There can never be too many outdoor NHL games, at least in our opinion and the league decided to cash in on that idea a second time this season as they gave Canada their own version of the Winter Classic. The event came just months after the Pittsburgh Penguins hosted the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field and had the Calgary Flames squaring off against the Montreal Canadiens in the second ever NHL Heritage Classic.
The build up for the little brother of the Winter Classic wasn’t quite the same. It wasn’t on a holiday, it didn’t have a fancy HBO documentary chronicling the events leading up to the event, nor did it have the game’s top two players squaring off against one another.
But that simply did not matter.
The event, which was sponsored by Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons surpassed the corporate sales of the Jan. 1 event in Pittsburgh, so it was certainly a big deal to the nation where hockey was essentially born.
There were no weather issues throughout the day, as the sold out crowd of 41,022 at McMahon Stadium in Calgary endured the frigid game time temperature of 16.5 degrees Fahrenheit, though it felt much colder with the wind chill. The game did not quite live up to its outdoor predecessors however, as the Flames shut out the Canadiens 4-0 with the help of goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. The Flames netminder became the first goaltender in history to post a goose egg in an outdoor game making 39 saves on 39 shots.
But to win games a team needs to score goals and the Flames got them from left winger Rene Bourque. Bourque had two goals on the night, the first coming on the powerplay just eight minutes into the contest. He then added his second goal near the end of the second period as he put a backhand shot past Canadiens goaltender Carey Price.
“I think it’s right up there with playing your first game,” said Bourque, who also tallied his 100th career NHL goal Sunday. “The first goal happened so fast, but I kind of got to enjoy the second one more. I knew I was going to get a good chance. To score my 100th goal like that was pretty fun.”
The event and the excitement surrounding it set it apart from the rest of the Flames regular season games and although they are thrilled to walk away with the two points for earning the win, they walk away with more than that. The stepped off the ice with the memories and thrill of playing where many spent much of their child hood – outside on the ice.
The big question to draw from the contest is whether having more than one outdoor game will soon ruin the luster and leave fans thinking that it is just another regular season game. For now it seems the league plans to stick with the two-a-year idea but who knows where it could go from there.