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Miller prepares for another outdoor game, thinking of new ways to stay warm

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - Playing outdoor hockey is becoming old hat for Ryan Miller.

Maybe this time it'll be new tuque.

Pulling a page from the Jose Theodore playbook, the Buffalo Sabres goalie is considering wearing a tuque on top of his mask during the Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Tuesday.

The look will be a la Theodore, who made quite the fashion statement when the then-Montreal Canadiens netminder donned one during the Heritage Classic four years ago at Edmonton.

"I can't think of a real comfortable way otherwise," said Miller, who also played an outdoor game at Michigan State. "As a goalie, you get used to wearing your helmet a certain way.

"I don't know what I'm going to wear underneath that would make it feel the same and keep warm. That might be a good solution, get some of that carpet tape and tape the tuque to my helmet or something."

The temperature is expected to be about freezing Tuesday afternoon when the Sabres play the Pittsburgh Penguins at the home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Predicted winds of 30 kilometres an hour and a forecast of snow certainly will make it feel colder, but it won't be like the subzero temps the Canadiens and Oilers faced in Edmonton under darkness.

Sunshine or not, the chill will be there.

There are 47 current NHL players who have participated in the three major North American outdoor hockey games in recent years.

Miller and Penguins forward Adam Hall were Michigan State teammates in 2001 when they faced Michigan in the "Cold War" game. Pittsburgh goalie Ty Conklin and enforcer Georges Laraque were with the Oilers in the Heritage Classic.

That was the only other NHL outdoor game, and Tuesday's contest will be the league's first in the United States. It only stands to reason that those with experience with the elements, however limited, are being consulted as New Year's Day quickly approaches.

"I remember the wind," Hall said. "I don't know how you prepare for it, but it's something that you kind of maybe expect.

"Some periods the wind would be behind you and you'd feel like you were flying. The next period you're changing ends and you're skating right into it, feels like you're in quicksand.

"As far as the temperature, too, just put on an extra layer or two underneath to make sure you're staying warm out there."

It might be one of the few times reigning MVP and scoring champion Sidney Crosby asks Hall and Laraque for hockey advice.

The NHL said Saturday the Penguins and Sabres will switch sides midway through the third period and again in overtime, should it go that far. This will ensure that neither team gains an advantage if the wind or sun are greater factors at one end. Should a shootout be necessary, goalies will pick which net they want to defend.

"I think with Hall in Michigan, it wasn't maybe quite as cold as it was for Georges and Conks when they were in Edmonton," Crosby said. "They always talk about how cold it was.

"They were saying kind of the best place was on the bench where the heaters were because it was so cold. Hopefully it's not quite that cold and hopefully the weather will be good to us."

Crosby's 41-year-old teammate Gary Roberts joked recently that he is past the age where playing outside is an exciting thought. He kidded that he was trying to figure a way to get out of it, and he did - but quite painfully.

Roberts will miss the game, and likely many more, after breaking his leg Saturday night at home against the Sabres. Instead of practising outside with the rest of the Penguins on Monday, 24 hours before the Classic's scheduled puck drop, Roberts will be dealing with the aftermath of the serious injury.

"Gary was doing a great job as a true leader for a lot of guys," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "The young players on the team will have to compensate for the leadership that we won't have from Gary Roberts, and we don't know for how long."

While playing an NHL game outside the comforts of an arena is not a familiar setting, hitting the ice in open air is not totally foreign, either.

Whether they played on ponds or flooded basketball courts, or even on makeshift rinks in the backyard, for many who grew up with the game in Canada and Europe, that was as common as tossing a football in the cold winter breeze is for youngsters in the United States.

Crosby did it in Nova Scotia, and had some more experience with it as a player in the Quebec junior league, too.

"There's something special about being outside playing a game," the Penguins captain said. "I can remember playing under the lights.

"That was the best time. They'd flood the ice around 8:30, think everyone is done for the day. I'd sneak out around 9 or 9:30 in Rimouski. I had a lot of fun doing that."


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