by Russ Cohen || AHL On The Beat Archive
In just a few weeks the Syracuse Crunch will host the Binghamton Senators in the Mirabito Outdoor Classic, which will be held at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse on Feb. 20.
The fans and players love this type of game because it brings them back to their youth. The atmosphere is like a playoff game and the contest counts in the standings.
Many kids in North America have had a chance to play some outdoor hockey whether it was on the pond or in their own backyard and Senators rookie forward Jim O’Brien was no exception.
“Growing up we had a rink in our backyard. It was a lot of fun,” the Maplewood, Minn., native remembered. “We had boards and lights and once it got cold enough the ice would come in.”
The ice surface for this type of game is everything, but this time of the year – in upstate New York – it should create ideal conditions for this first-ever outdoor AHL game. If it snows, that’s no big deal: players and coaches will shovel off the ice. Even if there are periods of rain the game can endure that as well.
Minnesota is known for having some cold winters but even there the kids couldn’t play hockey outside for more than a few months.
“We could play for two or three months,” stated O’Brien.
For a young player like O’Brien, any chance he can get to show off his skills is a positive, especially if it’s on a big stage. He recently watched his teammate, goaltender Mike Brodeur, shut out the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
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Those kinds of games can really motivate young players and he was genuinely happy for his mate.
“Brods has been good,” said O’Brien. “When you get called up you can play good up there too.”
O’Brien hopes to get called up at some point himself. But until then he’ll keep working hard. He knows whatever he accomplishes for Binghamton he can someday do for Ottawa.
“I hope it happens,” said the former first-round pick (29th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. “The only thing I can control is how hard I work. How hard I’m playing and the rest should take care of itself.”
In the meantime, O’Brien is looking forward to playing outdoors. There’s a different feel to the puck and how it bounces – does that mean he could possibly pull out a trick shot from his arsenal?
“We’ll have to see about that,” he said. “Maybe if we get to practice on the ice. We’ll see what happens on game day.”
One thing that is for sure is that the Mirabito Outdoor Classic will be memorable for a multitude of reasons. Right now, O’Brien is enjoying his time with Binghamton and Feb. 20 is highlighted on his personal calendar.