USA Hockey Magazine

February 2018

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FEBRUARY 2018 USAHOCKEYMAGAZINE.COM // 17 B ob Motzko peered out the window of his Buffalo hotel room and liked what he saw. Looking across the street at the B u f f a l o N a v a l & M i l i t a r y Pa r k , Motzko could tell what the day would hold in store, weather wise, by how the ensign flew from the flagstaff of the USS Little Rock that is perma- nently docked there. In the days leading up to the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, the flag flew stiffly in the arctic air that blew across Lake Erie and plunged the city into a deep freeze. But on the last Friday of 2017 the Stars and Stripes fell limp, indicating that it would be a great day for hockey at New Era Field. "I keep hearing the words 'perfect condi- tions for an outdoor game,'" said the Austin, Minn., native who was coaching the U.S. National Junior Team for the second con- secutive year. " When I was a kid 'perfect conditions' meant just putting your skates on and play. And that's all we're really hear- ing. We're going to have fun with it." But the one thing Buffalo natives know all too well, those pesky lake-effect snows can appear at a moment's notice and throw a snowy curveball on outdoor activities. Almost 10 years ago to the day, another outdoor hockey game was staged in snowy conditions and on the same field, and it forever changed the landscape of the game at home and around the world. On Jan. 1, 2008, as the falling snow created a snow globe effect, a crowd of more than 71,000 watched the Pittsburgh Penguins edge the hometown Sabres. It paved the way for the NHL Winter Classic to become an annual spectacle, and triggered offshoot events from Toronto to Los Angeles. Not that the elements this year bothered anyone. Not the players or their wide-eyed coach. Not the organizers, who held their collective breaths up until the puck drop. And certainly not the announced record crowd that poured through the gates into New Era Field. The wait proved to be well worth it as the United States and Canada once again locked up in an epic clash that will go down in the hockey history books. "It was a little different than a normal game," said Casey Mittlestadt, who lived up to the hype as the Sabres top pick in last year's NHL Draft. "You felt like you were back out on the pond. It made for an absolute blast." After hosting one of the most successful World Junior Championships in 2011, USA Hockey was handed the keys to host this year's popular holiday tournament and ulti- mately decided to bring it back to the shores of Lake Erie. Working in partnership with the Sabres, the hosts pitched an ambitious plan to the IIHF to take a game outside with the hopes of shattering a near decade-old World Juniors attendance record. " We sa t d ow n a n d t h o u g h t a b o u t i t , knowing there's a ton of work involved. We weighed the risks and rewards and thought it was an outstanding chance to do something unique with the IIHF," said USA Hockey's Mike Bertsch. Despite months of planning, there was no accounting for weather issues, ice problems Record-Setting Outdoor Game Impresses World Juniors Players, Coaches And Fans Alike FEBRUARY 2018 USAHOCKEYMAGAZINE.COM // 17

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