Edmonton

'Like a kid inside': Oilers Milan Lucic excited for his first EVER outdoor hockey game

Back home in Edmonton - where winter comes early, stays late and shapes the very character of the city - hockey fans might be surprised to learn that Oilers power forward Milan Lucic has never played a single game on outdoor ice.

'Growing up in Vancouver, we had more puddles than anything else'

Investors Group Field in Winnipeg is all set to go for Sunday's NHL game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Jets. (CBC)

Back home in Edmonton - where winter comes early, stays late and shapes the very character of the city - hockey fans might be surprised to learn that Oilers power forward Milan Lucic has never played a single game on outdoor ice.

As a kid on the Wet Coast, the now-bruising winger on the Oilers top line never got a chance to play pond hockey.

"You're going to have to ask other guys about their memories of skating outdoors on a pond," Lucic said Saturday in Winnipeg, where the team held an outdoor practice at Investors Group Field, in preparation for Sunday's NHL game against the Jets.

"Growing up in Vancouver," Lucic said, "we had more puddles than anything else."

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Hockey players are known for their toughness, but this weekend in Winnipeg it's hard to miss the grins on their faces.

After two straight days of rain, the sun finally came out and the conditions for this weekend's games couldn't be better. The Oilers and Jets alumni play Saturday at 2 p.m. MDT, while the current rosters battle for two points Sunday.

As the Oilers hit the ice for practice on Saturday morning, the temperature was a balmy 4 C.

'The first one was brutal'

Forward Benoit Pouliot said the conditions were a lot worse the last time he played in an outdoor game.

"The first one was brutal," said Pouliot, who goes into Sunday's game as the only player on either squad to have played in three previous NHL games outdoors. "It was in Calgary and it was minus - 40 C. You couldn't even hold your stick, the experience was good. It's just that it was really, really cold."

Pouliot suited up for the Montreal Canadiens at the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic, then played twice for the New York Rangers at the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.

If the weather remains close to the same on Sunday, Pouliot said conditions will be ideal.

"It was perfect, it was nice, it wasn't too cold, you didn't need much more equipment or stuff on you. I felt good. Today's weather was perfect."

Lucic missed his first chance

Sunday's outdoor game will a first for Lucic.

"I'm really looking forward to it, like a kid inside, getting my first chance to play outside," said Lucic. "Hopefully this makes up for the game I missed at Fenway in 2010.

An injury kept the big man out of the third Winter Classic, which was held at Fenway Park in Boston on Jan. 1, 2010. The Bruins beat the Philadelphia Flyers 2–1 in overtime.

Unlike Lucic, team captain Connor McDavid grew up with plenty of frozen surfaces to play hockey on, though a backyard rink wasn't one of them.

"We had a really small backyard, " McDavid said. "My dad wanted a hot tub, so he got the deck and the hot tub, and that kind of put a dent in the whole backyard rink thing."

While many of the players are excited about their first outdoor experience at the NHL level, and all the hoopla surrounding the alumni game, McDavid said he hopes the focus quickly shifts once the puck drops on Sunday.

"People kind of forget there's still an NHL game to be played, and that there's still two points up for grabs," he said. "And it's a big two points for our team. We've been playing some good hockey and got off to a pretty good start, so it's important we don't get too high on ourselves.

"Winnipeg is a good team. It's going to be a good test for our group, and it's a huge game for us."

Sunday's Heritage Classic is set to start at 1 p.m. MDT.

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