Cold War veteran: Ty Conklin
Detroit's goalie is set to play in his third NHL outdoor game
Braving the elements is nothing new for Ty Conklin.
Although born in Phoenix, Conklin grew up in Alaska, played junior hockey in Wisconsin with the United States Hockey League's Green Bay Gamblers, and he was a collegiate standout as a member of the University of New Hampshire Wildcats.
He's also the only player to start in both of the NHL's outdoor games.
Now, as a member of the Stanley Cup champion Red Wings, Conklin is set to start in his third outdoor contest when Detroit takes on the Blackhawks in the 2009 NHL Winter Classic at Chicago's Wrigley Field on New Year's Day (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 1 p.m. ET).
Conklin, 32, was in net for the Oilers when they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the 2003 Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. In last year's Winter Classic, Conklin backstopped the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 2-1 shootout win over the Sabres at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium.
"You know, they were both neat, and they [were] both a lot different to be honest with you. I think the one in Edmonton, as well, was really cold — tough conditions," Conklin told reporters during a recent conference call.
Playing outdoors also helps Conklin recall his childhood in Anchorage.
"I think probably the last outdoor game I played before Edmonton, I was probably a Squirt or something, a Squirt or a Mite," recalled the Detroit goalie.
"When I was younger, obviously, we did play a lot of games outdoors. Probably the majority of the games I played were outdoors when I was seven eight, nine, 10 years old, and once you get about 10 years old, I don't know if I played another outdoor game."
Staying warm and mentally sharp after long periods of inactivity were the biggest challenges Conklin faced in his two previous outdoor sojourns.
That's how "the game went in the first outdoor game in Edmonton, where I think we carried the play. We carried the play for most of the game, I thought, and certainly for the first period we did," said Conklin.
Key to staying warm
"Yeah, it gets tough. I've got used to going 10 or 15 minutes, where most of the play was at the other end of the ice .… You have to do different things to stay involved in the game and to keep yourself sharp mentally."
The key to staying warm? Keep moving, said Conklin.
"Once you get moving, the cold doesn't become quite the issue that it would normally, especially when you get the game going and you get a little bit of adrenaline going, too. It becomes a little bit more indoor hockey than you think."
As an outdoor game veteran of sorts, Conklin has one piece of advice to his Detroit teammates: stay focused.
"I think what gets lost a lot of times [with the NHL's outdoor games] is that there's actually two points available. Chicago is not far behind us right now," Conklin warned. "They are not far back, and they are playing as good as anybody these days. That's going to be an important game, and it's going to be an important two points, too."
Conklin adds: "I think it might have got lost a little bit in Edmonton, just because it was so new and so much was made out of it. I think those two points were a little bit closer on everybody's mind when we played Buffalo last year."
Aside from that, Conklin can't offer any advice to his teammates about dealing with the elements.
"I can't explain to anybody how to stick-handle in the cold and when the ice is a little bit choppy. I'll leave that up to them," said Conklin, who added that Red Wings equipment manager Paul Boyer is in for a tough day in the Windy City.
"He is going to have a hard job, because you never know what kind of weather you are going to get. It could be 35 degrees, nice and sunny day, or it could be minus ten and the wind could be blowing 20 miles an hour. You have to prepare for a lot of different elements," said Conklin.