Flames Take a Skate Through Central Park

He’s used to facing 80 mph slapshots, but for netminder Chad Johnson stopping those shots with the sun in your face is a different story.

“It was difficult,” said Johnson with a laugh. “I tried to just shield my face and my eyes as much as possible [hoping the puck hit me instead of going in]. Just close my eyes every now and then when the puck was in that direction of the sun and thankfully made a bunch of saves.”

Surrounded by birch and maple trees and the Harlem Meer sits Lasker Rink at the north end of Central Park in New York City. Usually filled with youth hockey games and public skating on Saturday’s, this weekend it served as the practice rink for the visiting Calgary Flames. A sunny day with clear skies and temperatures in the low 30’s, fans – many in Flames jerseys – and members of the local youth hockey community lined the gates to see an NHL team skate at the outdoor rink. It was hard to tell who had the biggest smiles.

“It was fun,” said T.J. Brodie with a big grin. “It’s been a while since I’ve been outside on the ice. It reminds me of being young again.”

“It’s a little bit different,” noted rookie Matthew Tkachuk. “I’m not sure if guys loved it or hated it. I think it was a different experience which was fun.”

A New Experience for All

Wearing toques over their helmets, the Flames boarded buses at their Manhattan hotel wearing all their gear sans skates.

“First time getting dressed at a hotel that’s for sure,” said veteran of two Winter Classics Troy Brouwer. “Every once in a while you have to get dressed at the game rink and bus over to the practice rink, and that’s never really that much fun. But when you get to come out here, put your skates on outside and skate outside it’s a lot more fun.”

The unconventional practice locale happened by chance. Following their 4-3 OT win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday, the Flames were looking for a place to practice before facing the New York Rangers in a Sunday afternoon matinee. So, manager of team services, Sean O’Brien set everything up at the Central Park rink, and after donning eye black the team hit the ice. For head coach Glen Gulutzan, he embraced the opportunity to include some of his childhood memories spent skating outdoors in Saskatchewan.

“Scrimmaging and playing on the outdoor rink and banging the sticks … to start faceoffs. That’s stuff you did when you were a kid and you played outside. It’s nice to go back there every once in a while and to break up the monotony,” said Gulutzan. “This is a tough season this season, and the NHL is 82 hard games. To have a day like this where we can be outside on a great day, it breaks it up.”

Practice…Is Still Practice

The Flames ran drills, scrimmaged 3-on-3 and worked on their conditioning. Despite the West Rink at Lasker being only 195-feet by 65-feet, which is smaller than the standard NHL size of 200-feet by 85-feet, the players completed crisp passes and fired shots on net. “There was some more scoring chances and it was fun,” said Johnson who had previously skated in Central Park at Lasker’s sister rink Wollman, when he played for the Rangers. “But … it is a different dimension, so I think it would be interesting tomorrow how everybody adjusts back.”

Adjustments will have to happen during warmups as the team will not be able to have a morning skate due to the early game time.


While the NHL’s Winter Classics and Stadium Series have had to deal with unfavorable skating and ice conditions at times, the players and staff raved about the ice conditions. Some even dared to say it was better than their home rink, the Scotiabank Saddledome.

“Really good actually,” said Dennis Wideman when asked about the ice. “These outdoor rinks always have a little better ice then some of the rinks we play on. They’re not covered up so it was actually really good.”

“We first started skating here and we said, ‘you know, I think the ice is going to break down real quickly,’ and it didn’t,” added Gulutzan. “It still held up to the end and a couple of guys commented that the ice was really good.”

With the ice holding up, and the fresh air fueling their skate, the Flames are now set for game two of a three-game, six-day road trip on Sunday.

“Fun experience for sure,” said Brouwer. “Waking up this morning you’re not quite certain exactly how the day is going to go. When we got here to see all the fans and their excitement it lifted our spirits a lot, and we were able to come out and have a little fun.”

“It was quite the experience to be able to come out here and see some fans and be in Central Park, New York here and skate at the outdoor rink,” said Johnson. “When you get on the ice it’s hockey. That parts the same. It’s always the elements around you is what changes and it’s nice. It’s a different feel to it. You just go with it. At the end of the day, you know when you get on the ice you’re stopping pucks just like anywhere else. If you’re playing in Alaska or you’re playing in Mexico or New York or wherever it is you’re stopping pucks the same, so it was fun.”

For Gulutzan, who joked about getting, “a little Vitamin D through the eyes,” he was also happy Johnson got to work on a new element to his game. “Chad couldn’t see in the one end, which is good,” he said. “He’s got to fight through a screen … the sun.”