International Ice Hockey Federation

Something’s in the air

Something’s in the air

Host USA prepares for outdoor clash with Canada

Published 28.12.2017 09:41 GMT-5 | Author Martin Merk
Something’s in the air
BUFFALO, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 27: USA's Dylan Samberg #12 walks to the ice surface for practice at New Era Field prior to Team USA's outdoor game against Canada at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Team USA plays its second game against Slovakia today. But yesterday the team already got some fresh air at the New Era Field before tomorrow’s outdoor game.

The Canada vs. USA match-up on Friday will be the first game in contemporary history of an IIHF top-level championship that will be played outdoors. And it will be the second in recent decades played in a football stadium. The USA-Germany opening game of the 2010 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship was played in a covered stadium in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. The 77,803 fans set an attendance world record for a hockey game at that time.

The game at 3 pm on Friday will be a unique experience for the young players and the fans. It will be a “winter classic” with the temperature forecast not warmer than 18°F (-8°C) during the day.

“It’s a cool experience for me. I’ve never played outdoors, especially not in a stadium like this. I’m ready to go and I’m excited to play,” said Max Jones after the first practice.

“You have to deal with some adversity there [because of the cold] but in the end it’s just another hockey game. You’re still working with the same system and want to score goals.”

A lot of fun is what defenceman Ryan Lindgren called the first practice. “Obviously it was a bit cold out there but we all enjoyed it. It was just a blast out there. I’m from Minnesota, so it’s kind of being thrown back to that. We were just excited to go out there. I think the ice was great and they’re going to work on the ice so it will be even better for the game,” he said.

The team had a break to let the ice technicians get their work done, while the players changed into their special football-inspired outdoor-game jerseys to take some commemorative photos on the ice with their loved ones.

“It was really special. I have my brother here, my grandpa, my cousin, my uncle, my mum and dad. It’s really special to get pictures with them and share the moment with them,” Lindgren said. “It was really cool for them to go onto the ice.”

For these teams, it will be the first rematch since the Americans beat Canada in Montreal for gold one year ago. The Team USA players hope to continue their winning ways against a Canadian team that has impressed in Buffalo so far.

“We want to use this kind of crowd to our advantage. But our focus is just the five guys on the ice and the goalie. When we’re on the ice, it doesn’t feel that cold, and we had a lot of fun. There’s always going to be a lot of intensity in a U.S.-Canada game. It’s going to be exciting. But we focus on each game, and first we have to focus on Slovakia,” said Kieffer Bellows.

For Casey Mittelstadt, it will be a special event, as the Minnesotan was the Buffalo Sabres’ first-round pick earlier this year. After getting a chance to play at the Sabres’ home arena with Team USA, he will now play at Buffalo’s NFL stadium even before his first NHL game.

“It’s cool to be out there and the Bills stuff is really cool, being able to play in the Bills’ stadium,” the 19-year-old centre said.

“It was a fast practice. We enjoyed some cold air outside. The first thing you notice is the wind in your face. It’s definitely a chilly breeze, but it feels refreshing and good. Both teams are going to be out there in the same element. But once you get your gear on, it’s not that bad.”

In his first year at the University of Minnesota, Mittelstadt previously played an outdoor game last winter with his high school team in Stillwater, Minnesota.

“It was one of my favourite games I’ve ever played. It was obviously really cold but we warmed up a little bit and it ended up as a perfect day.

“When you’re out there you don’t really worry how cold or how warm it is, you just kind of play your game and think of the next shift. When I’m at the hotel, I may think about it, but when you’re out there you don’t think about it too much.”

56-year-old head coach Bob Motzko brings more experience with him but the outdoor game will be something new for him as well. For him and his boys, going outdoors feels like being kids again.

“It will be a great environment. I’ve never been in such a game before. When you walk out there, it’s a little bit of an overwhelming moment. When you come out there into the NFL stadium and see a hockey rink there, it’s something I had just seen on TV,” Motzko said.

But will preparing for the outdoor extravaganza not create a distraction from the next game, which takes place indoors at Key Bank Center against Slovakia? Motzko doesn’t think so.

“We have two questions we keep asking: ‘Who do we play next?’ And they got the answer. And ‘How we’re going to be?’ And they got the answer. We’ve been in the hotel since December 14th. Today it was a great afternoon to step away and get out of the hotel. You have to do that,” he said.

“It shouldn’t be hard for us to stay focused,” Mittelstadt said. “It’s as big of a game as any other at the tournament. We want to go to the medal round so for us it’s a huge game [against Slovakia] and we need to be ready to go. It would be great to have a good start. And after that game we’ll be ready for the next game against Canada.”

Despite thinking of Slovakia first, nobody can hide their excitement about playing at the 71,608-seat New Era Field soon. Doing so against archrival Canada, just a few miles from the border, makes it even more special.

“There’s certain games that come through, you don’t have to say a word to your players. They’re ready to go. This is one of them. You walk into the locker room, there’s a different feel. It’s amped up. That's what rivalries are all about,” Coach Motzko said.

“There’s a little juice in the air. You can just feel it on those days. That’s the great days of being an athlete and a coach.”

 

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