Winnipeg – The day began with a heavy fog blanketing Investors Group Field, but the Sun eventually burned it off in time for the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers Saturday practices to prepare for Sunday’s 2 p.m. Heritage Classic.
Players from both teams were impressed with how well the NHL transformed the home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers into an outdoor rink. And the quality of the playing surface also received an enthusiastic thumbs up from the visitors and home team.
“Well it was fun- I’ve always loved playing out doors,” said Oiles Captain Connor McDavid following a 45 minute workout. “They did a really good job with the ice. It’s honestly really good ice.”
Jets forward Drew Stafford was a member of the Buffalo Sabres when they hosted the 2009 Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium, but wasn’t able to play because of a concussion.
“Yeah it’s cool. (In 2009) I got to be a part of it at least, with the practices and warmups and this and that. Being a part of the festivities and seeing the crowd and trhe response,” said Stafford. “I’m looking forward to it and my family being a part of it as well. But we still have to play a hockey game and that’s the biggest thing.”
Oilers forward Mark Letestu played in the 2011 Winter Classic for the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field during his rookie NHL season and remembers the game being pushed back for 7 hours because of the threat of rain. “The weather sometimes plays a factor. There’s a little bit of rain, humidity, heat.”
And while rain is in the forecast for Saturday night and into early Sunday Morning, the conditions certainly favour a 2 p.m. faceoff as scheduled. And overcast skies would suit Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson just fine. “It’s totally different. The stands aren’t really behind the glass, which makes finding the puck on long shots a little different,” said Hutchinson after the Jets practice. “Obviously it’s a little brighter out there with the sun, so there’s a little bit of an adjustment.”
Winnipeg Head Coach Paul Maurice wouldn’t say whether he’d adjust his lineup to accommodate veterans Mark Stuart and Chris Thorburn who have been healthy scratches for 3 of the first 4 games. “There are for me,” admitted Maurice. “But there also were in the home opener, so I’ve had to mentally deal with that already. Yeah, I’m not giving you the lineup.”