The Flyers walk the concourse of Chicago's United Center in brand new, wind resistant hooded sweatshirts. The team got lost in the arena's cavernous halls before eventually finding the media room for a press conference.Chicago, IL--The Philadelphia Flyers last played a game against the Blackhawks in Chicago's United Center on December 26, 2008. The game was not even close as the home team convincingly won, 5-1, over the visiting Orange and Black.
"The only thing I can remember about that game was the wind," said Flyers' left winger, Simon Gagne. "We just were not accustomed to the wind coming in off of Lake Michigan. To get a shot on goal, you had to aim five feet to the side of the net."
Eastern Conference teams do not play in every Western Conference city each year and vice versa. Teams from the east, who rarely travel to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks, really have to over prepare themselves for the city's strong winds. For this reason, the Flyers brought in 12 swamp/fan boats this week to their practice facility in Vorhees, NJ, to become more familiar with playing hockey in windy conditions.
"I've never played in those conditions," said Flyers' goaltender Michael Leighton, after practice on Wednesday. "When all 12 boats were turned on, the force was so strong that the equipment guys had to create this elaborate anchoring system from ice skate laces."
The Windy City will be hosting a Stanley Cup Final game for the first time since 1992. In that year, Mario Lemieux, Hall of Fame star for the Penguins, who won the series in four games, was fortunate enough to figure out the wind patterns of northeastern Illinois fairly quickly.
"My advice to the Flyers would be to really overcompensate for the wind," said Lemieux, now co-owner of the Penguins, who is pulling for his Atlantic Division foe against the Blackhawks. "In '92, I would lick my finger and hold it to the air to determine the wind direction. This proved invaluable. This was only after finding out that gathering ice shavings from the rink surface and releasing them into the wind was not an effective approach."
Flyers' head coach Peter Laviolette has stressed to his team the importance of wind compensation when passing, shooting, clearing and, believe it or not, line changing.
"Winds are stronger coming over the glass and the boards," warned Laviolette, who brought in a University of Chicago wind expert, a Chester County native, to talk with the team. "When coming on and off the ice the players must use the doors to the bench. The wind can prevent a player from coming over the boards, which can result in a too many men penalty."
Having played in the wind for 41 regular season and 8 playoff home games, the Blackhawks hold a definite advantage. Both teams, however, will quickly find out whether or not 12 swamp boats can level that playing field ... er, rink.