The veteran and the rookie
Chris Chelios has played in 1,619 regular-season NHL games. This afternoon, he played his first NHL game on an outdoor rink, getting to skate on baseball field that he has visited as a fan 200 times by his own estimate, Wrigley Field.
The 46-year-old veteran was an outdoor rookie today. The 32-year-old journeyman was the veteran.
"In 25 years, I haven't missed too much," said Chelios. "This happened to come along when it did. It's kind of like the all-star game when I played in Chicago (in 1991 in Chelios' first season with the Blackhawks). I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."
Chelios would normally have been a healthy scratch for this game. A spare defenseman in the Detroit lineup, Chelios skated as the seventh defenseman. Detroit has dressed six defensemen in every game this season, but yesterday's.
To make room for Chelios, fourth-line forward Tomas Kopecky was scratched, making this the first game that he has missed this season.
Chelios was in the starting lineup on the blue line beside Nicklas Lidstrom, then went back to a support role, finishing the game with 1:57 of ice time.
But for a 46-year-old who grew up watching Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins play baseball on this field, it was 1:57 that will always be remembered.
"It was a great event," said Chelios. "The history behind the building and everyone having a chance to be a part of that was great."
Conklin, a career backup goalie playing with his fifth team in seven NHL seasons, was also in the right place at the right time to become the only NHLer to skate in all three outdoor games.
Conklin started the game for Edmonton in 2003 against the Montreal Canadiens and for Pittsburgh in Buffalo last Jan. 1. Both times, injuries to the No. 1 goalie gave Conklin the opportunity.
This time, Chris Osgood was still recovering from a groin strain, giving Conklin another start outdoors.
"Each one has their special little things that are different then the others," said Conklin. "I consider myself pretty lucky. There's not a guy in this league who wouldn't want to play in these games. I've had the opportunity to play in three of them. I've had a great time in all three of them."
Today's game started with a temperature of 31.9 degrees. That made playing conditions much different than Conklin's first outdoor game in Edmonton that had a game-time temperature of -4 degrees.
"It wasn't nearly as cold as the Edmonton game," said Conklin. "It got colder as the game went on. It was a little colder than in Buffalo last year. I don't think anyone was complaining."