Niklas Hjalmarsson: It was ‘dangerous’ to play Winter Classic in sun

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WASHINGTON — Patrick Sharp and Troy Brouwer chatted while they stretched on opposite sides of the red line during Thursday’s warmups at the Winter Classic. They weren’t talking about old times together on the Blackhawks, but rather whether they should be playing at all.

As expected, the sun created a harsh glare on the ice before the game and throughout the first period. But perhaps unexpectedly, the game started on time anyway.

At least one player wasn’t thrilled about that.

“It was pretty tough, to be honest with you,” Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “It was not the best for us to play in that kind of weather. [It was] tough to see the puck, and I think it was kind of dangerous. No one got hurt, at least.”

Hjalmarsson apparently was in the minority, though. 

“The report we got back from Corey Crawford, the goaltender who was in the sun for Chicago, was that he was comfortable,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “And the two captains told us that they were comfortable. … It worked out perfectly well. It was a non-issue.”

To make things fair, the teams switched ends at the 10-minute mark of the first period (the rink was in the shade by the time the second period started). That way, both Crawford and his Washington counterpart, Braden Holtby, had to deal with the sun. Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner even wore sunglasses underneath his visor. 

While nobody was hurt, the sun clearly had an effect. Sharp’s power-play goal in the first period was a savvy one, taking advantage of the sun. His wrist shot from the sunny part of the ice beat Holtby, who was in the shade. With the dramatic change in light and Andrew Shaw in his way, Holtby never had a chance. 

“The first period, it was a little bit difficult to see,” said Capitals winger Eric Fehr, who scored the first goal on a breakaway while Crawford was looking into the sun. “It was even for both teams, so you’ve just got to deal with it.”

Sharp said he had no problem with the game starting on time.

“I think everybody agreed it was safe enough to play,” he said. 

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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