They came from Arnold Park in Binghamton, New York, Valois Park in Montreal and countless backyard rinks in between.
Safe then to say that when the Toronto Marlies arrived at Ivor Wynne Stadium to practice for the AHL Outdoor Classic against the Hamilton Bulldogs it felt a bit like coming home.
The outdoor game, the first convened in Ontario, will be played Saturday. Puck drop is 1 p.m.
After conducting a brisk hour-long practice, Marlies coach Dallas Eakins was sitting in the stadium dressing room, an enclosure where you seem to be putting on airs if you hang your jacket on a hook instead of a nail.
“Today was fun,” he said. “It was cold and windy but there’s something about that sense memory. You think ‘I remember this feeling. I remember my toes being this cold and my hands freezing and you still didn’t want to come in.”
It was just minus three but a 40 km wind whipped off Lake Ontario.
Forecasters are calling for temperatures just a bit above freezing for the game. The winter wind, not the temperatures, will be the wild card.
Fair enough. If you are young enough or nostalgic enough to remember playing outside, you remember the wind, not the cold, as your real enemy. Wool mitts and a good skate can ward off the cold. The wind will have its way.
“It was a lot of fun but pretty cold,” said Mike Zigomanis, who learned the game on an outdoor rink his dad built in the backyard of the family home in Markham.
“We had a little park in Binghamton, it was called Arnold Park” said forward Jerry D’Amigo. “The firemen would flood it. The dads would shovel and all the kids would play.”
“Valois Park,” said defenceman Drew Paris. “That’s where I played. You got used to the cold.”
Years playing indoors can make a man forget.
“We have thermal underwear on so my body is warm,” Paris said, “but I chose not to wear the hat under my helmet. Mistake. I’m wearing that at practice tomorrow I’ll tell you that right now.”
Eakins was seven when his family moved from Florida to Peterborough. At first they lived at his grandmother’s house on Swanson Street.
“When the winter came my Dad made the whole back yard into a skating rink. There was nothing but rink and like every Canadian kid, a chair came out on the ice that I pushed around.”
The Marlies sit in first place in the North Division but their margin over the Bulldogs has been whittled down to six points. The romantic in Eakins loves the conditions. The coach dislikes anything he can’t control. Naturally, that includes wind.
“Is it nice to play outside? Absolutely but this is about two points,” Eakins said. “I want the game to be just about the game but I also understand it’s the same for the Bulldogs.”