ST. LOUIS – Ryan Hartman was a middle-school student when the Blackhawks played in their first outdoor game, the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.
“I remember it was freezing, it was so cold. We were on the first level but tucked up underneath [the mezzanine]. My buddy and I snuck up to the top row; they were better seats because you were looking over the ice, so we had a really good view of the ice,” said Hartman, who didn’t think too much about the possibility of playing in one someday.
“There was always a dream, yeah,” he said. “But never thought I would be at that point.”
Yet, here he is, on the eve – unless the weather dictates otherwise – of playing in his first outdoor game. For many of the other Blackhawks, this is hardly new. seeing the reactions of teammates new to this energizes those who may consider it old hat now.
“You get that excitement from those new guys who haven’t played in one, who have family here. And being in an outdoor game, bigger venue, it’s special,” Corey Crawford said. “It’s something every guy’s done when he was younger and to be able to play like that at the NHL level, it’s a cool thing.”
Scott Darling was part of last year’s game in Minnesota but that hasn’t diminished his excitement coming into this one.
“This stadium, especially, it’s different than the football vibe last year. It’s really cool, a great view from the ice,” said Darling. “I was able to come to the alumni game and see wat it looks like with people in the stands [on Saturday]. It’s so much fun to do stuff like this and with our families here, too, it’s a once-in a lifetime opportunity. We didn’t get to do the family skate last year, so my family’s been looking forward to this one.”
Duncan Keith will be playing in his fifth outdoor game but it still hasn’t gotten old for him.
“I grew up on the outdoor rinks my whole life. Any time I get a chance to be out skating outside, it’s flashbacks to being a kid,” he said. “[It’s] having that feeling of sometimes it’s tiring skating when you’re skating against the wind, and all those things that play into outdoor hockey.”
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We joke that you can just pencil the Blackhawks in for their annual outdoor game. That’s pretty much what it’s become. But for those who have done these before, the allure is still there. For those who haven’t, getting that first one in will be a childhood dream.
“There was one [game] when I was juniors that was supposed to be outdoor, but I missed it for World Juniors. I was pretty bummed. So to be able to do it this year is going to be really cool,” Hartman said. “Just being out there, seeing the whole skyline, the arch and all of that is pretty cool. It’s just going to be fun.”