Playing hockey outdoors in some of the country’s most storied venues hasn’t lost its thrill. A decade into this endeavor, Blackhawks players still perk up at the mention of next week’s Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium.
“Yeah, it’s exciting,” Alex DeBrincat said. “I’ve never played in an outdoor game before, so it should be fun. I grew up watching the game, so it’s pretty cool to take part in it. I’m just gonna try to soak it all in.”
The Hawks will face the Bruins on New Year’s Day for their fourth Winter Classic. They also have appeared in two Stadium Series games.
The team has played on some historic fields, including the Bears’ and Cubs’, and this will be another monumental stage with Notre Dame’s capacity expected to be around 80,000.
It has been two years since the Hawks played an outdoor game, losing to the Blues at Busch Stadium in the 2017 Winter Classic, so it’ll be a new experience for younger players like DeBrincat.
“I don’t have any ties to Notre Dame, but it’s still a pretty cool place to play,” he said. “It’s a really cool spot to be.”
He’ll be among the players lining up tickets for family and friends looking to attend one of the NHL’s signature events.
The Hawks are on a three-day break for Christmas and have a hectic itinerary once they report for Thursday’s morning skate at the United Center. They host the Wild that night, then play at Colorado on Saturday before flying directly from Denver to South Bend, Indiana.
The campus should be familiar to Hawks players who were with the team in 2017, when they held part of training camp there.
The Hawks and Bruins will practice Monday at Notre Dame Stadium, where the league has had staff on site since last week to prepare the ice and seating. It’s a slammed schedule, but it’s worth it.
“I think for players, probably other than playoffs, this is the one date they probably get most excited about,” former Hawk Adam Burish said at a promotional event for the game. “January and February is a tough time in the season, and now to start the new year you get to go play at Notre Dame Stadium. It’s a big stage, and guys kind of want to show off on these ones.”
Burish, now an analyst for NBC Sports Chicago, was with the Hawks for their first Winter Classic in 2009. They played at Wrigley Field, where it was 32 degrees. They lost to the Red Wings, the first of several letdowns for the team in outdoor games. In five appearances between the Winter Classic and Stadium Series, the Hawks’ lone victory was against the Penguins at Soldier Field in 2014.
The forecast for South Bend is a high of 36 degrees and overcast. It isn’t expected to snow, which might disappoint players and viewers.
“Whatever the weather is, it doesn’t matter,” Burish said. “People will be like, ‘Aren’t you guys freezing?’ but you don’t even think about that. Maybe you wear a little bit warmer clothes. I remember guys taking stuff off between periods because they were too jacked up.
“I remember talking to guys when it snowed at Soldier Field here, and that was even cooler. The nastier, the colder, it doesn’t matter. Guys are so jacked up for this that you don’t even feel it.”