ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – A 30-minute practice was enough to convince Canadian defenceman Dante Fabbro that there's no way to prepare for the cold of an outdoor hockey game.
“I don't think there's any strategy for staying warm out there, it's pretty cold,” Fabbro said after a skate on the rink at NewEra Field, eyeblack still on his cheeks. “First five minutes it was freezing, I couldn't even feel my face. But after the first five it was a lot better, kinda got warm. That's all you can really do.”
Fabbro and his teammates had the practice at the home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills to try and get used to the conditions a day before Friday's big game against the rival United States in the preliminary round of the world junior hockey championship.
It was -10 C – without windchill – when Canada stepped on the ice in the mid-afternoon. Head coach Dominique Ducharme had chosen a time close to the 3 p.m. start of Friday's game so his team could get used to the glare reflecting off the ice at that time of day.
Fabbro is the only player on Canada's roster to have actually been in a competitive outdoor game before as his Boston University Terriers beat the UMass Minutemen 5-3 on Jan. 7 at Fenway Park. His strongest memory from the experience was how cold it could get on the bench.
“I had my first shift and I tried to have a sip of the water and the nozzle was frozen,” said Fabbro. “Ice was tough too because there was a lot of games going on at Fenway. It's a lot of fun but it's a hard game too especially with a lot of stakes on the line.”
Ice conditions will be a major factor against the Americans. The ice can break off in chunks when players dig their skates in for speed, with starting goaltender Carter Hart noting it made it a little more difficult for him to move laterally. The sky was clear on Thursday afternoon, but forecasts for Orchard Park, N.Y., predicted some flurries at game time.
Canada's roster has been built around speed, so struggling to dig in on the ice could slow them down. But the American team also emphasizes quickness, so both teams will be handicapped.
“Just today we were working on simple chips, simple plays,” said team captain Dillon Dube, who thinks being adaptable and consistent for the full 60 minutes will be crucial. “It's going to be a meat and potatoes game. That's going to be the fun part about it, is old-time hockey.”
Canada's defensive corps was glad to have the day off and a short practice after back-to-back games to start the tournament.
Several Canadian defenceman have struggled with injuries. Fabbro has been working himself back into game shape after sitting out four of five pre-competition games with a lower-body contusion; Kale Clague missed Wednesday's 6-0 win over Slovakia after blocking a shot with his foot in Tuesday's 4-2 victory against Finland; and Jake Bean saw limited minutes against Slovakia after a bad spill knocked the wind out of him.
However, all three practised on Thursday and are expected to be back in the lineup against the United States.
As veterans of Canada's heartbreaking shootout loss to the Americans in last year's final, Fabbro, Clague and Bean are anxious to get another crack at their rivals.
“I don't know if anyone's over it yet,” said Bean. “It's kinda something that's in the back of your mind and I think a lot of guys are excited to get back out there against them.”
Did you know?
The International Ice Hockey Federation announced Friday’s outdoor game between Canada and the United States will set a new attendance record for the world junior championship with ticket sales already numbering more than 40,000. The previous record was 20,380, when Canada faced Sweden in the gold-medal game in Ottawa on Jan. 5, 2009.