Bundle up: USA-Canada hockey rivalry going outdoors
By JOHN WAWROW, AP Hockey Writer
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Whether it’s indoors or now outdoors, Canada coach Dominique Ducharme doesn’t expect the bitter elements to chill the cross-border hockey rivalry his nation has developed against the United States.
“We’re rivals. It’s always been tight games. And we expect a tight game tomorrow,” Ducharme said Thursday, after Canada’s junior team held a brief practice on the temporary rink built on the turf of the NFL Buffalo Bills’ home, New Era Field. “Yes, it’s going to be played outdoors. But once it starts, game on.”
Bundle up, because Canada and the United States are taking their differences outside Friday, when the teams meet in the preliminary round of the 10-nation world junior hockey championship. It will be the first international game played outdoors and is expected to draw more than 40,000 fans, which would set an International Ice Hockey Federation attendance record.
It’s also expected to be cold, with temperatures forecast to range between 15 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-9 to -6 Celsius) once the puck drops at 3 p.m. Eastern.
The game suddenly carries even more significance if the Americans intend to compete with Canada (2-0) for top spot in the Pool A standings.
The U.S. fell to 1-1 following a stunning 3-2 loss to Slovakia on Thursday night, and now faces a short turnaround in playing two games in less than 24 hours.
Playing outdoors just might be what the Americans need to wake up, coach Bob Motzko said.
“Fresh air is going to do us good,” Motzko said. “Yeah, let’s play. Dog-gone right. Getting over there, the atmosphere when you walk out: Young athletes can find enthusiasm in little things.”
Defenseman Adam Fox suggested overconfidence might have been a factor in the loss after Team USA opened the tournament with 9-0 win over Denmark on Tuesday.
“Guys get a little too comfortable, maybe that was the problem,” Fox said, while noting that shouldn’t be an issue on Friday. “It’s going to be a big game for us, and we’ve got to come ready to work and ready to win. We’ve got to get over this loss and come ready to play tomorrow.”
The loss shouldn’t affect the U.S.’s chances of advancing beyond the preliminary round with the top four teams in each five-team pool qualifying for the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
After the Americans tested the outdoor ice on Wednesday, it was the Canadians’ turn under a bright, blue sky on Thursday.
It felt just like home, Canadian goalie Carter Hart said, recalling the many times he spent skating on a large outdoor rink in the backyard of Canada teammate Sam Steel’s home outside of Edmonton, Alberta.
“Feeling that kind of cold air and runny noses, and cold feet: It was really cool,” said Hart, who wore black tape under his eyes to help deflect the sun.
Hart will get the start in his first meeting against the Americans since allowing Troy Terry’s deciding shootout goal in Canada’s 5-4 loss in the championship game at Montreal in January.
“Honestly, I’m not too worried about that right now,” Hart said. “It’s over and done with.”
Though Canada holds a 33-10-3 edge over the United States at the world junior tournament, the Americans have been on a run of late. The U.S. has won the past three meetings, and split the past 10 games since a 6-5 overtime win over Canada in the 2010 championship game.
Tournament organizers gave the final go-ahead to have the game played outdoors during a brief meeting Thursday after concerns were raised over the dropping temperatures.
Of the NHL’s 26 regular-season games played outdoors, five have been played with temperatures below 20 degrees. That includes this year’s NHL 100 Classic in Ottawa, when the game-time temperature was measured at 12.5 degrees (-10 Celsius).
The coldest was the NHL’s first outdoor game at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium in 2003, when the temperature was 0 degrees (-18).
The Bills stadium was the site of the NHL’s first Winter Classic in 2008, when the Buffalo Sabres played Pittsburgh with a light snow falling and a game-time temperature of 33 degrees (0.5).
Canadian forward Dillon Dube said the uneven ice conditions will force both teams to play a simpler style by placing an emphasis on short passes and offenses chipping the puck into the opponent’s end.
“It’s going to be a meat and potatoes game. That’s going to be the fun part about it: old-time hockey,” Dube said. “But definitely, this game being outdoors is going to be just crazy.”