Penguins already gearing up in practice for Tuesday game in great outdoors

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PITTSBURGH - Maxime Talbot laughed at the old-style brown goalie pads Dany Sabourin strapped on for practice, a retro look if there ever was one, and immediately made a bet with his Pittsburgh Penguins teammate.

If Sabourin starts and wins the Winter Classic outdoor game in Buffalo on Tuesday wearing the 1950s-looking pads, Ouellet declared, he must keep wearing them when the Penguins return indoors.

"It's going to be cool," Sabourin said, commenting not on the anticipated game-time temperature of just below freezing but rather the back-to-the-future gear the Penguins will wear. "Guys are going to skate with the old-time brown skates, too.

"Just the whole thing, being outside, it's something that's going to be special."

Especially the cold, for one thing.

Backup goalie Ty Conklin and forward Georges Laraque played in the NHL's first and only previous outdoor game, the Heritage Classic game matching Montreal and Edmonton on Nov. 22, 2003, and they're warning their teammates that dealing with the cold will be the biggest challenge.

The wind chill was about -20 C for the outdoor game in Edmonton, and predicted breezes could make it cold in Buffalo.

Jose Theodore, who opposed Conklin in net during the Heritage Classic, is remembered for winning the game 4-3 for Montreal with a tuque over his helmet.

"Ty said he wore a deep-sea diver's suit under his equipment to stay warm because he was standing all the time," said forward Colby Armstrong, who grew up playing pond hockey in Saskatoon. "I don't know if it will get that cold, but it will be weird to see."

How about playing in snow flurries? Or when the wind is strong enough to alter a shot or a pass? Or if a player can't handle the stick and gives the puck away because his hands are so cold?

The Penguins have discussed all these challenges in their last few practices, including their game-day skate Saturday before their indoor game against the Sabres, as they prepare for the great unknown of outdoor hockey.

"I remember the last game in Edmonton just seeing how miserable some of the players looked and how cold it was," said Adam Hall, who played for Michigan State in the outdoor Cold War game against Michigan in 2001.

The Penguins equipment staff talked with the NFL Steelers to get tips on what kind of gear the players should wear.

"If we're going into the wind for two periods, it might be a little different," Sidney Crosby said. "It's something you have to think about.

"I'm not really sure what to expect."

Ryan Malone, whose father, Greg, played for the Penguins in the 1970s and 1980s, considered wearing his dad's old gloves - which are much bigger than gloves worn today - not only as a tribute but also to stay warm.

"(In) Chatham, New Brunswick, my dad's hometown, every night the firemen go around and ice over the basketball courts," Malone said. "Can you imagine every basketball court in Pittsburgh being flooded for ice rinks?

"It's definitely going to be something special."

At least Malone gets to wear one of the light blue jerseys like those the Penguins donned from 1967 to 1979, until they sided with the Pirates and Steelers and went with black and gold. The Penguins will wear the old-look blue sweaters for this game only.

Some Penguins players aren't big fans of an experimental game like this one counting in the standings. But one of the selling points for the league is that many of the 70,000-plus fans can someday tell future generations they saw Crosby play outdoors in a for-real game.

Only three years ago, Crosby and his Rimouski, Que., teammates played three-on-three games outdoors during their days off from junior hockey.

"But I have never played (outdoors) in front of anything like that (Buffalo)," Crosby said. "It's obviously a football field so everybody's not on top of you.

"Depending on the weather, I'm sure it will affect how loud they are."

Of course, the Penguins could have played in one of these games any time they wanted over the years. Mellon Arena was and is the only NHL arena with a retractable roof, yet the team never was tempted to open it up and play outdoors in January.

"I think one (outdoor game) is good," Crosby said. "One's good."



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