Tait: Heritage Classic in 2003 at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium ‘dream fantasy for all hockey fans’
The face-off for the alumni game of the Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday.
EDMONTON - If you’re wondering why Edmonton had such a cold winter, it might be because the weather gods want to toughen up local hockey fans.
What about another outdoor hockey game involving the Edmonton Oilers?
Following reports from TSN’s Darren Dreger that the NHL will stage six outdoor games next season — Edmonton was not on the list — Oilers president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe thinks the city would embrace another.
“There’s no doubt in my mind Edmonton could host another outdoor game,” says Lowe, who played in the alumni Heritage Classic game on Nov. 22, 2003, against the Montreal Canadiens at Commonwealth Stadium. The 57,167 fans in the stands braved -18C weather with a wind chill.
“I woke up at 5 a.m. that morning to read the -25C on the thermometer,” he says.
Lowe pulled both of his groins in the game, but says the experience was certainly worth it.
As for another outdoor NHL game taking place in Edmonton, Lowe says he’s “not sure when that would be, and who the opponent would be. But the city has an amazing history of supporting big sporting events.”
Other NHL teams flirting with playing in an outdoor game in 2014 are the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles; New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers at Yankee Stadium; New York Islanders and Rangers, also at Yankee Stadium; Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks at Chicago’s Soldier Field, and the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks playing in the Heritage Classic at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver.
“No I am not surprised,” Oilers president/chief operating officer Patrick LaForge says of the six games
LaForge sings the praises of Dan Craig, the NHL’s senior director of facilities. Craig, who grew up in Jasper, is the former ice maker at Rexall Place and was instrumental in the 2003 outdoor game at Commonwealth.
“Dan has turned ice making outdoors into a science ... (and) has given the NHL confidence that they can make ice for outdoor games in every NHL city.”
LaForge and former Oilers executive Allan Watt first scribbled plans of the outdoor game on a napkin at 30,000 feet in an aircraft in 2001. Originally, LaForge and Watt were discussing how the NHL all-star game could be revised.
“Simply, we thought about playing a game of shinny with all-stars and alumni, outdoors, without helmets and shoulder pads, in front of thousands of hockey fans. From that little embryo, the great idea for an NHL game, played outdoors began,” LaForge says.
The pieces fell into place, LaForge says, with the alumni teams playing — and the Oilers and Canadiens fighting for two regular-season points.
“It was a dream fantasy of all hockey fans.”
Just ask Denis Paizis. He was living in Montreal and bought Oilers season tickets in August 2003 to ensure he had a seat for the outdoor game.
“It was amazing,” says Paizis, recalling the event.
Edmontonian Terry Erickson will never forget the sight of watching NHL players clean snow off the ice. They were wonderful, wonderful memories.
“I doubt that a repeat game in Edmonton could ever be as exciting as the first game in 2003 was for our fans and the hockey world in general,” LaForge says. “Nothing we could do would ever make Heritage Classic No. 2 so unique and special.
“But, nonetheless, I do believe that hockey fans here would get into the event, and make it another fun and exciting event in the history of the Oilers and Edmonton.”
If the city does host another outdoor NHL game, it will be a different experience for Nyki Scheuman next time around.
“I was 14,” says Scheuman, who attended the frigid affair. “My dad went to buy me hot chocolate, but the lineup was shorter for the one with Baileys.
“He bought it for me and said, ‘don’t tell mom.’ ”
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