Blackhawks head to Notre Dame for Winter Classic vs. Bruins

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Boston Bruins’ Charlie McAvoy, left, speaks as teammate Patrice Bergeron, second from left, and Chicago Blackhawks’ Alex DeBrincat and Jonathan Toews, right, listen during a news conference Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018, in Chicago about the NHL Winter Classic hockey game. The Bruins will play the Blackhawks at Notre Dame Stadium on New Year’s Day in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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by Scott King

Will the fourth time be a charm at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind. for the Blackhawks? That’s what Chicago, which has lost its previous three Winter Classics (0-3-0) and four of five outdoor games (1-4-0), hopes.

After a poor start, the Blackhawks have won four of their past five games and seem to be finding a groove.

The Bruins (21-14-4) hold the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The Blackhawks (15-20-6) are seven points behind the Dallas Stars (20-16-3, 43 points) for the second wild card from the West.

“It’s one of those things on the schedule you really look out for and definitely circle,” said Patrick Kane, who has six points in his past two games heading into Notre Dame. “It’s exciting. It’s a great event, Winter Classic Jan. 1 every year.

“It’s a great event the NHL puts on. We’ve been fortunate enough to play in a few of them. Nice to be honored with another outdoor game. Hopefully, we can win an outdoor game this time.”

Despite the plethora of outdoor bouts the NHL has bestowed upon the Hawks, Kane believes there’s no real secret to winning outside.

“Every situation’s different,” Kane said. “Whether it’s the weather, it’s the sun, I mean just try to keep it like a regular game. I think that’s the biggest thing even though it’s not. So it’s tough to do that.

“It’s alway cool playing in the football stadiums because you feel like you’re on the ice by yourself. There’s a bunch of fans there and a lot of people watching but they’re so far away from the rink it’s always cool playing in that atmosphere.”

The 2019 Winter Classic will be forward Alex DeBrincat’s first outdoor NHL game.

“It’s so unpredictable, so really, anything can happen,” DeBrincat said. “I think it’s going to be really fun and something I’m really excited about and I’m sure everyone in the locker room and on both teams are really excited about.

“It’s definitely a dream come true, I grew up watching these games every New Year’s Day. So it should be a lot of fun.”

“The real deal of being at Notre Dame obviously, you see it in the movies, it’s just part of the culture in this part of the country,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “It’s big time. It’s a big show.”

One of the things Toews, who’s having one of his best seasons with 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) in 41 games, is looking forward to most is the matchup with their 2013 Stanley Cup Final rival.

“Playing against guys like Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, those guys that were part of that team in that Stanley Cup Final, both teams have changed a lot, but their leadership group is still a couple of guys that were big parts of that team, and that was one of the best teams I’ve ever played against, no doubt,” Toews said.

“There’s a history there that some of those guys won’t forget about, but [there’s] so much young talent on both teams that guys out there are still trying to make a name for themselves.

“I think throw all that together, it seems like a great game. People will obviously look forward to throughout the whole season.”

Boston has a 1-1-0 record in two previous Winter Classics, their only outdoor contests.

Because of his strengths on both sides of the puck, Bergeron (Bruins center and alternate captain) is often compared to Toews and vice versa.

“First of all, it’s an honor to be in the same sentence as Tazer’,” Bergeron said. “Yeah, it’s always a huge challenge playing him because he can hurt you many ways.

“Obviously, he’s such a good player on both ends and the way that he competes and the way he makes his linemates better. It’s definitely a challenge every time he’s on the ice.”

The four-time Selke (best defensive forward) trophy winner also feels there’s no predicting what can happen when you mix hockey and the great outdoors.

“I think it adds to it,” Bergeron said of taking it outside. “But I’m not saying it helps the game, it definitely adds to the element of playing outdoors and the experience of like.. You know what, we don’t know what it’s going to be like on January 1st this year.

“We don’t know what the conditions are going to be like. I think it’s a great challenge and it’s also something to look forward to and just go with it and have fun and enjoy the moment.

“Like I said, it’s a unique experience, it’s a privilege to be there. No matter what the conditions are we should just go out there, have fun and enjoy, obviously want to win.”

The 2011 Stanley Cup champ dishes on how the league takes steps to help the players battle mother nature.

“On the bench, there’s some heaters so that does help,” Bergeron said. “You’re working hard on the ice so obviously you kind of warmup, you’re not cold, you’re fine. It’s really enjoyable.”

The weather forecast for Tuesday’s puck drop in South Bend is 31 degrees with no chance of precipitation.

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