ST. LOUIS — Hockey players are notorious creatures of habit, particularly on game days. Everything is always the same — the wakeup, the breakfast, the morning skate, the nap, the pregame meal, the warmup routine, the game itself. It rarely, if ever, varies. There’s the home routine, and the road routine.
There most definitely is not a rain-delay routine.
So, no, the Blackhawks aren’t quite sure what they’ll do on Monday if they’re sitting around Busch Stadium waiting for the rain to stop falling and the Winter Classic to begin.
“I don’t know,” Corey Crawford said. “Batting cages, maybe?”
There is rain in the forecast for Monday, but the amount, duration and certainty have been changing on almost an hourly basis. The 2011 Winter Classic at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field was moved from an afternoon start to an evening start the night before. With the uncertainty about Monday’s forecast, and fog and rain possible even in the evening, the Hawks and Blues might not get so lucky.
The league announced Monday morning that it’s sticking with the noon start time. But the possibility of a rain delay is still very much real. If at any point the game is permanently called because of the conditions, two periods must be complete for it to be deemed official. If it’s called before that point, the teams will try again on Tuesday. If it’s official but tied, and a shootout can’t be held because of unplayable conditions, each team will get a point and the teams will hold a shootout before their Feb. 26 meeting at the United Center. And in the highly unlikely event the game can’t be finished either Monday or Tuesday, it’ll be rescheduled at Scottrade Center at some point.
So it could make for a long day, either at the stadium or back at the hotel. The Hawks are the league’s most experienced outdoor team; they have played outdoors in the freezing cold, in the snow, in the sun, and in the wind. But they haven’t dealt with anything like this.
So while Patrick Kane knows not to dress too warmly no matter how cold it might be, and that the wind plays a bigger role than a first-timer might expect, and that if it’s too cold, the ice will chip and the puck will bounce in unpredictable fashion, even he is facing some uncertainty going into his fifth outdoor game.
“It’s one of the cool things about this time around — you don’t really know what’s going to happen,’ Kane said with a chuckle. “You don’t really know how to prepare for it. Either way, once you get out there, it’s going to be fun and you’re going to be just playing hockey like any other day or regular game.”
A lengthy delay is the worst-case scenario, of course, and if the NHL can avoid it, it will. The Hawks at least got to scout Busch Stadium on Sunday. They practiced on the rink, enjoyed a family skate afterward, and started to get the lay of the land in the bowels of the stadium, discovering weight rooms, batting cages, and all sorts of other facilities that few hockey arenas have — especially for visiting teams.
Brian Campbell joked he was going to look for a corner in which he could build a makeshift bed, just in case of a delay.
“You’re 100 percent right, we’re used to a regimented schedule,” he said. “You’ve just got to think positively about it all. Everything’s different. You know where you warm up in every building, but here you don’t. You just have to embrace it a little bit. Who knows what’s going to happen? Just don’t let your mind play tricks on you, and just deal with the situation.”
Joel Quenneville downplayed any concerns about the start times, noting that the Hawks have played games at 11:30 in the morning, the middle of the afternoon, 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and even 8:45 p.m. in the postseason.
“If it starts at noon, it’ll be great,” Quenneville said. “If it doesn’t, both teams will adapt the same way.”
A pregame soccer game is a common part of the warmup routine for many players. Crawford said he hadn’t joined in one of them in 10 years, but might on Monday if he needs to stay loose. Whatever it takes. Because while it’s all fun and games, it’s also two big points against a heated division rival.
“When it comes down to it, it’s a serious game,” Andrew Desjardins said. “It’s our livelihood, it’s our job. But you still want to have fun with it. You still want to enjoy this game. It’s still hockey and you still want to have fun with it.”