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Outdoors Hockey: When it Rains, it Bores



outdoors game rain winter classic

BOSTON — The Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup won’t change simply because they’ll be playing outside.

The rules of the game remain the same, regardless of whether it’s been played indoors or outdoors.

Get past a handful of such unwavering truths, however, and almost everything has the potential to be different in an outdoors game like the one the Penguins and Boston Bruins will play at Fenway Park shortly after 2 p.m. Monday.

Some changes are guaranteed, like how outdoors games invariably are contested before many more fans than there would be at an indoors venue, and how the crowd is much farther from the playing surface than usual.

However, the most important — and volatile — variable is weather, as the Penguins have discovered while competing in five outdoors games since the NHL introduced its Winter Classic in 2008, when the Penguins and Buffalo Sabres met at Ralph Wilson Stadium n Orchard Park, N.Y.

Much of that game was contested in a heavy snow — turns out it does snow in Buffalo every now and then — as was the Penguins’ “Stadium Series” matchup with Chicago at Soldier Field in 2014.

If it snows hard enough, the puck doesn’t slide well and even players’ ability to see what’s going on around them can be impeded.

Not surprisingly, then, hockey historians aren’t inclined to include the Penguins’ 2-1 shootout victory over Buffalo, when Sidney Crosby scored the deciding goal, or their 5-1 loss to the Blackhawks on any list of the sport’s greatest games.

Still, at least a few players wouldn’t object if some flakes fall during the game against the Bruins.

“I wouldn’t mind snow,” defenseman Jan Rutta said. “That would be pretty cool.”

Perhaps, but it’s unlikely he’ll get his wish Monday.

Current forecasts call for an afternoon high in the low 50s, with partly cloudy conditions and only a slight chance of precipitation.

Pittsburgh Penguins players — at least the ones who were around for their 3-1 Winter Classic defeat by Washington at Heinz Field in 2011 and/or their 4-3 overtime loss at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park in 2019 — surely are happy about that, because rain seems to be a consensus choice for the worst possible development at an outdoors game.

As was evident during that game against the Capitals — the start of which was pushed back from afternoon to evening because of heavy downpours in Western Pennsylvania — rain impedes puck movement even more than snow.

“If it rains, it puddles, and the puck wouldn’t move,” winger Danton Heinen said. “Rain would be the worst.”

Standing water routinely does more to break up offensive rushes than even the opponent’s most accomplished defenders do, effectively neutralizing the most gifted — and entertaining — players in the game.

Rickard Rakell likened playing in the rain to not waiting for the ice at an indoor rink to set up after it has been resurfaced.

“If you go on the ice too soon after the Zamboni is done, the puck just sticks to the ice,” he said. “That’s the worst feeling, having to look down at the puck the whole time to make sure you still have it.”