Bitter cold, funny hats and lots of extra clothing. That's what Ryan Smyth remembers from the first NHL game played outdoors.
Smyth skated in the Oilers' 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium on Nov. 22, 2003. The players and the 57,167 parka-clad fans endured a wind chill of minus 4 degrees.
``It was so cold, the ice would chip away,'' Smyth told The Canadian Press. ``Chunks of ice would come out.''
Milder weather is forecast for the NHL's second outdoor game, the Winter Classic on New Year's Day between the host Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 70,000-seat Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. The forecast calls for 32-degree temperatures with a 40 percent chance of snow.
Smyth, now a forward for the Colorado Avalanche, says players will have to wear warmer clothes and make a quick adjustment to the tougher skating and passing conditions.
``A couple of times they had to patch (the ice) up along the boards,'' he said. ``And the ruts were deeper. But guys adapted. And it was the same for both teams.''
One concern is that rain could turn the ice to mush. The league can postpone the game until Wednesday if there is inclement weather.
For tips on playing outdoors, the Oilers' trainers picked the brains of Commonwealth Stadium's main tenant, the Eskimos of the Canadian Football League. That produced knitted headgear that covered the face and neck.
``We had balaclavas on our heads to protect our ears and stuff,'' Smyth said.
Montreal goalie Jose Theodore, now Smyth's teammate in Colorado, wore a Canadiens knit cap on top of his mask.
In Edmonton, the benches were heated, which provided relief from the cold but created another problem.
``It was so hot on our bench, you couldn't acclimatize,'' Smyth said. ``You'd go from really cold to really hot.''
Between the ice and the extra clothing, puck-handling was a challenge.
``Passes are a lot tougher,'' he said. ``You have to keep it simple.''
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