Playing baseball growing up in Wawota, Sask., Brooks Laich and friends would light a wine cork on fire to make eye black and guard against the sun.
That might not be a bad idea at the Winter Classic.
With plenty of sun in the forecast, Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks players must be prepared for sun glare to cause problems and perhaps even delay the start of Thursday’s game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
Laich said players were warned about the possibility of the opening faceoff coming later than 1 p.m. because of the sun, and his teammates understand it’s a variable they’ll have to deal with.
“You’ve got to sort of find a way quickly to adapt,” Capitals defenceman Mike Green said. “Once you’re in the game, everything’s instinct and whatnot. There’s definitely adjustments you have to make as players and as a team, but that’s the fun of it.”
According to the National Weather Service, it’ll be about five degrees when the Capitals and Blackhawks are scheduled to take the ice for the seventh Winter Classic. There’s no rain in the forecast, but with limited cloud cover expected, the sun could be beating down on the ice.
Nationals baseball players here grew to call it the “Sun Monster,” and it could wreak some havoc for hockey as well. Players will get a taste of it during practices in the late morning and early afternoon Wednesday.
There’s precedent for delaying outdoor games in recent NHL history. The 2012 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia was delayed two hours because of the sun, and a Stadium Series game at Yankee Stadium earlier this year was delayed 98 minutes.
“I think I’d rather deal with sun than rain,” Laich said. “I think even with sun you’re going to have better ice conditions, you’re going to have a better product on the ice.”
Weather changing the start time of a Winter Classic is nothing new to the Capitals. Rain forced the 2011 game in Pittsburgh to be moved to nighttime, and even then it wasn’t clear and perfect.
“We went through weather conditions that weren’t in favour of a hockey game last time in Pittsburgh,” Green said.
The plan is still for this to be an afternoon game, and according to an NHL spokesman a change to the start time wouldn’t be contemplated until game day.
Either way, players insist they’ll be prepared.
“We’ll get a chance to wear the eye black which we didn’t get to do in Pittsburgh,” Capitals winger Eric Fehr said. “I think that’s kind of cool. Hopefully we get the game going at 1 o’clock.”
On Tuesday, the ice had sun on it until just before 2:30. The height of the stands at Nationals Park actually helps reduce the amount of time the sun is on the playing surface.
Eye black is one way for players to adjust. Skaters might also try to take advantage of goaltenders Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford not being able to see the puck as well.
“Shoot it from everywhere,” Laich joked. “Red line, shoot it, eh? Skip it along the ice. Try anything.”
Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said he hadn’t considered the potential ramifications of sun glare or wearing eye black.
“I just don’t think about what I’m gonna do out there,” Ovechkin said. “We’re gonna skate on the ice and then we’re gonna go to the locker-room.”
Sun or no sun, just playing outdoors requires players to change some things up. Green said the ideal playing conditions would be just like indoor rinks, but he knows that’s not possible.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz said his biggest adjustment might be wearing a hat. While many of the players on the two teams and coach Joel Quenneville have been a part of outdoor NHL hockey, this is Trotz’s first chance.
Despite being new to this, Trotz understands players will have to adapt on the fly.
“I think the biggest thing is going be depth perception because you’re used to the fans right on top of you,” he said. “All of a sudden they’re going to be away from you a little bit. It’s going to feel different.”
Note — Capitals defenceman Brooks Orpik is questionable to play after suffering a right knee injury Monday night. Trotz said this being the Winter Classic will not affect how the team handles the injury.