NEW YORK – During weekends as a kid, Phil Housley told his mom to wake him up early. There were 10 outdoor rinks in South St. Paul, Minn., and Housley wanted to be the first one on them.
"I remember a lot about being outside," the Buffalo Sabres coach said Saturday. "We had some really good ice surfaces, and there's nothing like being out there by yourself skating around. You're imagining things, creating things until the rest of the guys came and you started to play pick-up."
As he stickhandled through the fresh air, Housley dreamed big and embraced hockey.
"I don’t know how many hours I spent doing that, but I just loved being around the rink," he said.
Housley is going to love being around the rink the next two days. The Sabres will practice outside in Citi Field on Sunday, and it will serve as their warm-up for Monday's Winter Classic against the New York Rangers.
"We're going to have fun," Housley said. "We get two days to enjoy this. It's going to be a great thing for Buffalo and our organization to represent the community and our fans in Buffalo.
"We're going to enjoy it."
Housley will enjoy it more because his team looks more like a team. There are still lulls for the 10-20-8 club, but there have been good moments, too. Buffalo is 4-3-4 in the last 11 games, and it rallied for a 4-3 overtime victory Friday against New Jersey.
"It's great to go in with a win. I'm not going to lie," Housley said after returning to the Devils' rink in Newark, N.J., for a brief practice. "The vibe on the team is really good right now, and we're looking forward to it."
The Sabres were just more than a minute away from entering the Winter Classic on a two-game winning streak. The New York Islanders scored late on a reviewed goal and picked up an OT win Wednesday.
"It's been great the way we've been playing the last week or two," Housley said. "Even though the results aren't there, you can see when we play a certain style we're very effective.
"Our guys are just doing the right things. We're really heavy on the forecheck. We're cleaning up our own end. We're coming back as five guys and getting through the neutral zone quickly. When we get on the forecheck, we're very effective. I like the aggressiveness that we have. Our D are slamming the walls, keeping the play in the offensive zone.
"We're finding ways to play a better brand and style of game."
Housley hopes they keep it up Monday. The hockey world will be watching.
"We're very fortunate to be in this Winter Classic," Housley said. "Being a first-time head coach and being right into it is a blessing for me. It's going to be a great experience not only for me and the coaching staff but our players and management and their families. We're going to take it all in."
The Sabres haven't played in the Winter Classic since hosting the inaugural one in 2008. However, their players have gone outdoors:
* Benoit Pouliot has skated in four outdoor games (2011 Heritage Classic in Calgary with Montreal, two 2014 Stadium Series in New York with the Rangers and the 2016 Heritage Classic in Winnipeg with Edmonton).
* Jason Pominville has played in two (the original with Buffalo and the Stadium Series with Minnesota in 2016).
* Jordan Nolan has been in two games (Stadium Series with Los Angeles in 2014 in Dodger Stadium and 2015 in Levi's Stadium near San Jose).
* Kyle Okposo and Jacob Josefson faced Pouliot in 2014 while playing for the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils, respectively.
* Marco Scandella played in the Stadium Series in 2016 with Minnesota.
* Nathan Beaulieu played for Montreal in the 2016 Winter Classic.
* Scott Wilson skated for Pittsburgh in the Stadium Series in 2017.
"It's a fun game to be part of," Josefson said. "You just dress a little bit warmer underneath and try to move your feet as much as possible to stay warm."
The weather is expected to be sunny and 22 degrees, but Pouliot said the players shouldn't worry about that.
"You've got the heated bench," he said. "You take advantage of that when you come back to the bench. You put your gloves under there or put something under there to keep you warm. When you step on, it's only for 30-40 seconds anyway. You get used to it pretty quickly."
The most noticeable difference is not having fans along the boards since the rink is in the middle of a baseball stadium.
"You get the feel of it in warm-up, and then after that it's game time," Pouliot said.
The Sabres practiced without center Ryan O'Reilly (maintenance day) and defenseman Victor Antipin (undisclosed). … While the Sabres skated on the auxiliary rink in Prudential Center, the Harlem Globetrotters warmed up in the main arena. Players from both teams greeted each other after the workouts.