It’s been five years since the Flyers played an NHL game outdoors: the 2012 Winter Classic.
Seems like yesterday, doesn’t it?
Citizens Bank Park. The day after New Year’s. Sun beating down amid 40-degree temperatures and the game being moved back to 3:30 p.m. to assure better ice.
Well, it’s going to happen again Saturday night at Heinz Field as the Flyers meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL’s Stadium Series.
Dave Hakstol’s team will practice Thursday morning at Skate Zone, fly to Pittsburgh, then practice Friday at 5 p.m. on the outdoor ice.
Seven current Flyers played in the 2012 Winter Classic: Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn and Michael Del Zotto, who played for the Rangers.
“It was kinda fun,” Del Zotto said this week. “Wasn’t that when [Danny] Briere had that penalty shot at the end? How much time was left? Couple seconds?”
More than that. There were 19.6 ticks left when Briere was foiled by Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in a 3-2 loss, in which Mike Rupp, of all players, scored twice on Sergei Bobrovsky.
Even worse, the Flyers blew an early 2-0 lead.
“It was a ton of fun, just awesome,” Del Zotto recalled. “You try not to get too hyped up in the moment. That one, our first one and one of the first they had done. So much fun. It bring you back to your roots.
“For me, growing up, I had a backyard rink. I remember it was like yesterday being on that thing. All day every day I had a chance. But we also have to realize it’s a huge game for us. It’s a four-point game. Although it is outdoors or indoors, we need those points.”
Things could be rather wet. For starters, the temperature in Pittsburgh is supposed to hit 77 degrees on Friday. That could severely affect the Penguins skate at 2:30, the Flyers practice later and their family skate, as well.
Then on Saturday, the temperature drops into the low 40s but not before some significant rain. When the Penguins hosted the Washington Capitals in the 2011 Winter Classic, it rained but the ice didn’t melt.
“I'm sure they will do the best they can to have it ready,” Del Zotto said. “Unless it is really cold, the ice is always going to be chippy playing outdoors
“It doesn’t matter what the ice conditions are because both teams are playing with it. It’s not an advantage or disadvantage for either team. Both have to deal with it.”
In all, there are 13 Flyers, who have participated in an outdoor game either in the NHL, AHL, Europe or in college, during their lifetime.
Most of them say the hardest thing to get used to is ocular – looking through the glass and not seeing the fans. It’s like playing in an open environment all around you without people.
“It’s a little bit different, but you get used to it,” Del Zotto said. “After the anthem, you kinda get used to it. From there on, the game is going on and the crowd, you zone them out. You don’t even hear them and just focus on the game.”