PHILADELPHIA – Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr hit the ice looking more ready to shag flies than practise the power play.
The Philadelphia Flyers stars smeared eye black to fight the glare on a sunny morning as they skated on a rink constructed on the site of two Fall Classics that underwent a makeover as it shifted into the home of the Winter Classic.
Jagr later strode shirtless around the Philadelphia Phillies’ clubhouse with a baseball bat slung over his shoulder.
Cold, wind, ice. Conditions that usually spoil the enjoyment of a World Series game are on deck for the fifth edition of the NHL’s inside-the-park extravaganza, this one set for 3 p.m. Monday between the Flyers and the New York Rangers at Citizens Bank Park.
Amid the HBO cameras and Stanley Cup-atmosphere that has infused the game with enough energy to power the rink, a little perspective came Sunday from the Rangers and Flyers in their final practices.
“When we wake up, all the fun is going to be over,” Giroux said, “and it’s about two points on the ice.”
The game was pushed back two hours because of a revised weather forecast that should offer optimal game conditions for players and fans.
The game was scheduled for 1 p.m. The gates will now open at 1 p.m. with the puck dropping two hours later.
Last year’s game at Pittsburgh was moved into prime time because of rain.
“Let’s play,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “It’s time to play the game.”
Workers stuck Christmas trees and winter firewood on the fake snow around the rink as the finishing touches were sprinkled on a project that started just before Thanksgiving. While fans hoped for winter wonderland conditions, the two-hour shift will at least mean chilly temperatures and less sun.
“It’s going to feel different to be out there,” Rangers centre Brad Richards said. “It’ll be, look around for a little bit, but you don’t want to get clocked, so you can’t look too much.”
The game is too important to gawk at the skyline.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette made it clear winning the game between two teams jostling for the top spot in the Eastern Conference is more important than putting on a show when he benched slumping goalie—and “24/7” breakout star—Ilya Bryzgalov for Sergei Bobrovsky.
Bryzgalov, the self-deprecating Russian, has failed to live up to the nine-year, US$51 million contract he signed in June and now finds a spot on the bench for the Winter Classic.
With temperatures expected around 4-5 degrees C, Bryzgalov joked he’d sip Earl Grey tea to keep warm. He could be in hot water after revealing before Laviolette’s announcement that Bobrovsky would be in charge of trying to stop Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan instead of him.
Laviolette has strict guidelines on how he presents the day’s starting goalie—never a day ahead, rarely at morning skate—and Bryzgalov’s defiance may keep him on the bench.
Laviolette refused to announce a goalie even after he was told Bryzgalov spoiled the news.
“I have great news and even better news,” Bryzgalov said. “Great news, I’m not playing tomorrow night. Good news, we have a chance to win the game tomorrow night.”
The Flyers counted on Bryzgalov to become the goaltender that would lead them to their first Stanley Cup championship since 1975. He’s 14-8 with a pedestrian 3.01 goals against average, and has allowed five, four and five goals in three of his last four starts.
“Six, five, next game if I give up three, it’s going to be progress,” Bryzgalov said.
His dry wit made him a hit on the first three episodes of HBO’s behind-the-scenes look at both teams before the Classic. His two little children, meanwhile, bickered at a Christmas celebration over who was more Russian.
Laviolette planned to discuss his decision with Bryzgalov later Sunday. Oh, to be a fly—or a “24/7” camera—on the wall for that talk.
Bryzgalov admitted Sunday leaving Phoenix for big money and a hockey-mad market has madehim feel added pressure.
“I like it here,” he said, “but something’s gone wrong with (my) game. Too much thinking. I wish I got (a) $450,000 salary.”
Earlier this season, Bryzgalov said he was “lost in the woods.”
Pine Barrens, perhaps?
Bryzgalov has shone on the HBO series that will whittle 750 hours of footage down to four over its brief run. HBO has pushed back the final episode of “24/7” to Thursday night because it needed an extra day to put the episode together.
HBO has 12 cameras filming Monday’s game.
The camera crews have remained a silent presence, always filming, never talking or intervening.
In last week’s episode, Bryzgalov’s dog was caught chomping on his son’s arm.
“I would say the kid would have had to have cried rather than just yelled at the dog” before the crew helped, senior producer Dave Harmon said. “If the kid wasn’t crying, then we’re going to keep shooting.”
HBO airs a daytime version of the show where profanities are censored so families can watch together.
Tortorella said the cameras have not been a distraction.
“I think we’ve handled it well,” he said. “We’ve had a number of distractions right from the get-go of camp. The guys have handled it well. This has been a great experience for them. I’m glad we’ve gone through it. We’re honoured to be part of it.”