ORONO – Members of the University of Maine men’s hockey team enjoyed watching Tuesday’s Winter Classic, the outdoor NHL game between Pittsburgh and Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, and they recalled times they played in similar circumstances without the 71,217 who showed up for the game.
“It was unbelievable. I loved watching every minute of it,” said freshman left wing Glenn Belmore. “I wanted to be out there.”
Belmore said he played in the Canadian National Pond Championships in Ottawa one year and remembered the conditions vividly.
“The ice was all chopped up. You couldn’t skate. You couldn’t control the puck. You just passed the puck off [quickly]. But I loved every minute of it,” said Bellmore.
Senior defenseman Bret Tyler called the Pittsburgh-Buffalo game a “lot of fun but it was too bad it snowed so much.”
He recalled playing on a rink with a roof and boards but no walls in junior hockey.
“It was freezing. I think I got windburn,” said Tyler adding that he still enjoyed it.
Junior defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin will never forget playing on a similar type of rink in Montreal when he was in ninth grade.
“I think it was minus-30 [degrees]. The sticks were stiff, your mitts were cold. I forgot my skates and I had to use my coach’s skates. They were a lot different and I don’t think he had sharpened them in 10 years,” said Danis-Pepin. “One time I went into the corner and I couldn’t stop or turn. The building was made of cheap metal so if the puck sailed over the glass and the netting, it could go through the metal. You had rays of sun coming through the holes in the metal.”
He said the rink belonged to one of the most expensive schools in Montreal. His team wound up winning.
He called the Pittsburgh-Buffalo game, won by Pittsburgh 2-1 in a shootout, “awesome.
“That’s the way we grew up playing hockey. My dad built a rink in our backyard and there were rinks like that in parks all over the place,” said Danis-Pepin.
Maine senior right wing Rob Bellamy remembers adhering to the advice mentioned by the Sabres and Penguins players prior to the game: keep things simple.
“You had to push the puck and you just tried to get as many shots as you could,” said Bellamy who played on a semi-open rink at night. “You had some glare coming off the lights.
“It was a different atmosphere,” added Bellamy who said the Winter Classic was “great for hockey.”
Senior left wing Billy Ryan, whose brother Mike played for the Sabres in the game, said it was a “fun game to watch” but noted that it “slowed down the pace. There wasn’t as much finesse and those two teams have a lot of finesse players.”
He recalled one of the most valuable items he and his prep school teammates used when they played on semi-outdoor rinks was Vaseline.
“You put it all over your face [to prevent windburn],” said Ryan.