A look of bemusement flashed across Jonathan Toews' face when it was pointed out the center was set to appear in his fifth career NHL outdoor game Monday when the Chicago Blackhawks face the St. Louis Blues in the Winter Classic at Busch Stadium.
Clearly, the novelty has begun to wear off a bit. The Blackawks have played outdoors often during Toews' nine-year-plus NHL career, including previous Winter Classics in 2009 at Wrigley Field and '15 at Nationals Park in Washington.
As quickly as it appeared, the look was gone and Toews clicked into Captain Serious mode.
"The excitement is there," Toews said. "It's a different atmosphere. It's not maybe necessarily like the first couple that you're part of (and) I don't know who in our room hasn't played in one before, but … it's very special for those guys and you don't want to ever get used to something like that."
With the Blackawks arguably the NHL's highest-profile organization, Monday's game will mark the fourth consecutive year they will have played outdoors and overall they are 1-3 in the elements.
"This one is special because it is the Winter Classic," winger Patrick Kane said. "You're talking about St. Louis, which is a big rival for us. Another thing … is we haven't really performed too well in outdoor games. … (But) it's a game you look forward to. We want to put on a good show."
Veteran defenseman Brian Campbell played in the first Winter Classic in 2008 for Buffalo and again the next season during his first stint with Chicago.
"The first one in Buffalo was pretty special and obviously the one at Wrigley was too," he said.
Besides the economic impact for St. Louis (the St. Louis Regional Chamber estimates the Classic will generate $18.5 million for the region) and the rivalry aspect (it will be the 305th all-time meeting between the teams — and the fourth this season), the game is important for the Blackawks. They enter having lost four of their last five overall and could use a victory to put some distance between them and their Central Division foes.
"They're big points for us with St. Louis and Minnesota really close to us," said Toews, who has scored the most points in NHL regular-season outdoor games with two goals and four assists. "We (need to get) on the winning trend again."
Said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville: "We know the importance of playing St. Louis and the importance of points at the end of it."