Could weather concerns force the NHL to postpone the Heritage Classic?

It wouldn’t be an outdoor game in 2011 if we didn’t have concerns about the weather. In Pittsburgh, there were problems with rain that pushed the game from an afternoon start to the evening. In Calgary, the question isn’t rain. It’s that is just too freaking cold for the ice to stand up to the abuse of a hockey game. Who knew that moisture and cold temperatures could be a bad thing for ice?

On the eve of the Heritage Classic, we’re sitting here with a good news/bad news situation (depending on who you’re talking to). For the optimists, look no further than the players who practiced on the ice in the morning. Both the Habs and the hometown Flames participated in 1-hour practice sessions to test out the ice and the elements. Once they stepped off the ice, one of the first questions asked was, “How are the ice conditions?” Thankfully, the players are saying the right things.

Flames center Olli Jokinen pretty much summed up most of the players assessments when he said, “The ice was great. No complaints.” But he wasn’t alone in his optimism. Steve Staios played in the Heritage Classic back in 2003 when he was a member of the Edmonton Oilers. Back then, the cold weather was also the big concern and ended up being a problem. For a man who has experience playing in these conditions, he doesn’t sound very concerned:

“This is much better. It’s a lot better. There are a few areas where it chipped up and in ’03 there were a lot of areas like that. We were on it for as long as we were and I know they can do things between TV timeouts to patch it up and also in between periods.”

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows up in Calgary. Former NHL goaltender and current CBC broadcaster Glenn Healy was less than complimentary when he spoke of the ice conditions in McMahon Stadium:

“There’s no question that the ice for the alumni game was dangerous and was unsafe. It wasn’t one spot; it was in a couple of hundred spots.”

 

What a killjoy.

What we know is that the NHLPA has been in contact with the league about the ice conditions. The story as of tonight is that they’ll go out and reassess the ice tomorrow morning and start making decisions. In the event that the Heritage Classic had to be postponed due to unplayable ice conditions, the event would be moved to Monday.

The good news is there will be a lot less usage tomorrow than there was today. There were two practices, a public-type skate, and an alumni game on the ice surface today. All things told, they had about six hours of total usage throughout the day. Considering the worst thing for ice in these conditions is over usage, that shouldn’t be a problem tomorrow. The only thing planned for the ice surface tomorrow is some TLC from NHL ice guru Dan Craig and the hockey game. Speaking of Craig, he doesn’t seem too worried either:

“Our first skate was pretty good. Our second skate was probably a little chunky,” Craig said. “It’s still very cold out there. It tightened up that top surface so it got a little flaky, but other than that, I think we’ll be good. We just have a few things to do tonight and we’ll be ready to go.”

 

For the record, Sunday’s forecast in Calgary is 16 degrees Fahrenheit (-9 Celsius for our Canadian readers). The forecast calls for colder conditions than previously expected and is about 16 degrees below optimal conditions for an ice sheet. But as Staios said, there are things they can do during the intermissions and TV timeouts that can pacify the haters.

After listening to the players, announcers, and participants of the alumni game, the sun could be a bigger problem at the beginning of the game as it sets and creates a reflection off the ice. But I don’t think Dan Craig is going to be able to do anything about that.

‘Dialed in’ Hurricanes could add more drama to playoff race

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At first glance, Carolina’s potential playoff push seems like a longshot.

The ‘Canes head into tonight’s action five points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and would need to leapfrog both the Bolts and Isles just to get there.

BUT!

The ‘Canes have a game in hand on both New York and Tampa Bay, and two on Boston. They also get to play six of their last nine at home, and are currently riding a terrific streak in which they’ve collected 17 of a possible 20 points (7-0-3 in their last 10).

“Guys are playing well, guys are dialed in,” head coach Bill Peters said, per the Raleigh News & Observer. “You’ve got to continue to keep pace. Around the league everyone seems to find a way to win, so you’ve got to keep pace and then hopefully somebody falters.”

Looking ahead, the next 48 hours will decide if this dream becomes a reality. Carolina begins a crucial back-to-back set against the Red Wings tonight, with both games to be played at PNC.

Tonight’s game, you may recall, is the makeup date for the Dec. 19 postponement due to unplayable ice.

As such, the ‘Canes now get a Red Wings team playing its third game in four nights, following Friday’s 2-1 OT loss to Tampa Bay and yesterday’s 3-2 OT win over Minnesota. Veteran Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall isn’t expected to face Carolina, and the club is unsure if Darren Helm (lower body) can go.

The ‘Canes, meanwhile, are pretty healthy and firing away. Jeff Skinner has a five-game goalscoring streak, Elias Lindholm has points in each of his last 10 contests and Sebastian Aho in each of his last six. The club has also received terrific netminding from Eddie Lack, who has gone 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage.

If they can get a result tonight, attention will be turned to the out-of-town scoreboard. The Isles are at home to the streaking Nashville Predators (6-1-0 in their last seven), and the Bolts host the Blackhawks, who are coming off an embarrassing 7-0 loss in Florida.

The Bruins aren’t back in action until Tuesday, when they host the Preds.

Report: Coyotes majority owner has a ‘potential new partner’

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The Arizona Coyotes’ ownership group may be getting a new member.

According to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, Randy Frankel is a “potential new partner” for majority owner Andrew Barroway.

Frankel, who made his money on Wall Street, is already a part owner of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.

Shannon also reported that the Coyotes required a mid-season cash call, to the tune of $20 million, from their ownership group. Arizona has averaged just 13,020 fans at home games this season; hence, the revenue shortfall.

The Coyotes, of course, are trying to get a new arena built in the greater Phoenix area. So far, their efforts have been for naught.

Related: Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

Report: Rangers land Gophers standout Lettieri

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University of Minnesota senior Vinni Lettieri has agreed to join the Ranger organization, per the Star-Tribune.

Lettieri, 22, finished second on the club in goals this year, with 19, and third in scoring with 37 points in 38 games. The Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo reports Lettieri is joining New York’s AHL affiliate in Hartford, and that he and the Blueshirts are closing in on a two-year, entry-level contract.

Lettieri has some interesting bloodlines. His grandfather is former Minnesota North Stars player/head coach/GM Lou Nanne, and his father is former professional soccer netminder Tino Lettieri, who represented Canada at the 1986 World Cup.

The younger Lettieri went undrafted, and was a free agent following Minnesota’s NCAA championship loss to Notre Dame.

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.