Ty Conklin won’t be able to give Pavel Datsuyk and Marian Hossa any advice about stick-handling on an outdoor rink. He doesn’t even plan to tell Henrik Zetterberg or Nicklas Lidstrom how best to keep warm.
However, there’s one thing the Detroit Red Wings goalie hopes to impress upon his teammates before the Winter Classic – with all the spectacle and attention that will accompany an outdoor game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley Field, it’s especially important to focus on hockey.
“I think what gets lost a lot of times is that there’s actually two points available,” Conklin said Monday on a conference call. “You know, Chicago is not far behind us (in the standings) right now. They are not far back, and they are playing as good as anybody these days.
“That’s going to be an important game, and it’s going to be an important two points, too.”
Conklin can be forgiven if the novelty of playing outdoors has worn off just a little. He’s already been on the ice the only other two times the NHL has staged a regular-season game outside.
They were vastly different experiences.
The temperature was roughly -20 C when he started for the Edmonton Oilers in a 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Commonwealth Stadium in 2003. It was closer to 0 C at Ralph Wilson Stadium when Conklin’s Pittsburgh Penguins edged the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 in a shootout on New Year’s Day.
When the 32-year-old signed with Detroit over the summer, he had no idea that it meant another outdoor experience was coming.
“Somebody mentioned to me, ‘You know they’re in another outdoor game?”‘ said Conklin. “It didn’t even cross my mind.
“Either I follow it around or it follows me around – I don’t know which is which.”
Even though Conklin has previous outdoor experience, he won’t lobby coach Mike Babcock to get the start at Wrigley Field on Jan. 1. He began the season as Chris Osgood’s backup and has been seeing more action of late.
The Red Wings are his fourth different NHL team since leaving Edmonton two years ago and Conklin feels he’s found a good fit.
“In our locker-room, nobody is asking the goalies to stop everything,” he said. “Nobody is asking them to steal games. … People have the same expectations for goalies they do a player, just to play hard and show up every day and play well and do what you’re supposed to do.
“You don’t have to step outside yourself too much. It makes it a lot easier to perform.”
The organization’s winning tradition continues, but the Red Wings are being pushed by the upstart Blackhawks more than in the recent past. Chicago is only five points behind Detroit in the Central Division and holds a game in hand.
That close battle should add a little more spice to the Winter Classic.
Even though Conklin’s bounced around a fair bit, he’s working on a streak that is even more impressive than his string of outdoor game appearances – he’s been in a conference final every year since the lockout: Edmonton (2006), Buffalo (2007) and Pittsburgh (2008).
Each of those teams plays in a colder climate and that’s by design.
“It would be tough for me in December to go playing when there’s no snow on the ground,” said Conklin. “That’s something I’ve always been used to and it would be something really different. I’ve been lucky in the places I’ve played, not only hockey-wise but weather-wise.
“(I like) hockey cities in general with the way people follow the team and the excitement the team brings to the city.”
There aren’t too many NHLers who know more about the excitement that will surround the Winter Classic.
If there’s one thing he’s learned in the past, it’s that the players have it easy.
“The guys that have the hardest job are the equipment guys,” said Conklin. “(Red Wings equipment man) Paul Boyer is going to have a hard job because you never know what kind of weather you are going to get.
“It could be 35 degrees (Fahrenheit), nice and sunny day, or it could be -10 and the wind could be blowing 20 miles an hour. You have to prepare for a lot of different elements.”