Blackhawks anticipate 'surreal' experience at Winter Classic

Blackhawks anticipate 'surreal' experience at Winter Classic
July 20, 2014, 11:30 am
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Nina Falcone

The Chicago Blackhawks are no strangers to outdoor games, and this upcoming season they'll be playing in the biggest one of all: the Winter Classic.

After hosting the Red Wings on New Year's Day back in 2009 at Wrigley Field and playing the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2013-14 campaign at Soldier Field, the Blackhawks have had plenty of recent experiences in the great outdoors. Now they'll get ready to do it on the road when they face off against the Capitals in Washington, D.C.

And while the Blackhawks will have to brave the cold, outdoor elements, they're excited for what's to come.

"[The Stadium Series game] was exciting. We watched some of the prior games, obviously you watch the Winter Classic every year," Ben Smith said at the seventh annual Blackhawks Convention. "Personally, I played one outdoor game in college, so I had a little bit of experience playing at Fenway. It's something that you look forward to and you'll always remember. We're very fortunate to play in another one this year and work through the elements like we did this past March."

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Throughout the Stadium Series game, Soldier Field looked like a snow globe as the weather didn't let up one bit during the duration of the game. 

Luckily the Blackhawks got some practice time in the day before, and that helped them get a taste of the atmosphere for that outdoor game and their games to come.

"It was fantastic, just being out there. Just arriving at the stadium and realizing what kind of weather it was going to be," Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "During the game it was pretty funny actually, I thought it was hilarious to play like that. Tough to explain, but it's surreal. Coming out before the game, seeing all the people there and all the snow coming down. That was definitely one of the most fun games I've ever played. 

"So I'm looking forward to next year, but I don't think it's going to be as fun as it was in Chicago. It's going to be pretty tough to beat, but I'm looking forward to it."

On Sunday morning, Smith and Hjalmarsson also reminisced about the dressing process that takes place for outdoor games.

"We walked into a room where they had all this gear laid out," Smith said. "All this outdoor game gear, so there were turtlenecks, spandex, long leggings, all kinds of stuff for us to choose. So we could pick and choose what we wanted and what we could feel comfortable with. It was nice to have that practice the day before to try things out. So by the time the game came around, we felt comfortable in what we were wearing -- not freezing, not too hot."

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For some of the players, finding that comfort level took longer than others. Hjalmarsson admitted he immediately picked up all the gear he could, just to wind up ditching it before the game.

"When we practiced the day before, I pretty much took all the gear that I found in there," he said. "I realized pretty quickly at practice that it wasn't ideal for actually playing in. I pretty much wore what I usually wear, even when we played outside. You get pretty warm once the game starts. The benches we were sitting on were almost too warm. I got burn marks on my [behind] sitting on those benches."

Ouch.

Now as they head into the 2014-15 season, almost all of the Blackhawks' roster will have experienced playing in an outdoor game. They know what to expect from the weather and the additional elements that come along with it.

But at the end of the day, the players are excited. They've dreamt about getting that chance to play on an outdoor pond in the NHL, and this season they'll be doing it again on the biggest stage of all.

"You're really able to appreciate the atmosphere," Smith said. "Every few minutes we had a chance to really look around and see how cool it was playing at Soldier Field and how many people that were there even thought it was so cold."