December 7, 2019

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Playing outside, thinking inside

Jets eager to soak up unique Heritage Classic fun but aren't forgetting there's work to do

Saturday's Heritage Classic between the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets will be on a grand stage at Regina's Mosaic Stadium.

And while many fans may be more concerned about immersing themselves in the unique outdoor experience, the game's combatants have a more basic desire: to win the game.

The Flames were 5-5-1 heading into Thursday's home date with the Florida Panthers and coming off a disappointing 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals Tuesday night. The Jets, 3-2 losers to the Los Angeles Kings Tuesday, have fallen to 5-6-0 overall.

In short, both teams are struggling for traction and have something to prove.

The Jets are coming off an ugly 3-2 loss to Los Angeles. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The Jets are coming off an ugly 3-2 loss to Los Angeles. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"What's kinda interesting about this game — certainly the spectacle of it — but both teams are coming into this game not very happy, right?" said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. "Both coaches are going to be, 'Yeah, yeah, enjoy the game, it's fun but we don't like our last game and we've gotta make amends for it.'

HERITAGE CLASSIC

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Pre-game and post-game attractions

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.-7:30 p.m. (local time); Sunday, 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. (local time)

Where: Confederation Park, 1700 Elphinstone St., Regina

Admission: Free and open to the public

"So there's going to be a little edge to this game that you may not see, because L.A. went in (Saturday) and did the same thing to Calgary that they just did to us. Everybody'll be a little snarly coming into this one."

Connor Hellebuyck, expected to get the start in goal for the Jets, will be experiencing the thrill of an outdoor game for the second time. He was on the losing end of a 3-0 decision to the Edmonton Oilers at IG Field on Oct. 23, 2016.

"I'm extremely excited," said Hellebuyck. "There's nothing like the feeling of an outdoor game. The bigger crowds and the noise... A lot of people describe it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I'm very, very grateful to get it a second time."

Three years ago, a bright afternoon sun's intense glare off the ice forced NHL officials to delay the start of the game by almost two hours. Saturday's 9 p.m. start time (CBC, SN1, CITY, NBCSP) takes care of that problem.

A 9 p.m. start in Regina will ensure the glare of the sun won't be an issue like it was in Winnipeg in 2016, when the game was delayed by two hours. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)</p>

A 9 p.m. start in Regina will ensure the glare of the sun won't be an issue like it was in Winnipeg in 2016, when the game was delayed by two hours. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

Hellebuyck plans to soak up the atmosphere.

"Just to enjoy every second of it, but that being said, we're going to be strictly business. It's another NHL game and we need (the win); enjoy the little things, but at the end of the day, come ready to work," he said.

Blue-liner Josh Morrissey was just beginning his rookie season with the Jets when Winnipeg hosted its first Heritage Classic.

"What I remember was it was an awesome day, other than we lost," he said. "The whole experience was pretty cool. For me, I don't know if I had played 10 NHL games at that point in my career. To kind of be able to play a Heritage (Classic) game outdoors, that early in my career, was pretty special.

"I remember the glare in the afternoon was a bit of a problem, (they) had to push the game, but shouldn't have that issue with the night game this year. It's just a ton of fun. It's hockey in its most pure form, I guess, in some respects. Way back when everybody started playing, they started, for the most part, on outdoor rinks somewhere, so it's lot of fun."

The Edmonton Oilers beat Winnipeg 3-0 the last time the Jets played outdoors. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)</p>

The Edmonton Oilers beat Winnipeg 3-0 the last time the Jets played outdoors. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

Morrissey expects to experiment with a tinted visor and eye black for Saturday's game. The Jets practised at the Iceplex Thursday before departing for Regina. They're scheduled to practise outdoors at Mosaic Friday afternoon before a Saturday-morning skate at nearby Brandt Centre, home of the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats.

"It's kind of a special game for me," said Morrissey, who grew up in Calgary but spent most of his junior career in Prince Albert, Sask. "It's where my dad grew up... my grandparents are from there. Didn't anticipate I'd be playing an NHL game back in Regina, but it's pretty cool and I think the whole province of Saskatchewan is gonna be either supporting us or the Flames, since they're right in the middle. It's a great hockey province."

Another Winnipeg veteran, 31-year-old left-winger Mathieu Perreault, will be playing in his fourth outdoor game. Perreault, who played for the Jets in the 2016 Heritage Classic, was a member of the Washington Capitals when they took on the Penguins at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field in 2011 and again in 2014 when his Anaheim Ducks faced the Kings at L.A.'s Dodger Stadium.

Mathieu Perreault will be playing in his fourth outdoor game on Saturday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Mathieu Perreault will be playing in his fourth outdoor game on Saturday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The 2011 game was marred by poor weather; rain forced a seven-hour delay from the original 1 p.m. start time. Beautiful conditions greeted the game in California.

"Enjoy the moment, what's going on around the game," said Perreault, when asked what advice he would give his teammates unfamiliar with the experience. "But once the puck drops, it's just another game. You've gotta face it (like) it's two points in the standings you've gotta get and it's just another game but you can definitely enjoy what's all around it."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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