The Sabres got to test out the ice at Citi Field

December 31, 2017

Queens, NY (WGR 550) - The Sabres got their chance to take the Citi Field ice Sunday morning. Phil Housley held an hour skate followed by a family skate with the players and coaches.

It was a cold, windy morning for the skate, but there were many smiles and laughs as the players were having fun. Housley said, “You get out there and all of a sudden it hits you, you’re playing the Winter Classic game and you’re sort of awestruck, just with the depth perception of where the stands are, but once you get on the ice, it’s just great being outdoors. It really brings you back to your childhood and memories that you created growing up.”

Housley had to stop and think about the last time he played a game outside. He thought it was in high school back in Minnesota. The head coach used to love to be outdoors, by himself honing his craft, “I remember a lot about being outside. Where I grew up in South St. Paul, we had 10 outdoor rinks and that didn’t include the ponds.

“I had my mom wake me up on the weekends early so I could get out there first to skate around. We had some really good ice surfaces and there’s nothing like being out there by yourself skating around, imagining things, creating things until the rest of the guys came.”

The thing I noticed the most standing outside at practice was the wind. It’s supposed to be even windier at game-time and Housley said that will dictate the game plan, “Yes, all those elements will come into play, but we’re going to put a good game plan together just using other coach’s experiences here after being in this game.”

Jack Eichel has to depend on his superior skill when he’s on his game. With the elements coming into play, he knows he may have to adjust, “Elements will be in play, it’s not like playing your usual arenas, it’s going to be colder, sticks are going to be harder, your hands won’t be as warm as they would be, so you just adapt as you go.

“I’ve never played a game outside before, so I don’t know exactly what to expect, but the beginning of the game will be a simple one and just try to figure out what’s working and what’s not.”

Jason Pominville is the one Sabres that played in the very first Winter Classic 10 years ago at Ralph Wilson Stadium. He said, “The first one was a lot of unknown, no one really knew what the turnout was going to be, but obviously the way it went, the way the fans responded, the way it looked on TV, the way the game ended, I don’t think you could’ve asked for a better scenario for the league and now the whole buildup around it has really been pretty amazing for us.”

Ryan O’Reilly has sat and watched all the outdoor games and he said he was always jealous because he wanted to play in one of those, “You see the hype around it, especially with the TV show too, yes I’ve always been envious, I’ve always been hoping that I’d finally get one and to have it happen and to do it in New York against the Rangers is a pretty special time.”

One housekeeping note, Victor Antipin missed his second straight practice due to illness.

Join Brian Koziol on Monday for the pregame at noon when you’ll hear my exclusive interview with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman as well as Phil Housley and multiple players.