Winds gusting to 100 kilometres an hour forced both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals to move their practices indoors Friday and threatened to disrupt their outdoor game on Saturday. But Mike Babcock proved to be the biggest blowhard.
"We're going to get up, there's going to be no wind and we're going to have a good game tomorrow night," the Maple Leafs head coach said. "That's just the way it's going to be. These things have a way of working themselves out just fine."
The rest of the players and coaches involved in Saturday's NHL Stadium Series game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapoli, Md., were not so sure. Capitals head coach Barry Trotz heard the winds from the storm that hit the U.S. Northeast howling around his house all Thursday night. He was just happy it was still standing on Friday and was fully prepared to make allowances for the wind at the game.
"Maybe we'll have to flip a coin for the end zone like football," he said. "You better not be too tired on the backcheck against the wind because you'll never get back. We'll see how it is."
While the forecast for the 8 p.m. opening faceoff at the U.S. Naval Academy calls for the winds to die down to gusts of 25 km/h, NHL officials will monitor the conditions. There is a possibility the teams could switch ends halfway through the third period so each team will have the wind at their backs for 30 of the 60 minutes of regulation time.
"Not a clue to be honest with you," Leafs centre Tyler Bozak said when asked how he thought the wind would affect the game. "Whatever way is going with the wind I think we'll like that a little more.
"I doubt it's going to be as windy as it is [Friday]. I hope not. Both teams will have to deal with the same elements. Whatever it is, it's going to be an exciting time."
There are game-day skates scheduled at the 34,000-seat stadium, which will be the first time each team can try out the temporary rink. If the practices have to be cancelled, as the wind warning is expected to hold through the morning, then neither team will get to test the ice until the game's warmup, a first for the NHL since it began playing outdoor matches 15 years ago.
Another first for the outdoor games is the official involvement of the U.S. military, in which about 500 Navy midshipmen will attend the game. There are plans to explore holding outdoor games at the other military academies, the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
"The history speaks for itself coming to a place like this," Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk said. "It's going to be a cool venue for sure. I was a little disappointed not to skate out there [Friday]. You get a sense of the history just walking around."
There's also some history between the Capitals and Leafs, thanks to last season's playoffs, which should make for an intense game. The Caps, who finished first in the regular season in 2016-17, had all they could handle in beating the upstart Leafs in six games in the first round of the postseason.
"It's a team we're pretty familiar with, a team that always creates a good game, a fun game to play in," said Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby. "That's the most exciting part. When you play a team like Toronto it's a really good challenge. We've had good battles in the past. It creates a rivalry feeling."
The game will be the third and final meeting of the regular season between these teams. The Leafs won 2-0 in Washington in October and the Caps beat them 4-2 in November in Toronto.
This season, the Leafs are a much better team than the one that gave the Capitals a scare last spring before losing in overtime in the sixth and deciding game of their playoff series.
"I just think we're significantly better because our young guys are better," Babcock said. "They're harder, they've been through it more, they've seen what it's like. They've been eliminated from the playoffs. They know right away here you get in the playoffs, then 10 days later one of you is moving on, one of you is going home. These are lessons you can talk about but until you've been through them you don't know.
"Don't get me wrong, we're still going to have lots of highs and lots of crushing lows. That's just part of being on a good team. But you want to set yourself up for as many opportunities as you can possibly have and I think we're going in the right direction."