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updated: 2/24/2014 11:28 PM

Back to the great outdoors for Blackhawks

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  • The official Blackhawks Twitter account (@NHLBlackhawks) on Monday tweeted this picture of goalie Antti Raanta sporting a new mask with a familiar design -- you might remember it from Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour's goalie mask in the 1990s.

      The official Blackhawks Twitter account (@NHLBlackhawks) on Monday tweeted this picture of goalie Antti Raanta sporting a new mask with a familiar design -- you might remember it from Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour's goalie mask in the 1990s.
    Courtesy of the Chicago Blackhawks

  • Crews start work last week preparing Soldier Field for Saturday night's NHL Stadium Series game between the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins.

       Crews start work last week preparing Soldier Field for Saturday night's NHL Stadium Series game between the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 

Brent Seabrook called the whole event a "cool experience."

For coach Joel Quenneville, it was a Seabrook play that first pops to mind when he thinks back to that chilly New Year's Day game.

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"Right off the bat it's Seabs hitting that guy right into the bench," Quenneville said, "I almost got hit with a skate or a stick there."

As for Kris Versteeg, well, what doesn't he remember of that outdoor game five years ago against the Red Wings at Wrigley Field?

"I remember getting ready in the locker room, coming out side by side with Detroit -- kind of like they do in soccer," Versteeg said. "I remember the jets flying over and all the people going nuts.

"It was a pretty overwhelming experience."

And of course he will never forget the guy who opened the scoring.

"The first goal, that was pretty exciting," he said. "I remember everyone going, 'Who's gonna score first? Kane? Toews? (Pavel) Datsyuk? (Henrik) Zetterberg?

"Versteeg? What the heck? Who's this guy?' "

Oh, only the rookie who opened the scoring in a game the Blackhawks eventually would drop 6-4 to Detroit.

And even though the Hawks lost, it was a memory of a lifetime for most involved. On Saturday night, a whole new slew of memories are likely to be made when the Hawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field as part of the NHL's Stadium Series.

"My family and friends absolutely enjoyed that experience (at Wrigley), and that's why I have 25-plus people coming back for this one," Versteeg said.

He admits he didn't even connect the dots that he'd be playing an outdoor game again until his brother called when the Hawks reacquired him earlier this season. "That was one of the first things my brother brought up; he reminded me about it," Versteeg said. "Obviously, I've got to get him a ticket."

Versteeg and Seabrook may have been the only two players at practice Monday who participated in that game at Wrigley Field, but rest assured young guns like Ben Smith have had the date circled for quite a while.

"You see it scheduled last year and you hope … you're on the team," Smith said with a laugh. "It's something that I've been looking forward to.

"I've never actually been inside Soldier Field. It's going to be awesome."

But can it outdo the Wrigley experience?

"Obviously the first one will be the best one, but anytime you can be part of an experience to help grow the game, and not only that, give the fans an experience like that," Versteeg said. "I don't know how much I'd like to be sitting out in the freezing cold, but people love it."

Added Quenneville: "At the end of the day it was one of the coolest days to be a part of. You wish everybody who's in the league or coaches in the league would get a chance to be a part of a game like that with the setting that we had."

Did the players who skated at Wrigley Field ever imagine what the experience might be like if someday the game were to be held at Soldier Field?

"We did talk about it," Versteeg said. "We always wondered because of the amount of people that filled Wrigley. We wondered how crazy it would be to see that amount of people in (Soldier Field)."

Now they'll get their chance to find out -- in front of 60,000 fans and a national TV audience.

Quenneville knows what to expect. "It's going to be a special day."

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