Steve Zipay is an award-winning journalist who has covered events from Super Bowls to World Series and issues
Last time the Rangers played an outdoor game, it was Jan. 2, 2012, at the Winter Classic in Philadelphia.
Ryan Callahan remembers that it was warm enough to turn the bench heaters off. Brian Boyle was astounded by the enormous media buildup and the feeling of a playoff game in midseason. Marc Staal recalls the relief of coming back to play after missing 36 games with post-concussion symptoms. Derick Brassard watched it on television.
The Rangers face the Devils two weeks from Sunday at Yankee Stadium, and then on Jan. 29 against the Islanders.
Only 11 players on the 22-man roster from the 3-2 victory over the Flyers still wear New York jerseys, so the experience will be familiar for some and unique for many.
"I'm sure as we get closer, we'll be talking about it more, the guys who played there, what to expect," said Callahan, who set up the winning goal in the third period of that outdoor game against the Flyers. "One thing is that in those surroundings, you're so pumped up at the start that you have to be able to control your emotions. And this time, it may be colder. In Philly, we were turning the bench heaters off and on as the game went on."
Callahan and Brad Richards are the only two current players with points in that game. Mike Rupp, who scored twice in the comeback from a 2-0 hole, with assists from Brandon Prust and John Mitchell, is with the Wild. Prust and Mitchell left via free agency.
Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped Danny Briere's penalty shot with 19.6 seconds remaining to secure the win, is still here, of course. And five of the six defensemen will again be wearing commemorative white jerseys (both the Devils and Islanders are the home teams): Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman and Marc Staal. The big turnover is up front: Besides Richards and Callahan, the only other returning forwards are Brian Boyle, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin.
"It'll be different in Yankee Stadium, for sure," said Staal, who grew up on rinks in frigid Thunder Bay, Ontario. "But it doesn't matter where you play the Devils and Islanders, you know what those games are like."
Personally, it won't be the same for Staal, either: In 2012, he had just been cleared to return after missing half the season, so he was adjusting to the environment and was admittedly nervous.
"There were some issues with the glare, and the whole sense of openness," he said. "You're used to seeing fans by the glass. But the ice conditions were OK; it was really neat."
This time, he also will be wearing a visor, which he added after being struck in the right eye by a deflected puck last March.
Brassard, who has watched the Winter Classics on TV, expects "the experience of a lifetime . . . the players are out there having a blast and so are the fans . . . I'm just so excited, and it'll be good to have a practice there the day before."
Brassard, who played on neighborhood rinks in Gatineau, Quebec, sometimes while his dad played goaltender, expects coaches to advise players "to keep it simple, shoot everything . . . have fun, but at the same time, those two points are going to be huge."
In 2012, HBO camera crews filming the "24/7" series followed the Rangers for weeks leading up to the game, and Boyle said the sense of a major event was everywhere.
"That's one big difference this time," he said. "But we'll be playing hard. These aren't just regular-season games. You have to be prepared for the weather. It was warm, like 40 at 3 o'clock, but I remember the snow in the second period. I kept changing my shirts [underneath the jersey]."
Boyle, who grew up a devout Boston Red Sox fan in Hingham, Mass., and spent many days at Fenway Park, will be venturing into enemy territory in the Bronx. "Seriously," he said with a grin, "it's a beautiful place -- for hockey."
Bye, Bye Blues
11 players and one notorious head coach have departed since the Winter Classic. Where are they now?
Michael Rupp. Minnesota Wild
John Mitchell. Colorado Avalanche
Brandon Prust. Montreal Canadiens
Ruslan Fedotenko. KHL, HC Donbass
Brandon Dubinsky. Columbus Blue Jackets
Artem Anisimov. Columbus Blue Jackets
Marian Gaborik. Columbus Blue Jackets
Stu Bickel. Hartford Wolf Pack
Martin Biron. Retired
Erik Christensen. Swedish Elite League, HV71
Jeff Woywitka. Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Augsburger Panther
John Tortorella. Vancouver Canucks