SUN Hockey Pool

Flames practise on frozen pond

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

No, those water bottles and that bucket on the ice during the Flames practice weren’t replacement pylons used during drills.

They were markers where the outdoor ice at McMahon Stadium had chipped off and left holes, and used to caution players.

“The ice is a lot harder than an indoor arena, so when chunks do come off, they’re some big ones,” said Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr. “It’ll get beat up more with the family skating and the alumni game and that helps to toughen it up, so I think that will be better.”

The Flames and Canadiens must hope the ice improves when the puck drops on the Heritage Classic game Sunday afternoon. The temperature is supposed to warm up by nearly 10 degrees Celsius Sunday, which should cause the ice to soften and help the cause.

Otherwise, there could be problems and major stoppages during the regular-season clash.

But optimism reigns.

“The ice was good,” said Montreal forward Michael Cammalleri. “Your first concern for everybody is safety, and after skating out there, I have no concerns. It was hard. All your edges took well. It was great to skate on.”

“I don’t want to complain too much about anything,” added Habs defenceman P.K. Subban. “It’s easy to find something about it, but that’s not what this event’s about. It’s about going out there and playing the game you love.

“I don’t know how guys tell the difference. I just go out and play. You can tell when it’s brittle or slow, but it was good. It just feels like ice. I don’t go out and study ice. I just go out and play.”

Which is probably the wisest course of action for everybody.

Yeah, the ice may not be perfect — although it can’t be that much worse than what they’ve played on over the years — and the cold weather adds another element, but they’ll find a way to cope.

“You know what, playing on the outdoor rink growing up, this would be a nice day outside,” Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. “Sunny and anything under minus-20, you’d be out there. “I’m a little softer than I was when I was younger. I needed to throw on some stuff.”

Mid-practice, Iginla opted for a toque under his helmet, and then needed to adjust the size  of his lid.

But he still didn’t find the cold too much to take.

“I think we probably won’t need as much in the game as we expected,” he said. “Once you get into it, the benches are warm and you get moving, you don’t need much.”

Players from both teams used their practice time to try different tricks, such as warmers in their skates, balaclavas and ski masks, not to mention multiple layers for the cold.

“This is what you enjoy,” Subban said. “You don’t even want to bundle up too much. You want to feel the cold and get the full grasp of it. You don’t know when you’ll next get the opportunity to play outdoors. I want to enjoy this as much as I can.”

As for the rink, there are differences to contend with.

Neither team truly knows how much pucks will bounce off the boards. Plus, with the rink so far away from the crowd, depth perception can be affected.

“The rink feels smaller, so it makes you feel faster out there,” said Flames defenceman Mark Giordano. “You get from one side to the other quicker. I know you don’t, but it feels that way.”

Another aspect: Shadows.

The bright sun won’t be in play for much of the game, but there will be shadows.

“That’s something we’re not used to,” Regehr admitted. “But once you get into the game and the intensity, you don’t really notice those things too much.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/RandySportak


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