Blues get ready for Winter Classic

Hitchcock details outdoor game he set up at a prison

Playing in one of the NHL's outdoor games is becoming an almost annual event for the Chicago Blackhawks, but for all but two members of the St. Louis Blues, Monday's game will be a new experience.

The Winter Classic matchup at Busch Stadium will be the fifth outdoor game for the Blackhawks since 2009. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook each played in the previous four, and Corey Crawford started the last three in goal.
 

Video: Kevin Shattenkirk

Video: Vladimir Tarasenko

Video: Alex Pietrangelo

The only players who will be on the ice for the Blues to have played in an outdoor game are defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who was with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the game against the Detroit Red Wings at the University of Michigan stadium on Jan. 1, 2014, and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who was with Calgary for an outdoor game in 2011.

A third Blues defenseman, Robert Bortuzzo, played for the Pittsburgh Penguins in an outdoor game, but he is on injured reserve and won't play on Monday.

Toews thinks there is at least one area where the extra experience playing outdoors could give the Blackhawks an advantage.

"Sometimes in games, it's not like you get caught looking around but you are still trying to get your bearings," he said after Sunday's practice. "Everything is a little bit different. In hockey you use your peripheral vision a lot too. You don't quite see your teammates, everything's white and it's harder to see in the distance where guys are. That's the kind of thing you have to get used to a little bit."

It also will be the first outdoor game -- at least in the NHL -- for Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who has logged 1,441 regular-season games behind the bench since 1995.

Hitchcock said Sunday he coached an outdoor game before -- against a team of prison inmates years ago when he was coaching in Prince Albert, Canada.

"I had this bright idea that we were going to give back to the community so I organized a game against the inmates," he said. "They were playing for real and we were trying to play for fun. They won.

"It was a lot scarier than the one is going to be tomorrow. Really scary as a matter of fact. We were afraid to score a goal to be honest with you. ... It wasn't one of my brightest ideas."

Hitchcock said being on the ice outdoors on Sunday also was emotional, reminding him of when he was growing up in Edmonton.

"My dad was a caretaker for two outdoor rinks and it just brings you back to the old days," he said. "I told the guys I could be a laborer and they gave me two pieces of wood to carry onto a wheelbarrow, so I did my day's work. It was really neat when I was out there with the workers."

One of the challenges both teams might have to deal with is the weather. Rain is in the forecast, and there is a possibility the game could be delayed or even postponed until Tuesday. An NHL announcement on the game time is scheduled for 8 a.m. Monday.

"That's the fun part about these types of games, all the different kinds of challenges and things that you run into," Keith said. "I like that sort of thing, it's different, it changes it up."

The Blackhawks will be without Marcus Kruger, who was placed on injured reserve on Sunday because of an upper-body injury suffered on Friday night. Jaden Schwartz of the Blues missed practice on Sunday because of illness, but Hitchcock said he is hoping Schwartz will be well enough to play on Monday.

 

 

 


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