous outdoor NHL games: the 2003 Heritage Classic in Edmonton, and the 2008 Winter Classic in Buffalo.
He will become the only NHL player to have dressed in all three games. He withstood minus-30 Celsius widchill temperatures in Edmonton in a 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. He turned aside 36 shots lasy year in Pittsburgh's 2-1 shootout win in the snow against the SabresQUESTION:
What were some of the things that you figured out so far on this swing?TY CONKLIN:
It's a lot easier to play when it's not minus 20. You know, they were both neat and they are both a lot different to be honest with you. I think the one in Edmonton, as well, was really cold. Tough conditions.
You know, everything was so new, I think that -- I think what gets lost a lot of times is that there's actually two points available. This game is -- you know, Chicago is not far behind us right now. They are not far back, and they are playing as good as anybody these days. That's going to be an important game, and it's going to be an important two points, too. I think that's something that gets lost a bit.
I think it might have got lost a little bit in Edmonton, just because it was so new and so much was made out of it. I think those two points were a little bit closer on everybody's mind when we played Buffalo last year. Q:
Do you have guys coming up to you asking for advice? CONKLIN:
No, I can't explain to anybody how to stick-handle in the cold and when the ice is a little bit choppy. I'll leave that up to them.
I think the thing that's difficult is the guys that have the hardest job are the equipment guys. Paul Boyer is going to have a hard job, because you never know what kind of weather you are going to get. It could be 35 degrees, nice and sunny day, or it could be, you know, minus ten and the wind could be blowing 20 miles an hour. You have to prepare for a lot of different elements. Q:
Which goalie inspires you to become an NHL goalkeeper? CONKLIN:
Well, I have to say probably growing up, my two favorite goalies growing up were -- I think first one was probably Grant Fuhr. I guess I started watching the NHL a little bit more closely when Edmonton was so good back in the 80s.
And then probably Ed Belfour; I became kind of a Chicago sports fan. Growing up in Alaska, didn't have a hometown team so kind of adopted Chicago as my team. Those would be the two guys that I looked up to a lot. Q:
Following your 2006 playoff relief game, being the third man in Columbus and, a brief appearance in Buffalo, did you have thoughts on leaving the NHL, and what have you learned from those experiences? CONKLIN:
No, I never had any thoughts of leaving the NHL. I think it helped me to be honest with you.
I had one tough year in Edmonton, where I didn't play well. And you know, things really did not go well for me there. And I knew I would have to kind of prove that I belonged to this league again and know that was going to take playing well, and also getting a break. And I got a break last year.
I felt like I played well the previous years, but you know, I think that most guys have a down time here and there, and mine was capped off a little more spectacularly than some guys, but other than that, I felt the last couple of years I've been playing pretty well, and I knew it was just going to take a break here and there and I got that break in Pittsburgh last year. Q:
During your days in Columbus and in talks with the goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk, he had some good words in regards of your attitude and your desire to get another opportunity in the NHL. Which persons do you credit for helping you technically and mentally to succeed in your quest for that second chance and off-course for your outstanding season in Pittsburgh? CONKLIN:
I've been really lucky. I've had a lot of good goalie coaches, I had Pete Peeters in Edmonton and before that and Jim Corsi in Buffalo, but for a short amount of time and he helped me out quite a bit. Gilles Meloche was great last year in Pittsburgh. And obviously I have Jim Bedard, who I think is a great goalie coach here.
All of those guys were very supportive, not only working on the technical side of the game, but sometimes you just need guys who play and who understand a position, and all of these guys have and understand that it's different than being a forward or defenseman. There's different ways and approaches to everybody.
I've had lots of help along the way. Q:
As a goalie in these outdoor games, and especially as a goalie for the Red Wings, there are lot of times where you can stand in the front end and not see any action. How do you say warm and loose in the cold temperatures? CONKLIN:
That's a good question. Actually, this is kind of the way the game went in the first outdoor game in Edmonton where I think we carried the play -- we carried the play for most of the game, I thought, and certainly for the first period we did.
Yeah, it gets tough. I've got used to going ten or 15 minutes, where most of the play was at the other end of the ice, the majority of the time here in Detroit and that's part of the job here. You know, there's some nights where you're not going to get a whole lot of action, and I think seeing 20 to 25 shots is a lot different than seeing 30 to 35 shots. You have to do different things to stay involved in the game and to keep yourself sharp mentally.
I'm sure that will -- staying warm will be another challenge. Q:
Are there any other measures you can take without inhibiting your flexibility and equipment? CONKLIN:
No, I think you can probably wear some different stuff underneath your gear. But that was the nice thing about the outdoor game last year was the temperature was high enough where you could actually get a sweat going. In Edmonton, it was, for me, anyway I couldn't even get a sweat going; it was just too cold.
But that's something that hopefully, you know, it won't be minus-20 and guys can feel good on the ice.
Once you get moving, the cold doesn't quite become quite the issue that it would normally, especially when you get the game going and you get a little bit of adrenaline going, too. It becomes a little bit more indoor hockey than you think. Q:
You could be dealing with the famous Chicago winds. CONKLIN:
Yeah, you never know what you're going to get. It could be a 35-degree sunny day, too. But like I said earlier, the guy with the toughest job is the equipment guys where they have to prepare for all that stuff. Q:
You've joined a team that doesn't tend to fight a lot or get into a lot of fights. I was wondering how that sort of affects the pace of the games, if there any kind of a difference. CONKLIN:
Well, I think that there is a difference between our teams and most teams. I think teams go into it knowing that, you know, it's not going to be -- it's a physical game still with us. We have plenty of physical players, but we just don't have a whole lot of guys that, you know, I just don't think that's part of our game plan. You know, there are some teams that you know they feel that they get an advantage if they can intimidate the other team, and we just don't have guys -- the guys are not intimidated out there and we don't feel like that's part of our game plan. You know, you can still play hard between the whistles and then go about your business after. Q:
You're playing with a lot of Swedes right now, who would you say is the best one you play with? CONKLIN:
There's plenty of good Swedes on this team. Obviously Nick Lidstrom is as good of a player as I've ever played with. But Nick and Hank (Zetterberg), I mean, all of the Swedes on our team are some of the biggest leaders on our team, which I guess, you know, a little bit different. Usually it's North Americans that a lot of people consider the leaders, but on our team everybody looks up to guys like Nick. Q:
Who would you say is the hardest one playing against, who is the best sniper? CONKLIN:
Homer has got a really good shot. Obviously Mule has a good shot. They are all good. They are all tough to stop. I'm glad I'm playing with them to be honest with you. Q:
It strikes me that even though you grew up in an outdoor habitat, you may not have played a total of three outdoor games growing up that actually mattered; have you, and when? CONKLIN:
No, I think probably the last outdoor game I played before Edmonton, I was probably a Squirt or something, a Squirt or a Mite.
Think when I was younger obviously we did play a lot -- I played a lot of games outdoors. Probably the majority of the games I played were outdoors when I was seven eight, nine, 10 -years-old, and once you get about 10-years-old, I don't know if I played another outdoor game.
I know when I was nine or 10, we went to Russia and we played two games outdoors there, and just got spanked. Q:
On the big ice? CONKLIN:
I can't even remember if the ice was big or not. They shoveled it off between periods. This is when it was still Communist. It was in '87 maybe or something like that. So it was quite an experience for a bunch of 10-year-olds. Q:
Are you aware, too, that you are the only guy to play all three and but you're the only guy to have made the conference finals? CONKLIN:
In each year, and I expect you are expecting to make it four in a row? CONKLIN:
I hope so. Q:
When I look at your playing record, every team you play on, is in a hockey or northern city. CONKLIN:
It is. And my wife looks at me a little funny every year. I don't think she expects to play anywhere warm.
You know what, it's tough in December. It would be tough for me in December to go playing when there's no snow on the ground. That's something I've always been used to and it would be something really different. I've been lucky in the places I've played, not only hockey-wise, but weather-wise. Hockey cities in general with the way people follow the team and the excitement the team brings to the city. Q:
I'm from the Detroit area, so I've got some experience; No. 1, when you joined the team, I know you didn't expect to necessarily be the No. 1 goaltender around this time of the year, but can you talk a little about the experience of playing goal in Detroit with the fan base here with the way they kind of expect a lot out of that position, and also, the second part of that question is: What on earth makes someone want to be a goaltender to begin with? CONKLIN:
Well, you know, as far as the expectations here, I think there's expectations everywhere. And I think the expectations usually revolve around a team and how the team does. I know that, in our locker room, nobody is asking the goalies to stop everything. Nobody is asking them to steal games.
I think no one would ever argue with you if you did. And I think everybody expects you just to do your job just like everybody expects the guy sitting next to him to do his job here.
It's very much -- people have the same expectations for goalies they do as a player, just to play hard and show up every day and play well and do what you're supposed to do and you don't have to step outside yourself too much. And that's something that you know, it makes it a lot easier to perform.
As far as -- what was the second part of the question? Why would anybody be a goalie? Q:
That's a good question. I haven't answered that myself yet. I started out just taking shots for my brother in the basement, and he's actually younger than me.
So it was a little different than what usually happens. Usually it's the younger brother that gets stuck at goal and my dad and brother would shoot tennis balls at me in the basement, and I asked my coach to play goalie one day and I've been there ever since.
I don't know what it was about me that got -- that I was drawn to playing goal, but I liked it right away. Q:
I wanted to ask you, when you see a goaltender like Chris Osgood, who has quite a resumé behind him, when you see him struggling like this, and I know that he's not playing to the capabilities that he feels he should be playing at, how do you as another goaltender deal with that? Do you guys talk about that or is there kind of an unwritten rule between goalies that you try not to give each other advice? CONKLIN:
Well, to begin with, I have a hard time sometimes when everybody looks at Chris's numbers. The numbers that count are the wins, and the guy has lost only two games in regulation this year. I think he's played 19 games and is 12-2-4 or 5, or something like that. He's doing the job. He's getting wins. Especially early he didn't have a whole lot of the puck, and I think it affected his numbers and especially lately he's been playing really well and he's been fighting through that groin injury a little bit. I've been there, and I've tried to play through groin injuries, and it's tough. You just can't do the things that you normally want to do.
And he was playing very well before last week when -- before he had to take a couple days off. So I think that once he gets healthy, he's going to continue to win, too. Q:
Going back and asking about some of these cold weather places did you well, you would have had the option to go to the Canadian Juniors, but you went the ASHL, and then New Hampshire for three years of college play. All of your games were close, close games and we've talked about this before, the tension of it, and I was wondering how it helps you. For a first-place team like Detroit, and as you said you've played in leading teams and going to the finals before. How did that college preparation help you? CONKLIN:
To be honest with you, I don't think I ever would have played hockey at the NHL level if I had not played college. I was a little bit of a late bloomer to be honest I didn't get to college until I was 20 or 21.
But then my first year when I was a freshman, I had to sit out the year, so I was able to mature kind of at my own pace a little bit more than I would have been otherwise, and I think that helped me as much as anything coming out of college, I was 24, and most guys are 19 or 20 years old when they come out of college.
I lived on my own for by then, probably eight years, seven, eight years, so I think I got past the -- taking care of myself and feeding myself and all that stuff. So it was a little bit more of a seamless entry for me into professional hockey.