DENVER – Difficult weather conditions have factored in outdoor games in the past.
Sunshine, wind, snow and rain showers have caused ice melt, visibility issues, and other problems for players in previous outdoor games. But Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Coors Field presented a whole new challenge for the Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche – fake snow squalls.
Heavy winds in the ballpark began to pick up late in the second period but it wasn’t until the start of the third that the problems really began to raise havoc, sending sheets of fake cotton snow swirling through the thin, night air inside the home of Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies.
The cotton was used to cover the field on the outside of the 200x85 foot rink giving the outdoor setting an added winter ambience even as day-time temperatures in Denver hovered in the mid-60s.
“There were a few times during whistle timeouts they had guys come out and get the cotton,” Wings forward Justin Abdelkader said. “I don’t know if it would have really affected (the game) too much unless a bunch blew on the ice. I think there was one time where a good amount blew on the ice but for the most part they did a good job of cleaning up.”
Past games have dealt with winter-weather problems but never gusty winds like Saturday, and certainly not involving cotton.
The start time for the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field was delayed seven hours because of rainy conditions in Pittsburgh. Snow was the culprit for delays at the league’s New Year’s Day spectaculars in Buffalo in 2009 and two years ago in Ann Arbor.
But nobody could have predicted Saturday’s events, though it was highly entertaining for the 50,095 fans, who cheered wildly every time a wind gust picked up large chunks of textile, whipping it through the night sky.
At one point, large swathes of cotton were completely blown off the pitcher’s mound near the penalty boxes.
Asked what he thought about the cotton fiasco, Gustav Nyquist said, “You mean the snow that was flying around? They stopped the play there when there was kind of a blizzard there for a while. Not too bad thought.”
Nyquist’s first goal in 12 games sparked a four-goal third period for the Red Wings, who snapped a six-game road losing streak with a 5-3 comeback victory over the Avalanche.
Aside from the blowing cotton, the stiff winds posed problems for skaters, which led to the league making the determination before the start of the third to have the goalies switch ends at the 10-minute mark of the period.
A similar scenario played out for the Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2009 Winter Classic at windy Wrigley Field.
“Yeah, for sure, you’re feeling it a little bit but both teams had the same stuff so we switched the sides and it works pretty well and I’m happy we won the game,” said Tomas Tatar, who gave the Wings a 1-0 lead at 5:07 of the first period.
Abdelkader said there were times when wind gusts affected his skating.
“It got windy there,” said Abdelkader, whose goal put Detroit up 3-2. “The second half of the game I’d say it really started blowing. It was important for both teams to change sides halfway through because it was a lot different going into the wind.”
Fortunately for the Wings, the wind seemed to be at their back throughout the final 20 minutes.
“When you play events like this, a lot of things happen,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “You have to be prepared for weird stuff to happen. And you have to stay poised. I don't think it really had an effect. … But what a great event. I thought it was awesome. I thought the crowd was awesome. I thought it was a great setting. I was real thankful to be a part of it.”