For James van Riemsdyk, the novelty has completely worn off.
Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Lincoln Financial Field will be his sixth outdoor game in the past nine years. Only the core members of the Chicago Blackhawks have played in as many.
“Seriously, it’s been every year it feels like, but they’re always fun to play in,” van Riemsdyk said. “It definitely takes away from the usual routine, so it’s something you definitely look forward to.”
Here’s van Riemsdyk’s resume of playing in the elements — a list that includes three Winter Classics while also playing in front of a record 105,491 people at “The Big House” at the University of Michigan with a 2-2-1 record in those five games.
• 2010 Winter Classic (Flyers) at Fenway Park
• 2012 Winter Classic (Flyers) at Citizens Bank Park
• 2014 Winter Classic (Maple Leafs) at Michigan Stadium
• 2017 Centennial Classic (Maple Leafs) at BMO Field
• 2018 Stadium Series (Maple Leafs) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial
As you might expect, there are a couple of games that stood out.
“For me, the two coolest ones were at the The Big House in Ann Arbor,” said van Riemsdyk. “I think for me I spent a couple of years there with the U.S. program and to go back there to play a game in that stadium, I think we set an attendance record when we had it. We had a nice setting of snow and stuff like that. That was really cool.”
“Last year playing at the Naval Academy against the Caps is pretty cool. What the place means to the United States was special to have a hockey game.”
One variable of an outdoor game players are forced to experiment with is deciding how to adjust to the temperature and the conditions. The warmest game van Riemsdyk experienced was 40 degrees in Philadelphia, while he dealt with a near zero wind chill for the game at Michigan.
The game at Annapolis, Maryland, between the Leafs and Capitals, the two teams were rattled with 50 mph winds that forced both teams to cancel practice the day before. There’s a balance between adding layers, but not too many that constrict movement and puck handling.
“I’ve kinda gone thicker with some of the underwear stuff, but you’re just hoping it’s not too windy,” van Riemsdyk said. “That makes it tough to play. That can affect the game more than the temperature.”
A handful of van Riemsdyk’s teammates will be experiencing an NHL outdoor game for the first time. Growing up in Middletown, New Jersey, JVR didn’t have the luxury of grabbing his gear and hopping on a nearby frozen pond where many Canadians spent days and weeks honing their craft.
“I’m sure them being Canadian, they got a chance to play a lot of outdoor hockey growing up,” van Riemsdyk said. “Occasionally, not every winter, we looked forward to having the chance to do that growing up on some of the ponds and stuff.”
“Knowing that we’ve got two points on the line and it’s an important part of the season right now, just treat it like you’re preparing for any other game, and just enjoy because you don’t know how many of these outdoor games.”
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