It will depend on who you’re asking, but there’s some kid-in-a-candy-store-like giddiness within the Reign’s walls regarding this Saturday’s Outdoor Classic in Bakersfield.
For some — like forward Jonny Brodzinski and goalie Jack Campbell — it will be their first time playing an outdoors game with a score clock and officials when their team takes on the Condors at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Bakersfield College’s Memorial Stadium.
Games of this nature have seen a rising trend since the inception of the NHL’s Winter Classic in 2008. They’re a throwback to how hockey used to be played and bring back the best of memories.
“I was pretty fortunate. My dad would literally hand-build me a rink in our backyard,” said Campbell. “He did that multiple times growing up. I just think it’s such an important factor in being a kid that loves hockey because you can practice any time you want. It just really makes the game fun so this game kind of brings it all the way around to when I was a kid, so it will be really cool.”
Added Brodzinski: “Growing up in Minnesota you always played on the pond so this is going to be pretty exciting. I’ve never played in an outdoor game, I’ve always wanted to. There’s been a few in Minnesota high school hockey. Never got to play in one. The year before me played and the year after I graduated played, so missed the cue there but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Well, not everyone.
Head coach Mike Stothers has taken an honest approach to divulge how he feels about his team being part of the AHL’s second outdoor game in California in league history.
“I’m not all that big a fan of an outdoor game, I mean I just think it’s ran its course,” Stothers said. “There’s too many of them. It was a phenomenal idea but there’s a lot of variables, like what do we do if it does rain or the game gets postponed?”
It’s a good question to be asked, because the event could very well be in jeopardy. Rain is in the forecast for Saturday and the contest could get bumped up to an earlier, 1 p.m. start. A decision on Saturday’s start time will be made Friday morning. Rain all day Saturday and the backup to the backup plan could potentially force a less-than-ideal postponement into Sunday.
“Just play the game indoors,” Stothers said after he listed off scenarios of changing lodging, maneuvering recovery days and more the could effect his team for the rest of the month.
Only time will tell when the puck will actually be dropped, but when it does the Reign have a handful of players with experience in what it’s like the skate in the elements.
On the NHL level, veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi’s been in two outdoor games, including the first Winter Classic as a member of the Penguins. Forward Michael Latta played in the 2015 version as a member of the Capitals.
Michael Mersch, who’s out with a lower-body injury and could be out Saturday, was part of a Wisconsin team in college that beat Minnesota at Soldier Field in Chicago in 2013.
“The ice was terrible … You couldn’t go from the middle of the ice to the boards for a breakout pass without falling or hitting a pot hole,” Mersch recalled, later adding: “It played to our benefit because Minnesota was a much better team than us and they weren’t able to make plays out there and we were just kind of off-the-glass-and-out type of team, and we knew how to play that way much better than they did.”
Sam Herr’s Notre Dame team in 2014 wasn’t so fortunate: “We didn’t happen to win that game. Yeah, they had a guy named Johnny Gaudreau who kind of tore us apart,” he said regarding the Fighting Irish’s meeting at Fenway Park against Boston College and its now-NHL star with the Flames.
Stothers said he hasn’t put too much thought into picking the brains of his players who have been there and done that. He doesn’t appear to want to be wrapped up into any hype. His less-than-enthused approach could help level down the excitement, because for the players it’s a different story.
“This is where a lot of people grew up loving the game,” Herr said. “They grew up playing pond hockey in their hometowns and this is kind of a remembrance to that. So that’s kind of how I fell in love with the game, too. I always loved playing with my buddies out in the pond and I kind of get to do that again just on a professional level so you’ve got to soak in the moment.
“You don’t get to do these too often. I was talking with Latta the other day, he gets to do a NHL Winter Classic, it’s just you see how rare it is to do an experience like this so when you have an opportunity you’ve just got to take in the moment and have fun with it.”