Red Wings’ Ott excited about outdoor debut

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Toronto — Steve Ott has been waiting his entire NHL career for this chance.

Ott has watched so many other players and teams get an opportunity to play outdoors in the spotlight New Year’s Day games, but he never did.

Sunday, though, at BMO Field in Toronto, Ott will finally get his chance in the great outdoors when the Red Wings play the Toronto Maple Leafs.

No other Red Wing could be more excited.

“I grew up in the Winnipeg area until I was 10 years old, that’s where I learned to play hockey,” Ott said Friday after the Red Wings completed a brief, brisk outdoor workout. “When I learned to play hockey, it was all outdoor ice. Those kind of memories are going through my mind, when I learned the game outside, and now to get an opportunity to play a game in the NHL (outdoors), it’ll be a blast.”

These types of games, though getting routine and predictable in one sense, aren’t getting old for the players themselves.

The Red Wings have played in several, be it at Wrigley Field (2009), or The Big House (2014), or last year in Denver’s Coors Field (2016).

Many of the Red Wings’ younger players have played in either college games or the American League level outdoors.

But old, boring? Definitely not.

“When you’re in it, like today or tomorrow or Sunday, it’s fun, it’s a good hype around them,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “With the history, too, against Toronto and The Big House when we played that game, you have the chance to play a game in this city here, we’re excited.”

The signs point to Sunday’s game being an all-around success.

Friday, players raved about the ice conditions and liked the intimate feel of BMO Field, which houses the Toronto Major League Soccer and Canadian Football League teams.

With partly sunny conditions forecast with 32-degree teamperatures, the weather shouldn’t be a negative factor.

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“The ice was great, it was fast,” Ott said. “They’ve been working hard and you can tell what a great job they’ve done. I was completely impressed.”

Niklas Kronwall, a veteran of all three previous outdoor games with the Red Wings, said this was the best outdoor ice conditions he’s seen.

Coach Jeff Blashill liked what he saw, too, in a variety of areas — although it was completely different from a season ago in Denver.

“Last year was 70 (degrees) and sunny, maybe 75, so it wasn’t great for ice conditions,” Blashill said. “Our practice lasted three minutes max. We were able to get a picture and skate up the rink and had to get off.”

That wasn’t the case in blustery Toronto.

“The ice conditions were excellent,” Blashill said. “The ice was great, the atmosphere, just sitting in the rink on the field, it’s a tight, and it looks like it’ll be a great atmosphere.

“I’m really excited to get this going.”

An event like this can break up the monotony of a long, tedious NHL schedule.

“First of all it’s a great city to be in,” Blashill said. “It’s a great hockey city, and with the world juniors (tournament) going on here, the energy in the city is going to be amazing.

“I know when you have the chance to have your families come in and be part of it, that’s a cool thing for sure. It’s a grind and it’s important to enjoy the grind … a reminder for all of us to enjoy it as much as we can.”

For goalie Jared Coreau, who’s likely to get the start, he’s never played in an outdoor game, although he was in uniform for the Grand Rapids Griffins when they faced the Toronto Marlies at Comerica Park as part of the 2014 Winter Classic.

Coreau will pay particular attention to staying warm and loose.

“Today wasn’t too bad but there were some points, though, when the wind picked up and you could feel it,” said Coreau, who is considering wearing a hoodie to cover his head. “Where I noticed it most was the back of my neck. I have two layers on, so you don’t want to get too bundled up and restrict yourself.

“But, maybe, just hop around a little bit more and throw a couple of hand warmers in your gear.”