ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Consider the odds. Ty Conklin resurfaces in the NHL just in time to start yet again in the second regular-season outdoor game in league history.
“Yeah. It’s strange how things work sometime but it’s pretty neat,” Conklin said Monday on the eve of the NHL’s Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium (1 p.m. ET).
In fact, outdoor hockey is old hat for both starting goalies in Tuesday’s game. Not only did Pittburgh’s Conklin start for the Oilers at the Heritage Classic in Edmonton versus the Montreal Canadiens in November 2003 but Buffalo’s Ryan Miller was in net for the October 2001 Cold War outdoor game between Michigan State and Michigan.
But Miller had circled New Year’s Day 2008 a long time ago. Conklin? He certainly didn’t figure into this game until very recently.
Between that outdoor game in Edmonton and Tuesday’s reprise for Conklin, there have been pitstops for the 31-year-old native of Eagle River, Alaska, in Hamilton (AHL), Hartford (AHL), Columbus, Buffalo, Syracuse (AHL) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) this season before a call-up to Pittsburgh on Dec. 6 following an injury to starter Marc-Andre Fleury.
When Danny Sabourin began to falter in Fleury’s place, Conklin got the nod and he’s gone 4-0-0 in four straight starts, including a 2-0 shutout win over the Sabres on Saturday night.
“It’s nice to be getting a chance and have some success,” said Conklin.
He’s back in the show just before the second outdoor game. Should he not pinch himself?
“As long as it’s not as cold (as Edmonton) I’ll pinch myself I guess,” said Conklin. “Hopefully things turn out a little bit better than they did in Edmonton (4-3 loss to Montreal in the first outdoor game).”
Just like at the Heritage Classic, Conklin is amazed at what another outdoor game entails.
“It’s a pretty big deal. And I think what gets lost, too, is how much work goes into these things and what a production it is,” said Conklin. “To be part of it is pretty cool. I think everybody is looking forward to it.”
“Things have a way of working out.”
Miller, meanwhile, was quick to draw comparisons from his first outdoor game after getting a taste of the new ice surface in practice Monday. He battled shadows on the ice in the Cold War game six years ago and won’t have that issue with a 1 p.m. game Tuesday.
“At Michigan State the problem was we played later in the day and they had some temporary lights brought in,” said Miller. “It really had a big impact on glare. Today the ice looked good.”
Like Miller and Conklin, the outdoor stuff is also old hat for Penguins tough guy Georges Laraque, who played for the Oilers in the Heritage Classic. He didn’t drop the gloves that night at Commonwealth Stadium and doesn’t expect to on Tuesday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“That’s one of the last things that I think about, playing in weather like this,” said Laraque. “If it happened, it’s so cold out there that you could get hurt that way.
“There’s 82 games in a hockey season so it’s such a special moment, I am not thinking about that.”
His enforcer counterpart in the other dressing room relayed much of the same. The 70,000-plus fans on hand Tuesday will probably have to do without a fight, much like fans in Edmonton four years ago.
“I can see why that was the case in Edmonton, it’s cold out there,” said Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters. “But if it’s there, it’s there. It’s going to be cold but I have not forgotten what my role is. It’s one of those things where you just never know. I never plan ahead (for a fight) anyway.”
Cold? Surely the expected high of 0 C can’t be considered cold. Certainly not to Penguins forward Jordan Staal, part of the four-brother Staal hockey playing clan. He played outdoor hockey in his Northwestern Ontario hometown of Thunder Bay in much colder weather – and loved it.
“We had a rink in our backyard,” said Staal. “I played a lot of hockey back there with my brothers in minus-40 C weather with the wind chill making it minus-50. It’s pretty crazy but you just enjoy the game so much it doesn’t matter. It was pretty much the same feeling out there today.”