For Benoit Pouliot, today's game at Yankee Stadium cannot be any colder than the Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium in Calgary on Feb. 20, 2011.
"It was freezing," said the Rangers left wing, who played for Montreal in a 4-0 loss to the Flames before 41,000 fans. "As the game went on, with the wind [16 mph], they figured it was minus-6. I couldn't feel much."
It was far warmer at noon Saturday when the Devils took the ice for practice at the Stadium, with the rink stretching from first base to third, and with hockey pennants replacing the American League pennants above the storied white façade for the first NHL outdoor game in New York City history.
The baseball vibe was impossible to ignore. On the sideline, while the Devils' friends and family took a twirl on the rink, Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore tossed a baseball and Derek Stepan worked on a knuckler.
Jaromir Jagr, who had played outdoors at an all-star game in Red Square in Russia, joked that "this is like the summer compared to January in Moscow." Now 41, Jagr took it easy in practice, he said, because he hurt his calf against the Rangers when he played for the Flyers in the Winter Classic in 2012.
"If I had a choice to play here or L.A., I would probably choose L.A.," the Czech star said. "Nothing against New York; it's just because I had a bad experience two years ago. I got injured in the first period. It's a lot tougher for the muscles to get warmed up."
But Jagr raved about the ballpark and the Yankees' clubhouse, with its space and amenities, as "a special place."
"It just hit me when I came into the dressing room, and I've seen a lot of dressing rooms," said Jagr, who snapped photos of the pictures of Babe Ruth and other legendary Yankees. "You don't know even who's sitting on the other side; if you make a mistake, they [the coaches] are probably not going to find you, so that's a good thing."
Snow started falling before the Rangers took the ice for their 40-minute practice at 3 p.m., and the elements forced some adjustments. Passing and shooting were more difficult. Although goalie Martin Brodeur, who will start for the Devils, took gloves and some layers off, Pouliot, Mats Zuccarello, Dan Girardi, Derek Brassard and Kevin Klein wore ski masks on the lower part of their faces. "If it snows [Sunday],'' Boyle said, "I might have to put on a window [visor].''
No snow is expected Sunday, and idyllic surroundings aside, both the Rangers and Devils need two points. The Blueshirts, who have lost two straight, have played 53 games and have 57 points. The Devils, who have won two straight, have played 52 games and have 55 points.
"It's a four-point game with two teams that are this close in the standings, and the reality is, one of us might be in the playoffs and one of us might be on the outside looking in," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "So the message to our group today was enjoy the day, let's have fun, enjoy your families, then at the hotel tonight, it's all business."
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault also was pumped.
"In an 82-game schedule, these two games [Sunday] and Wednesday [against the Islanders] is real good for our group," Vigneault said. "If the conditions are just a little cold and there's no snow and the ice is good, what you're going to see is a real good hockey game. This is a different atmosphere."