(Photo: @washcaps Twitter)

It’s become one of the beloved traditions for hockey fans to ring in a new year–watching their sport played in the elements. Sure, a packed ballpark is a little different than pond hockey. But, the Winter Classic is a big production paying homage to simpler times–like backyard matchups among friends.

This year, the puck will drop for the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks at Nationals Park.

And, just as it does with pond hockey, the weather may have an impact. It isn’t a snowstorm, or even sleet or rain that could hamper the 1 p.m. ET/12 p.m. CT start. Instead, it’s the sun.

 

 

It will be the Blackhawks’ first outdoor game as the “away” team. They lost their first Winter Classic and won the Stadium Series game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“We’re definitely fortunate as an organization and a team to get a chance to play in more than one outdoor game,” Coach Joel Quenneville said. “The setting, the  opportunity, the thrill, just being in that fresh air environment is
second to none. Last year in the snow, I don’t know how many inches we got during the game. That was like one you’ll never forget. The first one, Wrigley, was a special one as well.
“And it’s a beautiful venue here. Everybody’s looking forward to it tomorrow. So it’s a privilege, an honor, take advantage of it. Because it’s very special.”

It is special. I attended the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field. I’ve ice fished–sitting still on a lake with nothing to occupy time but the hope that something would tug the on the line in a hole under several inches of ice below me. And still, it was the coldest I’ve ever been. It was also one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

winter classic

Hot chocolate was cold by the time it went from the concession stand back to my seat. I couldn’t feel my feet. I was wearing so many layers, I looked like the kid from A Christmas Story. My team lost 6-4 to the then-rival Detroit Redwings. But, I was at my favorite ballpark watching my favorite team with my brother (I have three–I can’t use favorite again there), and not even heckling from a lady wearing a squid hat on my turf could bring me down.

Winter Prepping, or Making the Most of a Sun Delay

So, if, of all things, the sun is a reason for a delayed start, there are plenty of things to do to bide the time.

Catch up on Epix’s Road to the NHL Winter Classic, for example. Even if the Hawks and Caps aren’t your teams of choice, it’s very entertaining to witness what goes on behind the scenes and hear what’s not necessarily safe for regular broadcast.

There are some fun moments.

And, there are some tough ones, including a reference to a death in the Blackhawks tight-knit “family.

The Capitals will be joining the Blackhawks in wearing CR decals on their helmets for the game. Former Blackhawk Troy Brouwer and Caps equipment manager Brock Myles proposed the idea, and Caps coach Barry Trotz ran it by the Hawks for approval, according to a Sportsnet Canada report.

“(The hockey world) is a lot smaller than people think,” Trotz said. “The trainers are very, very close. They are very tight, just as the players are across the league and coaches and all that. When a member goes down they all want to show the respect.”

The Epix series exposes some endearing things about each team’s players, coaches, and staff–making it difficult to dislike either.

While Epix isn’t offered to all cable providers, the Road to the Winter Classic series can be streamed online for free here.

Or, enjoy a hockey movie marathon leading up to the event, with favorites like Mystery, Alaska, The Mighty Ducks series, Goon, Slap Shot, Miracle, Youngblood, Broad Street Bullies, Net Worth, or The Last Gladiators.

Heading into the Classic

The Blackhawks are 25-10-2, first in the Central Division, heading into the game. They just beat the Nashville Predators 5-4 in a shootout Monday night.

The Capitals are 18-11-7, fourth in the Metropolitan Division–coming off a 4-3 overtime loss against the New York Islanders Monday.

The Capitals beat Chicago 3-2 in their last meeting Nov. 7.

“It’s a dangerous game. We know that. When you play against Trotzy’s team, they play hard, they check, they don’t give up much, they play the right way. And that’s the way their team’s progressing,” Quenneville said. “Ourselves, we like to push it a little bit and try to score. So it will be a good contest and I’m sure everybody’s excited about it.

The Winter Classic begins at 12 p.m. CT/1 p.m. ET on NBC, with pre-and-post game coverage on local networks (Comcast Sportsnet for the Chicago area) barring any weather concerns.

Carly Mullady grew up needing to know more about icing than its deliciousness on cupcakes. She's the lone daughter of four children, with a father who was among the last cut from the Midwest tryouts for the 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympic team. And she knows very little matches the thrill that happens from puck-drop to handshakes. A rink didn’t return to her hometown until she was gone, but she’s been able to see two younger brothers on the ice. She's their feistiest fan. Her other hockey loyalty lies with the Blackhawks--whether it's meant seeing games for $8 with student IDs when the Madhouse didn’t have much of a temper at all, or dancing to Chelsea Dagger at standing room only--there’s something magical about a roaring anthem, the Indianhead sweater, and the Original Six. A former journalist and current editor, she carries a penchant for excitement (and maybe even fighting) with a resume that includes working for Chicago-area newspapers, and television, including The Jerry Springer Show, as well as NBCUniversal in New York. After East Coast living and a return to the Chicago area, the new Mrs. is giving Graceland a go with her Southern Gent, who now shares her adoration of the game, and their rescue dog, Doc Holliday. Other interests include Cubs, Bears, Illini, Crimson Tide, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, baking a mean pineapple upside-down cake, Kate Spade accessories, and a properly coordinated cardigan for every ensemble.

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