On Jan 1, 2008 the NHL will hold its second outdoor game. The Heritage Classic brings back those childhood memories of playing outdoors.
Defenseman Craig Rivet played for the Montreal Canadiens in the first outdoor game in 2003.
“It was the first ever NHL game being played outside and it was an incredible atmosphere,” he said. “I think there were about 60,000 people. I think at the time it was - 40 outside, so there were some situations we had to fight but overall it was an amazing experience.”
Although Rivet enjoyed his time out there, the one thing he said about the game: the cold. “We had three huge heaters on our bench. When you got on the bench waiting for your shift, you were sweating and as soon as you hit the ice it was freezing, freezing cold.”
Center Joe Pavelski
also had the opportunity to play in an outdoor game in college while playing for the University of Wisconsin.
“It was on Lambeau Field [he said of playing in the home of the Green Bay Packers], we had 40,000 people and it was awesome. It was a different feeling because the ice isn’t that good but it was fun. All the fans were out in the football stadium field. It was different but it was a great experience.”
Rivet said the game reminded him of simpler times. “It reminded us of when we were young kids, playing around on a pond in the freezing cold. You always seemed to love it.”
Most Canadian-born hockey players learned to play game on ponds around their houses.
“You can’t feel your toes, but it’s great though that you are outdoors,” Sharks defenseman Marc-Eduoard Vlasic said.
The Montreal native had an ice rink in his back yard while growing up. “As a kid you don’t want to go out there because it is too cold,” he said. “You have to put a hat on, the winter gloves plus your helmet and hockey gloves. Indoor is a lot better but it’s a great experience.”
Although Vlasic had a rink and played with his brothers, some of the other players talked about the atmosphere of getting together on the closest pond.
“It was never organized on the pond,” Center Curtis Brown said. “You grabbed whoever was there. If there were two guys, you would just play one-on-one if there were 10 guys you would play five-on-five or anything in between.”
Brown grew up in Saskatchewan and reflected on how there weren’t many outdoor activities one could do in Canada in the winter. Pond hockey was the only option.
“It was like, going to the park like kids do today and playing on the jungle gym,” Brown said. “Sometimes, you used a stick, sometimes you used a puck and you kicked it around with your feet, you did anything to get outdoors and it was a lot of fun.”
Although it may seem like it was all fun and games, Brown feels that he owes a lot of his game to playing pickup games on the ponds. “That is where I started skating,” he said. “That is how we all learned.”
Rivet spoke about how the unorganized play really helped him develop his game. “One of the major factors as to why I am here today is due to just honing the skills,” he said. “You practice the things you don’t normally do in games and you work on them as a young boy. You learn how to skate, shoot pucks, pass and you spend a lot of time on the outdoor rinks.”
How much time did they spend on the outdoor rinks as kids?
“We would wake up on Saturdays and Sundays and we would be outdoors playing basically from 7 o’clock in the morning until 7 o’clock at night and after school,” Rivet recalled. “It was a big part of my childhood.”
“I remember we had bunch of little ponds that my dad or my uncle would clear off and you would go out there and skate,” Brown said. “You put on your skates, your helmet and you’d grab the stick and pair of gloves and you played until the sun went down.”
After taking a walk down memory lane, the players were asked whether or not they would want to participate in an outdoor game.
Most players contested to the cold being a huge factor in their decision.
“I’d do it for sure,” Vlasic said. “I would complain, but I would do it. The main thing for me would be that my feet would be cold but I’d probably do it.”
Brown said “when Montréal played Edmonton (in 2003) it was so cold they didn’t know if they could even get to play the game.”
Brown pointed out how the outdoor experience is so rare and that’s why the outdoor game should be played. “I think it’s like a big football game atmosphere because you can get more fans into that kind of setting.” “It is a unique experience for the fans and players because it doesn’t happen all the time.”
But the only man who has experienced the below zero weather in Edmonton had a different feeling about playing in another outdoor game. “I think the outdoor rinks were fun as a kid,” Rivet said. “But I think that game I played in Edmonton is something that I wouldn’t want to do again. We’ll leave it at that.”