Guest Author - Kevin Thorburn
Saturday, November 22, 2003 marked the historic Heritage Classic hockey game. The game brought a sold-out crowd of 57,167 into the frigid night to watch hockey the old-time way: outdoors. Most arrived six hours early to watch the alumni game featuring stars from the past for Edmonton and Montreal and they then braved the cold to be a part of history by viewing the NHL game between the same teams. The crowd’s size made the game the highest attended NHL game ever. Commonwealth Stadium, home of the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos, had a NHL regulation size rink built in the middle to accommodate the record crowd.
The temperature hung around the –19 C mark for the night, but, when asked, players didn’t seem to mind the extreme conditions as most commented that they were happy to be a part of hockey history. This leads to my question: Should the game be an annual event?
My answer to this would be a resounding “No.” The game was a huge success and a great marketing job, but I believe the novelty would wear off quickly if it were to happen every year. Certain aspects were very evident watching the game on television: The lighting difference being outside was very evident and a little distracting; The different camera angles made the game harder to watch on two levels – firstly, some of the cameras needed, such as the one that slid along the top of the glass, often looked like an extra player on the ice, secondly, for anyone new to watching hockey on television the last thing needed is a change that makes it more difficult to follow the flow of the game; Next, it was obvious that any player blocking a shot was doing so knowing full well that it wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience.
It may be fine to have the players sporting special cold-weather undergarments and, of course, Jose Theodore sporting a Canadiens’ toque over his goalie mask, but unless there are special suits for the crowd (especially the children), my advice to the NHL would be to bask in the success of this event and leave it as what it was billed as: a game that will remain a part of hockey history.