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Extreme cold on Prairies doesn't stop hockey from being played

NHL star Joe Thornton is walking through the freezer that is Alberta without a winter coat.

The San Jose Sharks centre, in Edmonton for an NHL game on Tuesday night, had on gloves and a toque but wore only a sports jacket when he and his teammates went to Rexall Place for the morning skate.

"He was telling everybody that he threw away his winter clothes when he moved to California," said team media relations manager Tom Holy.

The players don't seem to mind the extreme cold, he said.

"For some of them, it brings back memories from childhood of skating on ponds and shovelling snow in the middle of winter," he said.

The team issues a weather report for every trip so the players were aware they were going to experience Arctic-like conditions.

"The pilot on our flight let us know it was -51 in Edmonton with the wind chill and it didn't seem to phase anybody," said Holy.

Factoring in wind chill, it felt like -50 in Regina, -44 in Calgary and -40 in Winnipeg.

"It's friggin' cold," said J.J. Herbert, media relations manager for the Oilers, but everything was running normally.

The Sharks were to move on to Calgary for a game Wednesday night. It was only 9 C in San Jose on Monday, so it wasn't as if they had to put away the sunscreen and beach towels before flying north.

The frigid air in Calgary was a shock to Flames captain Jarome Iginla when he got off the plane Monday from Atlanta, where he'd captained the Western Conference in Sunday's NHL all-star game.

"It's kind of funny to think when teams roll through, you wonder if they think it's like this most of the time," Iginla said after his first practice back Tuesday.

The San Jose Sharks arrive Wednesday for a game and Iginla expects an NHL club from a warm-weather climate will be as shocked as he was.

"I'd bet they won't be prepared, attire-wise," Iginla said. "We're all bundled up as much as you can be. "I know how it is on the road sometimes and you go into places and it's colder than you expect and you just have your little overcoat and you have no tuque or scarf."

Travelling in the NHL by plane is a lot warmer than riding the Moose Jaw Warriors bus across the frozen prairie, which Flames forward Dustin Boyd was doing just two seasons ago.

"You always wanted to make you had warm stuff in case the bus breaks down and the heat goes," Boyd said. "We always brought blankets and tuques just in case.'

"Usually the bus was pretty warm, but the snow is blowing and it's just depressing looking outside."

Despite the deep freeze, the Flames didn't leave their vehicles running in the Saddledome during practice Tuesday. Boyd said he didn't a car to leave running as he'd been planning to buy a car that day.

Heated seats? "I hope so," Boyd said.

There were three Western Hockey League junior games Tuesday night: Kootenay at Calgary, Swift Current at Saskatoon and Moose Jaw at Red Deer.

The Moose Jaw team left early so that, if any weather-related problems arose, it would have ample time to get to the game.

"The bus drivers got the team to Red Deer without any problems," said a Warriors spokesman. "Things are running on schedule."

There was no talk of postponing the game, said Rebels broadcaster Cam Moon.

"It's cold but all Red Deer public schools were open and all school buses were running," said Moon. "All the highways are open in Central Alberta.

"It's sunny and the roads are clear, but it is quite frigid. We get this at least once every winter but it doesn't seem to change the way of life a whole lot."

Ticket sales will reach about 5,700, which is just under capacity, Moon said, adding he expected about 3,000 to actually attend the game.

"We have about 30 per cent of our season ticket base from out of town and I don't expect too many of them to brave the elements," he said. "The real moment of truth comes after the game when you have to go out and start the car. Now that's cold."

Attendance might be down for the Ice-Hitmen game in Calgary, but it was going ahead as planned.

"As with any entertainment event and facility, we fully expect individuals to make their own decisions on attending our game," said Hitmen director of business operations Kip Reghenas. "We believe that Calgarians who decide to go outside to attend any activity have gathered the necessary information and are prepared."

In WHL games Wednesday night, Moose Jaw is at Edmonton and Saskatoon is at Swift Current.

The record wind chill in Alberta was set in the 1960s when it hit -57C.


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