Saturday’s 2022 NHL Winter Classic will bring the cold, and plenty of it.
When the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild hit the ice under the lights at Target Field in St. Paul, Minnesota, the temperature is expected to reach a high of -3 degrees Fahrenheit degrees for the 7 p.m. ET puck drop. That’s negative 3, which would make it the coldest outdoor game in league history.
The weather will be a drastic change from the Winter Classic, which took place at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in 2020. That afternoon’s game between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators featured a 54-degree temperature at puck drop.
Fans inside Target Field will need to be prepared for the arctic temperatures, but they’ll have some help. The NHL will give out 40,000 hand-warmers and you can imagine there will be more than enough blankets, sweatshirts, and winter hats available at the merchandise stands.
Adjusting to the cold
Brandon Duhaime of the Wild grew up in South Florida and has never played in an outdoor game. His family and friends have seen the forecast for Saturday night and are concerned for the rookie winger.
“I’ve seen the tweets. Everyone is kind of blowing me up about it,” Duhaime said earlier this week. “My mom, my girlfriend and my sister are panicking about it and they’re kind of stressing me out about how cold it’s going to be. But everyone is going to be playing in the same conditions about it and they’re texting me about how cold it’s going to be.”
Duhaime played junior hockey in Canada and went to college at Providence in Rhode Island, so he knows what winter delivers.
“[My family] moved down to Florida to get out of that weather,” he said. “My mom hates the cold. She keeps it at 76 degrees in the house. She’ll have to battle for those three or four hours or so.”
The Blues-Wild Winter Classic will be the NHL’s 33rd modern outdoor game. The 2003 Heritage Classic between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton saw a 0-degree temperature at face-off. Frigid weather was also experienced during the 2014 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium and the NHL Centennial Classic in Ottawa in 2017 (both 13 degrees). Target Field will showcase weather that could “be same cold as in Siberia,” according to Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who grew up in the region in Russia.
Outdoor games are always interesting for goaltenders. Not only do they have to adjust to the sight-lines depending on if the game is in a baseball or or football stadium, but they have to manage how much layering they need under their equipment depending on the conditions.
Jose Theodore’s toque is a big NHL outdoor game memory, but Jordan Binnington and Cam Talbot will likely need more than a winter hat to feel comfortable. While this will be Binnington’s first, Talbot has been involved in six of these, starting two of them.
“I try not to add too much,” Talbot said. ”You’re out there sweating enough, and hopefully it’s not too windy. That makes it a little bit worse. Obviously, if it’s windy, we’ll see if we have to do anything. But as far as that, I try not to change too much of what I normally wear.”
The Blues netminder, meanwhile, is eager to see what it’s like to play outside.
”Just trying to take a couple cold tubs leading up to the game, hopefully it will build that up a little bit,” Binnington said. “It’s going to be interesting. I don’t know what to expect. I see how cold it’s going to be, but I don’t know how cold it will feel. We’re going to do our part gearing up and do the best we can to be ready for it.”
Central Division implications
The Blues and Wild are the top two teams in the Central Division, separated by a single point. Should Minnesota get the win at home, they’ll leap St. Louis into the No. 1 spot. So while any outdoor game is a memorable experience players and coaches, there’s still a lot of value in getting a result.
While the Blues are coming off a 4-2 win Wednesday night over the Oilers, the Winter Classic will be the Wild’s first game since Dec. 20, a 7-4 loss to Dallas, extending their four-game winless streak.
A win in a big game at home could go a long way to jump-starting the team as a new year begins.
“That’s not acceptable,” said Wild forward Mats Zuccarello of the 0-3-1 record in their last four games. “We’ve got to get on a winning pace here. For us it’s a big game against a good team. We let everyone around soak it in and enjoy it, but for us it’s a big game.”