MINNEAPOLIS — Trevor van Riemsdyk figured he’d just get some pointers from his brother, James, who’s played in several of these outdoor games.
“I played in one in college at Fenway, but obviously this will be on a much bigger stage,” said van Riemsdyk, who was hurt when the Blackhawks played in the Winter Classic in January 2015. “[James] has been in quite a few. I’m sure I’ll be picking his brain the night before.”
For most of the Blackhawks’ core members, these outdoor games are becoming nearly an annual event — this is their fourth since 2009. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook are among those who have played in three of them thus far. But for some of the newer Blackhawks, this Stadium Series game against the Minnesota Wild is still a reason to bewide-eyed.
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Erik Gustafsson isn’t sure yet if he’s playing — he was reinserted into the lineup on Wednesday against New York after being a healthy scratch for two games. But he’ll have some folks watching the game regardless.
“I have some friends coming over from Sweden,” he said. “It’ll be very big. We’ll see if I play but it’ll be a great opportunity to play outside. I saw a picture on Instagram the other day; they were working on the ice. It looked pretty amazing. I just hope it’s going to be good weather.”
Perhaps the euphoria hasn’t completely evaporated for the Blackhawks’ veterans of these games. Both Kane and Niklas Hjalmarsson said they still enjoy these outings.
“It’s not like it’s our 50th time playing in one of these, it’s our fourth time. It’s still pretty unusual playing in a game like this,” Kane said. “It’s exciting. All of us enjoy it and we know that there’s, I wouldn’t say pressure on us to put on a good show, but we’re expected to be here for reason and … it seems like the NHL wants the Blackhawks in these types of events. We try to put on a good show for everyone.”
Hjalmarsson said, “The first one is always the first one. It doesn’t matter what you do. But it’s still fun and as I said before it’s fun to kind of break the normal pattern in a regular season to mix it up and do something different and just switch it up a little bit. It’s kind of a grind, 82 games. It’s fun to have at least one that stands out a little bit and makes it a little bit more fun and you get the group together and do something different.”
Many of the Blackhawks have been through this outdoor experience a few times now. For the other half of the team, this is a new experience. Regardless of the number of times each player has been here, the outdoor game still has plenty of charm.
“The excitement level is at a different level. It brings you back to being a kid almost, and then you have to know we’re playing for keeps,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “[There are] different emotions and mindset going into the game once you’re out there. At the end of the day, everyone will have a great feeling and hopefully everybody enjoys it.”