Buffalo Sabres’ coach Don Granato had a one-word review for the conditions following his team’s outdoor practice on Saturday, ahead of Sunday’s Heritage Classic against the Toronto Maple Leafs:
The other thing Granato noticed?
Those are the challenges Toronto and Buffalo are preparing to face when the puck drops at 4 pm on Sunday at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario.
The weather is expected to be much like it was on Saturday — temperatures around 10 degrees, wind gusts approaching 30 mph, and a chance of snow. Only Toronto’s practice, which happened about 90 minutes after the Sabers’ on Saturday, had an appearance of snow, but Buffalo is prepared for the possibility come Sunday.
“It’s a factor, there’s no question,” Granato said of the environmental elements. “If the wind is like it is today, there is a dramatic difference in how you execute. It’s interesting just watching our guys snapping the puck with significantly less [velocity]. So, it’s good to get out there today and have that one-day acclimation, because you do need to acclimate and test it.”
Meteorological uncertainty is a time-honored tradition at these NHL events after all. The Outdoors Game in Lake Tahoe last year was delayed eight hours due to the sun, and January’s Winter Classic was played under “extreme cold” that reached minus-six.
Buffalo goalie Craig Anderson knows the best approach is to expect the unexpected. Sunday’s tilt will be his third career outdoor game, and first since 2017. Anderson’s happy to share what he’s learned with teammates wondering what’s to come.
“The ice is a lot colder than it normally is,” Anderson said. “That changes things. The flex on the stick is different. Guys are trying to figure out what they want to wear, whether that’s fully covered, or face open, neck open. Today is a day to figure out what you like and go from there.”
Toronto forward Mitch Marner noted the positive of unpredictable conditions is both teams must deal with them together, much like they did in practice.
“It was just, holy crap, this is cold. Everyone kept saying it,” Marner said. “It was pretty windy out there … but it should be a fun one. Feels like you’re outdoors on a pond. It’s a little chilly. Just trying to find ways to make it not as cold, try new gear and things you’re not used to.”
His linemate Auston Matthews, who leads the NHL with 44 goals, said the high winds reminded him of being back home in Scottsdale, Arizona. But there will be no desert-like heat waiting for Toronto on Sunday.
“It was tough [at practice] — the wind, the snow, you’re pretty cold,” Matthews said. “The weather should be a bit better tomorrow, less windy, but things can obviously change, so we have to just go with the flow.”
That’s especially true for goaltenders. While skaters at least stay warm during shifts, Anderson has to face long stretches of inertia.
“You’re standing there in the cold for most of it,” Anderson said. “I found out again today that you don’t sweat when it is that cold out there. So, you’re going through all your shirts [to decide what to wear] because even though you kind of are [sweating]it’s so cold you don’t really feel it.”
Granato just hopes his team will be ready for anything come Sunday, including the amount of joy that comes from playing under unique circumstances.
“I can’t project the [weather] effects, but that’s the mystique of these games is all the different elements that you just don’t deal with on a regular basis,” Granato said. “In this outdoor situation you have so many of those elements that is impossible to have consistency in temperature or wind. So, I can’t tell you exactly how that plays out, but that adds to the excitement to the game and certainly it adds to your preparation. I know our guys take that seriously, and we’ve got to be ready for what you think might occur.”