The Washington Capitals travel to Pittsburgh on Thursday afternoon for this weekend's Fourth Annual NHL Winter Classic. Before heading up, the Caps had a closed practice outdoors at the Chevy Chase Club rink to prepare for skating outside on Wednesday afternoon.
Most of the Caps have only played outside when they were very young and by the looks on many faces, they were transported back in time while out on the ice. Mike Knuble had a big grin on his face for most of practice. Defenseman Karl Alzner said, ""It's a lot of fun. We wish the whole season was played outdoors."
Jason Chimera mentioned playing outdoors with buddies on weekends that would start in the early morning, then have lunch at the rink and continue to play hockey until dark. Chimera is from Edmondton, Canada where "there is an outdoor rink in every community" he said. Chimmy is the only current Capitals player that has played outside professionally. He played for the Edmonton Oilers in the 2003 Heritage Classic.
The Caps usually practice in the morning around 10:30 or 11 a.m., however, practiced at 1 p.m. on Wednesday because that is the same time of the Winter Classic on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Playing outside in the afternoon also meant dealing with the bright sunshine and glare off the ice. Many players experimented with eye black. Some got creative like John Carlson and Matt Hendricks who were sporting a warrior type design on their cheeks.
Alex Ovechkin was the one that stood out. Not only did he put the eye block under his eyes, but continued over the bridge of his nose to make one long straight line. The eye black ring around the mouth was the attention getter. There are a few pictures below because words just can't describe it. Ovi told the media that he just wanted to have fun and it was a joke. The Great Eight also made it clear that while playing outside was fun, "its practice" with a seriousness in his voice.
The wind in Pittsburgh could have an impact on the game so Coach Boudreau ran the players through sprints at the end of practice to experience difference between indoor and outdoor sprints. "I wanted to skate them a little bit to see if the wind affects" them, Boudreau said. "It's amazing, going one way against even a two mile per hour wind is a little bit different."
Overall, practice went well and Caps are very excited about the big game. Boudreau said that Tom Poti, Mathieu Perrault and Marcus Johansson will all be ready to play.
Caps practice at 10:30 a.m. at Kettler Capitals Iceplex (open to public) on Thursday before flying to Pittsburgh.
Enjoy the photos. See you in Pittsburgh!
Caps video of practice.