ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Shortly before he walked outside Friday at Navy’s Memorial Stadium, Mike Babcock said: “Hang on to your hat.”
Babcock’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals might want to hang on to everything with high wind in the forecast for Saturday night’s outdoors Stadium Series game at the U.S. Naval Academy. The storm knocking out power and disrupting travel up and down the East Coast forced both teams to practice indoors Friday, where they were left to contemplate what sustained winds of 15-20 mph and gusts as high as 32 mph might have on their game.
“I have no idea,” Maple Leafs centre Tyler Bozak said. “Hopefully we’re skating with the wind more than we are against it.”
The wind is enough of a factor that the game could be postponed to Sunday. The glass had to be removed from the on-field rink because of safety concerns.
The NHL has played 24 previous regular-season outdoor games and this one could easily see the worst conditions when it comes to wind. Temperatures just above freezing would not rank it among the coldest, but there are concerns how the wind could make a real difference.
“I haven’t played in anywhere it’s been super windy,” said Maple Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk, who will be taking part in his fifth outdoor game. “It’ll definitely make a unique dynamic, I know. It seems like in today’s game there’s lots of high flips and stuff like that, so it’ll be interesting to see how the puck reacts getting flipped in the air and a gust of wind comes up.”
Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby thinks strong wind would only possibly affect dump-ins or high flips of the puck and that it could make it difficult for players to keep their eyes open when it’s head on. Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen is more concerned for the skaters — and that’s a shared concern.
“If you have a turnover and you’ve got to backcheck, that’s probably when it’s going to be a little tough,” Capitals centre Nicklas Backstrom said.
NHL players are more accustomed to climate-controlled arenas — a long way from their younger days when playing on frozen ponds or lakes meant dealing with the conditions.
“It won’t feel good on your body, that’s for sure,” Toronto forward Mitch Marner said. “It probably won’t help with the puck or anything like that.”
Capitals coach Barry Trotz was more worried when the wind rumbled around trees outside his house Thursday night and joked about a coin toss to pick directions like a football game.
Previous outdoor games have included teams changing ends at the 10-minute mark of the third period to negate an unfair wind advantage. At the least, that’s likely, and players are prepared for the wind even though they don’t know exactly what it’ll do.
“The wind wouldn’t be ideal, but part of playing these games is you have to deal with the weather,” Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “She was a little windy out there (Friday), but hopefully she clears up a little bit for us.”
Rielly, who played outdoors on New Year’s Day in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2014 and again in Toronto in 2017, figures wind would be more difficult to deal with than snow. But the 23-year-old has a sunny disposition about wacky weather.
“It definitely has an impact on the game,” Rielly said. “But that’s all part of the experience. Players, two teams have to deal with it. It’s not going to change the game plan or anything. It’s just going to make it a little bit more difficult and it might be kind of fun.”