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Ryan White #53 of the Montreal Canadiens skates prior to NHL Preseason game against the Boston Bruins on September 20, 2009 at the Colisee Pepsi in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. The Bruins defeated the Canadiens 2-1.
Ryan White #53 of the Montreal Canadiens skates prior to NHL Preseason game against the Boston Bruins on September 20, 2009 at the Colisee Pepsi in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. The Bruins defeated the Canadiens 2-1.

Players think outdoor game is kind of cool Add to ...

Maybe it's the allure of a game distilled to its essence, or it could be nostalgia, an all-too-rare opportunity to get in touch with one's inner 12-year-old.

It might even have a tiny bit to do with free swag, like the down-filled parkas that were lined up in paper bags outside the Montreal Canadiens' dressing room this week.

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Whatever the reason, the prospect of hockey alfresco at Sunday's Heritage Classic in Calgary is enough to make even big-time pro athletes - and their middle-aged coaches - a little giddy.

"When I was 14 years old, a buddy of mine's old man built a backyard rink, we were in bantam then and we were out there every day. I love it, it's going to be a real treat to be a part of the whole thing," said Canadiens' forward Ryan White, a 22-year-old Brandon native who played his junior hockey with the Calgary Hitmen.

White was a huge fan favourite during his Hitmen days, and was the team's player of the year in 2007.

"I haven't been out there since I played [junior] there's a lot of people I'd like to see and I'm sure a lot of people will be cheering me on," said White, who added he hasn't noodled around on outdoor ice since "a couple of Christmases ago."

"I wish I had some more time to get out there. It's fun to get back to your roots, it's the best hockey you can play," he said.

Sunday's game will have special significance for the two Canadiens' players who have previously suited up for the Flames, Michael Cammalleri and Roman Hamrlik.

With top-line forwards suffering from various bumps and ailments, fans of the surging Flames may be permitted to wonder what might have been if Cammalleri had been retained as a free agent and slotted onto Jarome Iginla's line, but the diminutive sniper has moved on from such considerations and is more than comfortable in his starring role in Montreal.

Not that he isn't dying to play in southern Alberta.

"I would love to play in that game, I still have a lot of friends in Calgary, and hey, what's not to love about an outdoor game?" he said.

Cammalleri, who has been out with a shoulder injury since Jan. 18, has already arranged for his relatives' cold-weather gear - which likely won't be needed as the forecast is calling for temperatures of 2C - and will probably have to be strapped to a hospital bed in order not to play.

For his first outdoor game, while playing for the University of Michigan Wolverines (against archrival Michigan State and its star goalie Ryan Miller), Cammalleri made a miracle recovery from a leg injury that had kept him out for several weeks and made it hard for him even to walk.

"Just remember that one guys," Cammalleri joked with reporters this week.

In recalling that game, he also touched on the relationship between modern outdoor events and Sears-catalogue-in-the-socks hockey mythology, saying he remembers the odd feeling of wind buffeting his stick: "it felt to me like we were playing a quiet pond hockey game in the middle of nowhere, you could hear the skates and the voices. Then when a roar would come up from the crowd, you would look up and see, at that time, it was 75,000 people."

Hamrlik, for his part, took a somewhat less lyrical view.

The 36-year-old Czech said he is less concerned about playing against two of his former teams this week - he also played for the team at the other end of Highway 2, the Oilers - than he is with the Habs' current form.

The Canadiens, 1-2-2 in their past five games, faced the unpredictable Oilers, who beat them in overtime earlier this season in Montreal, on Thursday.

"It's another road trip. We know how important it is. Edmonton's a young team and they're going to play hard. It's huge. We have to bring back some points from the trip," Hamrlik said.

Fellow veteran Hal Gill, who is also hoping to return to Montreal's injury-ravaged defence in time for Sunday afternoon's game, recalled his pond hockey days in Massachusetts ("Cardigan Mountain!" he exclaimed) and said he can't recall playing outside as an adult.

And goaltender Carey Price, a B.C. native who has been known to play road hockey in the summer but hasn't played outside "for over 10 years, probably," is making special plans for the occasion.

He'll debut a new piece of gear: a goalie mask he says is "going to be a bit of a retro look."

"I've got something coming. I'm meeting up with the artist out there and I'm sure it'll be pretty neat," he said.

Might he also wear a tuque in homage to former Habs goalie Jose Theodore, who once donned one in a frigid outdoor game in Edmonton?

"It depends on how cold it is, I guess," he said.

 

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