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Wings Classic Journal: Day 3

by Lindsey Ungar / Detroit Red Wings
CHICAGO -- Wednesday was big.

CBC and NBC arrived in full force. Both teams arrived in vintage jerseys. And the stadium — except a few tweaks to the ice overnight — is finally game-ready.

It’s New Year’s Eve and less than 24 hours away from the 2009 Winter Classic.

So I figured, time to step up my wardrobe if I’ll be brushing shoulders with CBC’s Jim Hughson and Elliotte Friedman. I’d been through the Stanley Cup finals in Pittsburgh and walked to Mellon Arena everyday in high-heels, spending upward of 14 hours a day on my feet.

So I showed up at Wrigley Field in dress slacks and pumps, acting like I belonged on “Hockey Night in Canada”.

Less than 10 minutes into the Blackhawks’ practice, I felt very, very stupid.

Wednesday was the coldest day yet – a high of just 20 degrees, and it felt like much less with the wind chill. I couldn’t feel my toes, but I braved another 45 minutes until I thought I might do serious damage to my health.

After cabbing it back to my apartment, I changed into something more practical — jeans, a thick scarf, multiple layers of socks, and toasty UGG boots.

That getup allowed me to survive the elements.

The chill didn’t seem to bother the players much, according to Red Wings equipment manager Paul Boyer. They were prepared (and smart), leveraging NFL-style gear from Reebok, hand and toe warmers.

The bigger challenge is still the clear, sunny skies that blind some areas of the ice, while casting shadows on others. Players are combating this with eye-black, and Red Wings radio play-by-play announcer Ken Kal sported sunglasses when he tested the ice.

But it’s causing different problems for the media. During the practices, CBC was debating where to put their cameras, and if they’d need extra lighting. The photographer next to me complained that for every 200 photos he shot, only one or two were useable due to the ever-changing lighting.

11:30 a.m.: Just one zone in the shade.

1:30 p.m.: All but one zone in the shade.

2:30 p.m.: The entire ice surface was blanketed in darkness.

During the first half of the Red Wings’ practice, the staff was testing every speaker at Wrigley. Imagine watching Nicklas Lidstrom to see if his injured ankle looked OK to the background sound of mic checking “Slashing, hooking, tripping … Detroit, Chicago, 1, 2, 3.”

Over. And over. And over again.

But nothing stopped the players and coaches — or the media — from enjoying the day.

Kris Draper sported a wide smile — while watching the Blackhawks practice and snapping shots with his camera.

Jonathan Toews snuck into the media interview room in a long charcoal coat, gray pants and a ski cap. If people recognized him, you couldn’t tell; he was just chatting with some friends and no one bothered him.

All fun aside, it was the busiest day by far. We had to juggle gearing up for Red Wings’ practice, listening to the Blackhawks press conference, and scarfing down hot dogs all at once. And we learned firsthand today how tough it is to get to the Wrigley locker rooms. For Chicago, it’s just a simple walk across the field, through the dugout, down a staircase, through a tunnel, and up a ramp. Detroit’s a bit tougher – add a couple flights of stairs up and an extra hallway to walk down.

And that’s only to be thrown right into the middle of a mosh pit of players and press that rivals the away locker room at Mellon Arena during the Stanley Cup finals.

One of the things I always did during the playoffs was check out the press box seating chart to see who was covering the event. Besides Chicago, Detroit and national papers, like the New York Times, the only U.S. cities represented here are Boston, Los Angeles and New York.

I’m not sure what the media scene was in Buffalo, but I’m so honored to be a part of it here. It’s started to turn into a blur, and by this time tomorrow I’ll already be in remember-when mode, thinking about going back to my “real job” in the “real world.”

Now it’s off to the official NHL party at the House of Blues downtown. The hours are ticking down until the dream ends again, but I’m going to enjoy every last second — sun, shade, snow, and definitely in very warm boots.

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