The NHL is about to hold its third Winter Classic — those outdoor games held in football stadiums and baseball parks. Pond hockey to the extreme.
The Red Wings are half of this year’s participants — set to face the Chicago Blackhawks on New Year’s Day at Wrigley Field. And one goalie will have dressed in all three of these pond contests.
“The hardest part is keeping warm,” Ty Conklin was saying on the phone the other day. And this from a guy who availed himself to being assaulted with tennis balls as a kid. But more about that later.
Conklin played in last year’s game in Buffalo, when he was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. And he played in the classic for the Edmonton Oilers a few years ago.
“I wish it wasn’t so cold,” he said with a chuckle about last year’s contest.
Conklin was the winner, as Sidney Crosby won the match for the Pens in a shootout, as snowflakes the size of quarters spilled onto the ice.
Conklin was the starter, despite being the supposed backup to Marc-Andre Fleury. I say supposed because Conklin played in about 40% of the Penguins’ games, thanks to Fleury battling injuries last season.
It was his fine performance in Pittsburgh last year that prompted Red Wings GM Ken Holland to offer the 32-year-old a contract last summer as the backup to Chris Osgood. Conklin was again to play the role of no. 2, as Osgood figured to be the goalie about 70% of the time.
Now injuries have reared their head again. Osgood is battling that goalie bugaboo — the groin that threatens to go pop.
Guess who’s been thrust back into the starting job in net?
Osgood, prior to the tender groin situation, wasn’t posting the greatest numbers in the world. By his own admission, the 36-year-old was fighting the puck; and the numbers were agreeing with him. A GAA of well over 3.00. A save percentage not even close to .900, which is the industry standard for starting goalies.
Ahh, but one number stood out above all the rest, all while Osgood crabbed about his own play.
“I have a hard time with people sometimes when it comes to Chris,” Conklin said Monday during an NHL conference call with the media, when I openly wondered whether goalies talk to each other if one of them is apparently slumping. “The number that counts is wins. The guy has lost two games (in regulation) all season. He hasn’t had much puck luck.”
“Puck luck.” Only goalies talk like that, right?
“I’ve been there,” Conklin said of Osgood’s internal battle. “It’s tough. Once he gets healthy, he’ll be fine.”
Contrary to popular belief, the expectations of a goalie aren’t necessarily greater in Detroit than anywhere else, Conklin reported.
“There are expectations everywhere. All around the league,” he said. “But I don’t think the goalies here (in Detroit) are expected to stop every shot. That’s not how the guys in the locker room look at it.”
I also asked Conklin, straight up: Why in the world would any seemingly sane-minded guy want to become a goalie, anyway?
He laughed. “Well, it started when my dad and brothers would shoot tennis balls at me in the basement. I don’t know; I just liked it right away.”
Maybe not sane-minded, after all. I had a lot of ideas for fun as a kid, but being shot at with a bunch of tennis balls wasn’t on the list.
Now, playing goalie on an outdoor rink for the Detroit Red Wings on New Year’s Day? THAT’S something I could get into. But I didn’t pay my dues in the basement, did I?