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This article was published 23/10/2016 (1360 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Milan Lucic seems to love the great outdoors, even though pond hockey has never been his thing.
Heck, the bruising Edmonton Oilers forward, a Vancouver product, had never played outside before with the exception of an informal skate as an injured player prior to an NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park in 2010.
Until Sunday afternoon, that is.
"Both teams were a little hesitant to see, to get going, just because both teams weren’t really sure how the conditions were going to be and how the ice was going to be," said a grinning Lucic after his Oilers spanked the Winnipeg Jets 3-0 in the NHL Heritage Classic outdoor game at Investors Group Field.
"I mean, the depth perception you lose not having the fans behind the glass, it really makes a difference, so I think once the guys got a few bumps in and the guys were able to make some passes and scoring chances, they were able to get it going... At the end of the day, when you look at it, the conditions were good. It wasn’t too cold, thankfully no rain here today, and I think everything worked out as planned."
It almost didn’t turn out that way. The Jets, spurred on by the majority of the 33,240 fans in attendance, took the game to the Oilers in the opening period but had nothing to show for it.
"They had some really good chances off the start and some odd-man rushes," said Lucic, who had two hits, two penalty minutes and 17:03 of ice time. "We gave them some Grade A scoring chances that (goaltender) Cam (Talbot) came up and made some huge saves for us to keep it 0-0 after one.
"And then us being able to pounce on a few chances in the second. We were able to feel confident about our game going into the third. Again, just getting everyone back on the backcheck and taking time and space away. There’s no magical formula. It’s just working hard and it paid off for us today."
After all their pre-game talk about keeping their game simple, the Jets couldn’t stick to basics.
"We tried to make plays that weren’t there and from there, we weren’t able to capitalize..." said Winnipeg centre Mark Scheifele. "That’s to be expected. It’s outdoor ice, conditions weren’t amazing but that was exactly it — we were both playing on it. They had the same issues and they kept it more simple than us. They put pucks to the net, they got it behind us and didn’t try to do anything too fancy."
Scheifele agonized over the missed opportunity. The young Jets have struggled early in the regular season, fortunate perhaps to have two wins in their first five games.
"Sticking to the battle," said Scheifele. "It’s tough to play a 60-minute game sticking to the way you want to play. It’s tough, but we have to find a way to stick to it for a full 60 and that’s the way we’re going to be successful."
Edmonton head coach Todd McLellan admitted prepping and playing as the road team was easier.
"It’s easier to be the road team," he said. "I’m convinced of that now in these (outdoor) events. (When I coached in) San Jose we were the home team. There’s way more distractions. It feels like it’s a bit of a circus at times when you’re a home team. We were able to just focus. We had a good practice yesterday. Our penalty kill was exceptional. This team lit us up in the exhibition season, and there were some things we had to fix, and we did that. Goaltending was fine, a good team effort."
Jets head coach Paul Maurice wasn’t happy about the loss but took great pride in the organization’s staging of the Heritage Classic.
What would he remember most about the weekend’s events?
"I have a picture in my head of (Saturday’s) game and the True North chant during the national anthem," said Maurice. "I happened to be standing behind (Jets co-owner and governor) Mark Chipman, who’s standing down two or three rows taking it all in.
"What I will remember the most is wondering in my own head if he understands — I’m sure he does, but he’s such a humble man I don’t know that he does — the impact that he had on a community. I’ve wondered if, in the inaugural game of the Manitoba Moose years ago, if he’d seen all that hard work would come to this in a really short period of time. I’m just really proud to be here."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
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