SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The collective eye roll from hockey followers was sufficient to stir the fake snow positioned across the NHL’s Winter Classic rink.
The Chicago Blackhawks? In one other outside sport? Aren’t there, like, 30 different groups on this league?
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The 2019 Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium marks the sixth time the Blackhawks have competed in an NHL outside affair, and the fourth time in 11 Winter Classics, greater than every other franchise. They’re 1-Four in these video games, which makes the entire thing really feel like hockey followers are being force-fed one thing rancid.
“It is, like, one each different yr. But it surely’s at all times enjoyable,” mentioned winger Patrick Kane.
Whereas the apathy concerning the Blackhawks enjoying within the open air is palpable, it may also be misplaced when it comes to this iteration of the staff. There are effectively over a dozen gamers on the roster who’ve by no means appeared in an outside hockey sport for any staff, not to mention Chicago. For hockey followers, the Blackhawks enjoying at Notre Dame Stadium is extra of the identical; for them, it is one thing utterly contemporary.
“Lots of us right here have by no means performed outdoor earlier than. Have not had that luxurious,” mentioned ahead Alex DeBrincat, 21. “Fairly thrilling for the younger guys. I am positive [the veterans] are excited, too. However not as a lot as a lot us.”
For ahead Dylan Strome, 21, the chance to play within the Winter Classic was one of many first issues that sprung to his thoughts after the Blackhawks acquired him from a staff that wasn’t precisely excessive on the NHL’s ready record for an outside sport, the Arizona Coyotes.
“You by no means take into consideration enjoying in an outside sport. I’ve performed on some outside rinks, however minor hockey does not have many outside rinks. I do not assume dad and mom need to sit exterior for two hours, freezing, to watch their children play,” he mentioned.
For Strome, one of many coolest facets of the expertise was all of the free swag the gamers gather throughout the outside video games. He mentioned his mom will get his Winter Classic jacket. He intends to maintain a lot of it for himself.
From skating with Sidney Crosby on the 2005 WJC to a concussion-shortened profession to a stint in Sweden, the 33-year-old has trod a charming path.
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The inflow of youthful gamers for the Blackhawks is each a operate of their roster reconstruction, following some capped-out and unsuccessful seasons, and the general development of the NHL.
“It is a younger man’s league,” mentioned GM Stan Bowman. “I do not know if it is true, however somebody advised me there’s 50 youngsters within the league this yr. When that occurs, there is a trigger and impact: The fellows which might be shifting out are the older gamers.”
It isn’t simply the youthful gamers which might be getting their first chilly style of outside sport glory.
“You see quite a lot of these guys that have not performed in these video games and so they’re so enthusiastic about it. However even a man like Cam Ward, who’s had an excellent profession and has by no means performed in a sport like this earlier than, is taking all of it in,” mentioned Kane.
Ward, 34, signed as a free agent with the Blackhawks after tending objective for the Carolina Hurricanes from 2005 by 2018, profitable the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe in his rookie season.
“As a professional, you concentrate on all the good belongings you’ve been in a position to do, and that is one in every of them that I have not been in a position to verify off,” he mentioned.
Like Strome with the Coyotes, Ward wasn’t probably to get a shot in an outside sport with the Hurricanes, due to the NHL’s restricted scope of individuals within the Winter Classic and Stadium Collection. Does Ward, who will begin the Classic for the Blackhawks, imagine that is solely shot at enjoying in an outside stadium?
“I can reply that for you: I am not going to get one other shot,” he mentioned with fun. “That is my shot. I have been round a very long time, and I do know that is going to be my first and solely try at doing it. You do not need to take it for granted. You need to soak all of it in. I’ve acquired my household right here. We’re taking quite a lot of footage. I am similar to everybody else.”
It is the recollections that maintain these occasions contemporary for the veterans, whether or not it is enjoying with their kids within the dressing room or skating with the Wounded Warriors in follow, because the Blackhawks did on Monday morning. Then there’s the placement of the sport, within the shadow of the golden dome: Lots of Chicago’s star gamers have watched soccer video games at Notre Dame, the place the Blackhawks maintain their coaching camp. Few imagined they’d play a hockey sport there.
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“I watched ‘Rudy’ loads as a child,” mentioned Kane, who added that the Combating Irish males’s hockey staff recruited him earlier than he joined the OHL London Knights. “I thought-about faculty. I used to be in highschool when Jeff Jackson, the coach at Notre Dame, referred to as me. One in every of his first questions was, ‘How are your grades?’ So I knew I in all probability wasn’t coming to Notre Dame.”
Past the pageantry of the Winter Classic, there is a aggressive side for the Blackhawks as effectively. They’re trying to flip their season round, sitting seven factors out of the ultimate wild-card spot. They’re trying to win their first Winter Classic. They usually’re trying to seize a W in opposition to one other Unique Six staff in entrance of what might be a crowd of 70,000 followers — a giant sport, bringing out a giant effort from the gamers. Or so their coach hopes.
“Now we have quite a lot of younger blood coming by,” mentioned Jeremy Colliton, who’s teaching in his first outside sport. “They are going to be excited, and that’ll carry over to the older guys. It is like a match really feel. We’re in resorts. We’re bussing to follow. There’s quite a lot of media. They’re aggressive guys. They need to win. Now we have some momentum going right here. They know their document [in outdoor games], and I am positive they will be excited to make a distinction.”