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Sabres forward grew up playing outdoors so Winter Classic nothing new

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Playing hockey outdoors will be nothing new for Drew Stafford, the right-winger who will be in the Buffalo Sabres' lineup against the Pittsburgh Penguins for the NHL's Winter Classic on New Year's Day.

The 22-year-old American spent many a winter's day when he was a boy playing shinny on a rink his dad flooded in their suburban Milwaukee yard.

"We had a large yard so it was a pretty good rink," Stafford recalls. "I'd tool around with my friends shooting pucks around.

"We didn't have boards or anything, just snowbanks."

Just like Canadian kids.

"We jumped at any chance to get on a pond or a lake when it was frozen, that was definitely something we had a lot of fun doing," Stafford said Thursday.

The Jan. 1 game will be played in Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Icemakers will have a week to construct and ready the ice, boards and any infrastructure required.

"I'm really looking forward to it," Stafford said of what will be the second outdoor game in NHL history.

The first one was in November 2003 when the Canadiens and Oilers skated in the -19 C freezer that was Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium. It shouldn't be nearly as cold in the Buffalo suburbs this time.

Yet, Stafford has been to Bills games and is well aware that nature can present problems in the stadium. Wind has caused havoc for NFL kickers and passers, and Stafford hopes it is at his back most of the way.

"We could use that to our advantage," Stafford said. "Hopefully though, it'll be as calm as possible.

"Hopefully, we'll get some luck on our side and get some decent weather. Regardless, it'll be an interesting experience." Close to 75,000 spectators, including thousands from southern Ontario, are expected to attend.

"Hopefully the fans get into it and we make it a good show," said Stafford. "Pittsburgh has a good team with a lot of skills so the game should be fast and exciting."

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