Nicklas Lidstrom was too young, literally, to know any better. Growing up in Sweden, the Red Wings' captain had no choice but to play hockey outdoors until he was a teenager.
"My home team, we only had an outdoor rink," Lidstrom told NHL.com. "We had an indoor rink in the same town (Avesta), but it wasn't our home rink. I played outside until I was 12 years old."
The indoor rink in Avesta belonged to the older kids and adult teams. The younger kids had to brave the elements, but Lidstrom wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, after all these years he still considers it a privilege to play indoors.
"It's a luxury," said Lidstrom, who will play outside once again Jan. 1 in the 2009 Winter Classic (1 p.m. ET, Wrigley Field, NBC, CBC, RDS, XM, NHL Radio). "No wind. It's nice and warm. Good ice. But I didn't know anything better. I just enjoyed playing hockey and it didn't matter where I was playing it."
Hockey is a little different for Lidstrom now. He may still play his home games in an old barn, but Joe Louis Arena is a long way from that outdoor rink in Avesta.
"It was a professionally made rink by the city, funded and taken care of, but at first we didn't have a real Zamboni, so we had to use the shovels and shovel it after practice," Lidstrom said. "They had a small tractor where they put something similar to what they have with the Zamboni now with a pipe with holes in it and the water came out of it. They had a tractor pulling that around, that's why we had to skate with the shovels."
Lidstrom said life is different in Sweden these days. The kids aren't the same as he was back in the 1970s and early 1980s. They're not as entrepreneurial.
"In a way I think everything is easier for them now than what we had growing up and playing," Lidstrom said. "When we were growing up all you wanted to do was play hockey, so it didn't matter if it was indoors or outdoors. Today I think they take it for granted playing indoors and everything that comes with it."
Lidstrom partly is to blame, considering several years ago through the NHL Players' Association's Goals and Dreams Fund he raised $300,000 to put a roof over his former home rink.
However, because of Sweden's association within the NHL, the game has been introduced to thousands of Swedish kids, more than when Lidstrom was growing up, and providing a great facility complete with all the trimmings keeps them coming back.
"I know where I live in the summer they have three rinks, two indoor and the third has a roof and three walls," he said. "They have so many kids playing that they need that third rink."