The National Hockey League is doing its homework as to the viability of Winnipeg playing host to a Heritage Classic outdoor game at the new Investors Field.
A source has told the Free Press the league has taken the next step in their study by contacting Environment Canada seeking data on weather patterns in Winnipeg for January and February. Now, while that may seem like a given -- most Winnipeggers would offer up their own forecast as cold with the chance of more cold -- it does indicate how seriously the NHL is considering the Manitoba capital as a future site for a Heritage Classic outdoor game, perhaps in 2014.
There have been two previous Heritage Classic games held in Canada -- not to be confused with the Winter Classics staged on New Year's Day: the first was in Edmonton in 2003 when the Oilers and Montreal Canadiens played in front of 57,167 at Commonwealth Stadium and the second was held last year in front of 41,022 fans at Calgary's McMahon Stadium between the Flames and Habs.
Also worth noting here is MTS Centre chief engineer Derek King spent three weeks in Philadelphia before this year's Winter Classic helping NHL icemaker Dan Craig ready Citizen's Bank Park for that game between the Flyers and New York Rangers.
The NHL said last fall Winnipeg would be a good candidate to host a Heritage Classic because of its weather and the new facility at the University of Manitoba. And in January, True North Sports & Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman told the Free Press: "If the opportunity came along, it's something we would certainly explore. But it's not something we're looking to do next year by any stretch," he said. "I don't even know when the next (Heritage Classic) would be available. I think people would be very enthusiastic (in Winnipeg). The Heritage Classics have been big successes whenever they've been held."
-- TRAVEL MANITOBA, YOUNG MAN: Jets forward Tim Stapleton, who has been battling a 'lower-body' injury and has missed the last eight games, may get the green light to return for Thursday's game in Washington.
"I'm pretty much ready to go, but it's the kind of injury where the last couple of days is the first time I've felt really good," Stapleton said Tuesday. "I think I need to be careful because I could tweak it again."
Now, it turns out nobody was more excited to see the Jets return home -- even if it was just for one game -- than Stapleton. Sitting at home in Winnipeg all by his lonesome wasn't much fun.
"It's terrible, especially when they're on the road and I'm stuck in Winnipeg all by myself," said Stapleton. "I try to keep myself busy. I like it here, but like I said it's tough with the team gone. I'm excited everyone's back. I actually can't stop smiling because everyone's back. I'm pretty happy."
Asked how he killed time when the team was away -- maybe going bowling or by heading out to museums -- Stapleton said: "I haven't gone to any museums yet... I like museums, I just didn't know they had any here. What have I done? I've been at the rink a lot just kind of rehabbing and trying to stay here as much as possible. Being home I've been watching the games and that's been frustrating, but being that we've been playing a lot it's given me something to do. I've just been resting and hanging out and trying to make friends and enjoy the time."
Told there were museums in Winnipeg and an art gallery, Stapleton -- who has a wry sense of humour -- added: "I heard there was a couple and I actually want to check them out. And there's Internet, too.
"It's something where maybe I'm going to have to do a few more things around here rather than sit around my house."
-- CHECK IT OUT: In the wake of Evander Kane's concussion woes -- and the fact he believes he may have suffered it as far back as the game against the New York Islanders on Dec. 20 -- coach Claude Noel said Tuesday players are reminded to report any symptoms to their staff.
"We've mentioned that and our trainers are good in the fact that they do that," Noel said. "But athletes are athletes and if you've ever had a concussion it's strange because you're not really sure, either. Is it a headache? There's a lot of emphasis on it now and it's something we've addressed.
"Concussions are out there. It's one of those things... sometimes you wake up and you're fine. Sometimes you don't get anything until a couple days later. Anything now, though, you've got to bring it up to the staff and say, 'I might not be quite right here.' That's the only thing you can do."
Kane played on a line Tuesday with Nik Antropov and Eric Fehr. Fehr was back in the lineup because Kyle Wellwood was out with the flu. The Jets returned forward Spencer Machacek to the St. John's IceCaps.
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