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The sun was just setting on the Land of the Living Skies when the Calgary Flames took to the ice at Mosaic Stadium on Friday night.
Almost instantly, the breeze picked up.
The general consensus among the Calgary Flames was that the wind will impact the 2019 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic (8 p.m. MT, CBC, City TV, Sportsnet One, Sportsnet 960 The Fan), regardless of what happens with the temperature and chances of precipitation.
“It seems like the way the wind was going, you’re completely downwind going down one end of the ice and the other end, you’re going right against it,” said Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk. “It’s a factor, for sure.”
Depending on what weather network you consult on a daily basis, some are calling for a mainly cloudy day, zero-degrees Celsius, and wind gusts up to 69 kilometres an hour.
“I don’t remember that from the other one,” said Flames captain Mark Giordano. “For sure one way, you felt it going one way more than the other. But whatever conditions there are, you just deal with them. The message tomorrow is just to keep it simple and go from there.”
Giordano recalls the frigid temperatures of the Flames’ Heritage Classic in 2011 and but said the ice on Friday felt a little better than the cracking ice of a February deep freeze at McMahon Stadium.
“It seems like you’ll be able to make plays out there,” he said. “The puck was sliding, especially at the start. As it went on and on, it got slower and slower and softer. I’m sure with the weather getting a little cooler and the floods and all that, it’ll be good (Saturday) night.”
The Flames captain and Mikael Backlund are the only two members of the Flames leftover from the 2011 team that beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-0 at McMahon Stadium.
“The whole lead-up is what’s special to these games,” Giordano said. “The walking out to the crowd to standing out there doing the anthem. It’s pretty neat. As a young guy, you take it for granted. As you get older, going eight or nine years without playing in one, I’ll take it all in for sure.”
Because this is how they all grew up.
On a sheet of ice. Stars in the sky. Gloves and stick in hand.
All that is missing is Mom or Dad calling them in for dinner.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” said Michael Frolik whose fondest memories are of skating with his brother and father on a lake in Kladno, Czech Republic, and does the same now with his daughters and wife during the holidays. “At Christmas time, we’d always went on and played against each other boys. We’d always scrape the ice and that’s where I learned.”
In theory, the ice should be better than the 2011 game. A wind chill of minus-17 Celsius forced ice crews to break out the hoses and spray the ice — old-school-style — instead of running a Zamboni or Olympia over the top. At the game in 2016, it was a pleasant 10-degrees and sun glare ended up being the problem, delaying puck drop by two hours.
“Usually the ice is not great, but it depends on the weather,” Frolik said. “I don’t know what the prediction is. If it’s cold it should help the ice but we might be a little bit cold. But it’ll be the same for both teams and hopefully, we get the better of it.”
Cam and Kelly Talbot’s twins, Landon and Sloane, were only four days old when he was the Edmonton Oilers starting netminder in the last Heritage Classic in 2016. They just turned three-years-old a week ago and were pumped to experience the team’s family skate immediately after the Flames’ practice.
“We took them to get skates (earlier this week),” said Talbot, now a member of the Calgary Flames. “So, they were excited about that. They understand a bit now and they know they get to go on an airplane and ‘See Dada hockey.'”
Talbot, who’ll be sporting Trevor Kidd-inspired pads, will be backing up starter David Rittich.
Rittich has been planning his gear for a while too, testing out some old school, brown imitation-leather pads earlier this week.
“If you’re going to look 20 or 30 years back, you’re only going to see white pads or brown pads,” Rittich said. “That’s what they used so that’s why I picked the brown.”
Flames head coach Bill Peters was part of the Detroit Red Wings coaching staff when they played the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 1 at Ann Arbor, Mi., before 105,491 fans at Michigan Stadium, the Big House.
The weather made things interesting.
“I remember practising outdoors prior to the game in Ann Arbor and it was virtually impossible,” he said. “The wind and the sun, how bright it was. The goaltenders had the eye black on. Couldn’t see. Guys skating into the wind were struggling and the guys going the other way were flying. Hip flexors and groin (injuries) come into play there, so we had to shorten practice up. So, all of those things come in . . . it’s different, but it’s fun to be a part of.
NHL players are creatures of habit and that goes for the coaches, too.
Peters has plans to keep it simple.
“Usually, there are some things that factor in: weather, snow, it’s an 8’o clock start . . . we really have to enjoy the environment,” he said. “It’s special.”
This will be Talbot’s fifth outdoor game he is involved in after backstopping the Oilers to a 3-0 win over the Jets in 2016. As luck would have it, Talbot was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers prior to the Stadium Series last winter and was on site for the Flyers’ 4-3 overtime win at Lincoln Financial Field.
He was also involved in the back-to-back Stadium Series games in 2014 with the New York Rangers which fell on a Saturday and a Wednesday. The novelty had worn off by mid-week.
But there is still something about strapping on your skates, facing Mother Nature head-on and going for a twirl.
“You don’t get a chance to do this as professionals,” Talbot said. “It’s still fun to go there and play outside. And it makes it that much more fun when there’s 30,000 people in the stand.
“It doesn’t really lose its’ awe.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019