Pond memories

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:50 PM ET

Any good Canadian kid has returned home from a day spent playing hockey on an outdoor rink and knows the feeling of feet so cold they were stinging in pain.

Moms know the prescription. Feet in water — be it the tub, the sink or a bucket. A cup of hot chocolate helps, too.

That’s not just a Canadian thing.

“Happened to me at least once a week,” Calgary Flames centre Olli Jokinen of Finland recalled with a laugh. “All the time.”

Sunday’s Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium between the Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens is the perfect celebration of Canadiana

Sure, it may be inside a football stadium with artificial ice and 42,000 fans watching, but stripped down, the game is hockey at its core — played in the great outdoors.

Most of the Flames players from Europe have spent more time playing games in fresh air than their North American counterparts.

Canadian kids usually live the luxury of playing nearly all of their organized hockey inside arenas. Outdoors, be it on ponds or rinks, is usually for fun.

When Jokinen was a youngster growing up in Finland, his hometown of Kuopio had just one indoor rink.

“When you were really young, you played indoors usually only once a year, the finals,” said Jokinen, who played games outdoors until he was a teenager. “When I was growing up, not just in my city, but in all of Finland, we didn’t have many indoor rinks.”

Spare time meant playing with friends.

“We’d be there eight, 10 hours a day. We didn’t have Xbox or PlayStation or computers, so we’d be out there playing,” Jokinen said.

Organized games were as much a part of being outdoors as neighbourhood shinny, if not more.

Mikael Backlund’s experience growing up in Sweden was a little different.

He learned to skate indoors on curling rinks. A couple of years later, around the age of six or seven, he played hockey on full-sized rinks, but three games were played simultaneously.

“When we started on full-ice — unless we went to Stockholm — we’d be outdoors,” said Backlund, whose hometown of Vasteras had two indoor rinks. “When it was snowing, we’d have to shovel it. Well … I didn’t have to do it. Our parents did.”

As a teen, he’d also spend time outside on the ice for hours.

“One time, my mom thought I was crazy because I went out when it was -30 C. I wanted to go skating, so I rode my bike to go. I was 13 or 14, skating by myself and shooting pucks,” he remembered with a laugh.

Sound familiar? It should.

And younger brothers became goalies on outdoor ice, too.

“I played with my older brother and his friends, and they put me in the net,” said Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, another Finn. “I enjoy playing outside.

I still do. When we have breaks, I want to go out there and shoot the puck. I still think I’m a 50-goal scorer in the NHL.

“I think that’s what every goalie does.”

He played his share of games outside, too.

“When it would snow, you’d build those walls of snow on the goal-line,” Kiprusoff said with a mischievous grin. “And other teams’ parents would be yelling.”

Outdoors isn’t just for hockey, either.

Finland’s Niklas Hagman has memories of playing bandy, a game like field hockey on ice, as much as playing hockey on outdoor rinks.

“I’d say that’s one game that helped me develop my skating,” Hagman said.

“I was playing hockey but also played bandy. You’d skate with long strides because there was so much room.”

Backup goalie Henrik Karlsson of Sweden will likely be on the bench for this game, but no matter. He played outdoors last season when his Farjestad squad lost 4-1 to Frolunda before 31,144 fans at Ullevi Stadium in Gotheburg.

“It was pretty fun,” Karlsson said. “There were a lot of people.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/RandySportak


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