The next time they meet, the whole hockey world will be watching. So the Blackhawks were excited about their opportunity Friday to send a message to Washington during election week.
The real statement, though, is that the Hawks and the Capitals are looking forward to squaring off in this season’s Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Nationals Park in Washington.
“It’s all good. It’s a positive event,” said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. “It’s one of the greatest games you ever get a chance to be a part of. Playing here at Wrigley and Soldier Field were thrills of a lifetime. Getting a chance to play in the snow at Soldier is as good a situation as you can get. To have the chance to come right back and play outdoors again, our guys love it.”
This will be the third outdoor game in five years for the Hawks. They defeated Pittsburgh at Soldier Field last March 1, and lost 6-4 to Detroit at Wrigley Field on Jan. 1, 2009.
Washington defeated the Penguins in Pittsburgh 3-1 in 2011 when first-year Capitals coach Barry Trotz was at Nashville.
“I’ve never been on a bench for one of those,” Trotz said. “But you want to have as many experiences as possible. It’s a little bit of a bucket list for a coach, and for a player, too. The guys that have done this say it’s unbelievable, when you come out and there’s 60,000 to 70,000 people in the stands. It’s just a different experience, a different pressure that makes you better, not only as a player but as a person, too.”
The Hawks and Caps both were checking out their special-issue stocking caps in their locker rooms Friday. And both sides are rooting for good weather on Jan. 1.
“It should be a bit warmer in Washington,” Hawks winger Bryan Bickell said. “Hopefully, it’s not raining. I’d rather have snow than rain. But whatever happens, happens. [The players like] just being outdoors.”
Weather or not, Quenneville expects the Hawks’ eyes to be as wide on New Year’s Day in D.C. as they are on Christmas morning at home.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “The players go back to when they were kids. They want to have fun in that situation.”
Capitals winger Troy Brouwer, a Vancouver native who was in a Hawks sweater for the Wrigley Field game, cherishes a childhood memory of playing outdoors when he visited relatives in Alberta.
“I was probably 5 or 6,” he said. “I went to my aunt and uncle’s in Red Deer over the Christmas break. They had an outdoor rink in the park a few blocks away. I remember the street being frozen, so I put my skates on, skated down the street to the rink and played all night long. That’s probably my best memory. Where I grew up, it doesn’t really get cold enough to have outdoor rinks.”
Weather doesn’t seem to be a major problem for these outdoor NHL games. The Kings and Ducks played in Dodger Stadium last January, and the Sharks and Kings will play outdoors in Santa Clara, Calif., in February.
“They can make it happen anywhere on any venue,” said Kris Versteeg, who has played and has scored in both of the Hawks’ outdoor games. “It’s just about getting lucky [with no rain] on the day. I’ve done it twice. It’s an opportunity to a part of a special venue. A lot of guys are excited. And once the time comes closer, the excitement will build more and more.”