Conklin cool with being NHL’s Mr. Outdoors


 Is it possible for the National Hockey League to hold a Winter Classic without Ty Conklin?


DETROIT — Is it possible for the National Hockey League to hold a Winter Classic without Ty Conklin?

We’ll have to wait until next year to find out.

When the Detroit Red Wings head to Wrigley Field to face the Chicago Blackhawks on New Year’s Day in the league’s third outdoor game, expect Conklin, the Wings netminder, to be between the posts at one end of the rink for a third time.

Just as he was for the Edmonton Oilers when they faced the Montreal Canadiens at Commonwealth Stadium in 2003 and as he was last year for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Buffalo Sabres.

You could say that when it comes to the great outdoors, Conklin comes up big.

"You know, they were both neat and they were both were a lot different," said Conklin, who blocked 36 shots for the shutout in a 4-0 win over the Blackhawks on Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena.

"The one in Edmonton was really cold. Very tough conditions."

While all players must factor in dealing with the elements when they take it outside, goaltenders can often find themselves idling alone while action roars at the opposite end of the rink — especially when you’re a Red Wings goalie — so the task of staying warm will prove as daunting as the task of parrying the puck.

“Yeah, it gets tough,” Conklin said. “I’ve got used to going 10 or 15 minutes where most of the play was at the other end of the ice. That’s part of the job here.

“Staying warm will be another challenge, but once you get the game going, you can get a little bit of adrenalin going. It becomes a little more like indoor hockey than you’d think.”

A summer free-agent signing, Conklin admits he didn’t even know that the Wings were one of the designated participants in this season’s outdoor game until weeks later, when he took his first look at the 2008-09 NHL schedule.

Fittingly, the man who has become known as the NHL’s Mr. Outdoors is a native Alaskan.

“When I was younger, we played a lot of games outdoors,” he said. “I know when I was nine or 10, we went to Russia and we played two games outdoors there and just got spanked.”

His luck as an NHL outdoorsman has steadily improved.

Last Jan. 1, Conklin blocked 37 shots and foiled both Tim Connolly and Maxim Afinogenov in the shootout as the Penguins edged the Sabres 2-1 before 71,217 at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium. On Nov. 22, 2003, Conklin made 19 saves, but the Oilers lost a 4-3 verdict in front of 57,167 frigid fans.

“Hopefully, it won’t be minus-20 (like it was in Edmonton) and guys can feel good on the ice,” Conklin said. “The nice thing about the outdoor game last year was the temperature was high enough where you could actually get a sweat going.

“In Edmonton, I couldn’t even get a sweat going. It was just too cold.”

The Chicago forecast for Thursday is calling for a high of 1 C with winds from the southwest blowing at 10 to 20 km/h and a 30 per cent chance of flurries, but it isn’t called the Windy City because the weather tends to co-operate.

“You have to prepare for a lot of different elements,” Conklin said. “It could be 35 degrees, a nice and sunny day, or it could be minus-10 and the wind could be blowing 20 miles an hour.

“You never know what you’re going to get.”

That’s not always the case. When it comes to the NHL’s Winter Classic, there seems to be one certainty right up there alongside death and taxes.

That Conklin will be in goal for one of the teams.

Windsor Star



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