“It’s something we did when we were younger, to play outside,” said forward Nicklas Backstrom, who will have family coming from Sweden for the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh on New Years Day. “I’m really excited right now, and I think everybody’s excited.”
Backstrom estimated he was 11 or 12 the last time he played outdoors. He said the area where he lived in Sweden didn’t get an indoor rink till he was 13.
Across the globe, Canadian-born Mike Knuble actually played outdoors as recently as the 2010 Olympic break. Knuble’s mother and father-in-law live on a lake in Michigan, and Knuble said his father-in-law keeps the the rink in shape for when family comes to visit.
“We came home, and, wouldn’t you know it, the sun would come out and just ruined all his work,” Knuble said of last year’s February trip.
Knuble also said he tried to help organize a hockey game for his kid’s team on Heinz Field around the time of the Winter Classic, but he said the NHL wasn’t sure how long the rink could stay up, since the NFL season will still be going on.
The Capitals’ newest forward, D.J. King, said he skated on the pond back in his hometown of Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, at Christmas two years ago. He said the sight of an NHLer on the local pond didn’t create much of a stir then. The Caps’ new tough guy said the Winter Classic was one of the topics that came up when he met some of guys in Washington after being traded there this offseason.
“It’s going to be exciting,,” King said. “I’ve talked to players that have played in it before, and they say it’s one of the best times they ever had – not only the game in itself, but just the buildup and everything around it. They said just soak it all in.”
Knuble took a more realistic approach.
“Cold,” was how he summed up his anticipation. “Wind.”
Playing in the cold won’t be a new experience for current Capital and former Hershey Bears goalie Semyon Varlamov.
“As a kid, I grew up playing outside, kind of getting used to the playing weather in -20 [degrees],” said Varlamov, who will have family traveling from Russia to attend the game.
Forward Eric Fehr, meanwhile, said there was a rink he sometimes played on while with the Capitals’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears that he described as being “outdoor but with a roof.”
“It’s outdoor air – it’s really cold,” Fehr said.
But for playing out in the cold, Jason Chimera may have the biggest bragging rights of all. He was a part of the NHL’s first Heritage Classic in 2003 in Edmonton, where the weather was minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Water pipes on the Zambonis actually froze at times that special Saturday night. It was the success of that game that provided the impetus for the NHL to pursue a game outdoors annually.
“I’ve still got jerseys from it, pucks, and scoresheets,” Chimera said. “You look back on your career – you’re glad you played [in it].”