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Ageless Chelios ready for outdoor hockey

Wednesday, 12.31.2008 / 9:23 PM / News
Associated Press
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Ageless Chelios ready for outdoor hockey
Red Wings' practice at Wrigley Field

CHICAGO -- Chris Chelios raced up and down the ice and when he had a chance to peek up and check out his surroundings Wednesday, he had trouble believing his eyes.

"To look out and see the rooftops and bleachers while being on an ice surface was the craziest thing in the world, especially at Wrigley Field," said Chelios, the Detroit defenseman and Chicago native.

Chelios estimated that, as a baseball fan, he'd seen more than 200 games at Wrigley over the years. He even lugged the Stanley Cup to the ballpark last August to show it around and share it with fans in his hometown.

And now, he'll be part of the second NHL regular-season outdoor game in the United States when his current and former teams meet Thursday in the Winter Classic.

Chelios spent nine seasons with the Blackhawks and is now in his 10th with the Red Wings. At age 46, his ice time has been limited this season - partly because of injury - but he'll be active Thursday.

"Who would have thought this was going to happen? Growing up in Chicago makes it even that more special," he said

Both teams got a feel for the ice Wednesday and were hoping it would be in better shape by Thursday's 1 p.m. ET faceoff.

"The ice, let's give it a day," said Chicago's Brian Campbell, who played last season in the first Winter Classic in Orchard Park, N.Y.

"It's an issue, but there is nothing you can do about that. It's so cold out there it's chipping away," Chelios said. "You worry about the safety of the players. Whatever happens to both teams, hopefully it's not a hazard as far as injuries."

During the skate, many players wore black tape under their eyes to cut the glare - like baseball players - on a sunny day. And with one end brighter than the other, it could create a real challenge for the goalies looking for the puck.

Campbell even used a baseball analogy, saying it's like a hitter trying to pick up a ball that comes out of the sun into the shadows.

But if the forecast holds up - low to mid 30 and overcast - it shouldn't be a factor. In fact, it is not only expected to be cloudy Thursday, but at least 10 degrees warmer than Wednesday.

Campbell, who scored Buffalo's lone goal last season in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Penguins, said most of the questions he's gotten from his new teammates have been about clothing.

"That's to be expected. I don't think a lot of guys wore too much extra clothing today and the sun is going to be different," Campbell said.

"We've got a bunch of stuff for the players to wear. We've got the high-tech long johns that cling to your body," Blackhawks trainer Mike Gapski said. "The benches will have blown-in heat, so we'll be more comfortable than the spectators."

Chicago's Duncan Keith played for Michigan State in 2001 when it met Michigan before 74,554 fans outdoors at Spartan Stadium.

"You have to warm your muscles up. It's going to be cold," Keith said. "A lot of it is just mental. You've got to be prepared."

Detroit goalie Ty Conklin will be playing in his third outdoor NHL game. He was in goal for Edmonton when the Oilers hosted Montreal in the 2003 Heritage Classic outdoors and started for Pittsburgh last year.

"I don't have any advice," Conklin said. "Everyone has their own way to prepare. ... Once it starts, it turns into a hockey game."

And it could be a fierce one between the two old rivals.

Chicago's Patrick Kane, last season's rookie of the year, was on the ice for a team picture Wednesday before skating off and missing the practice because of a sore right leg - the result of a hard check from Detroit's Dan Cleary on Tuesday night.

The Red Wings' 4-0 victory at Detroit was a testy one with pushing and shoving all night. The teams, who's already met three times this season - the Red Wings have won all three - are 1-2 in the Central Division of the Western Conference.

That promises to make their second game in less than 48 hours a spirited and emotional one, regardless of where the game is played or how cold it is or the condition of the ice.

"It will be like a playoff game. I think the guys are revved up for it and want to show what they can do on national TV," Campbell said.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Kane will play.

"I'm going to try it tomorrow. I'm going to do my best to treat it as much as I can today," Kane said. "Last night I was just kind of ahead and (my) skate got caught in the ice. Unfortunate play. Clean hit with that. Nothing you can do about it."

Cleary said his hit on Kane was a clean one.

"I think I just caught him off guard," he said. "I don't know if he was expecting it. I certainly didn't think it was a dirty hit. At least I hope no one thinks that."

 

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