Winter wonderland in Calgary

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

Forget about the fact few sports fans around North America have ever heard of McMahon Stadium or that the NHL's true Winter Classic will have been played almost two months earlier.

While the Feb. 20 outdoor game here between Montreal and the Flames will hold little appeal outside Alberta, Calgarians are in for a real treat.

And that's all that really matters.

Almost 20,000 more hockey fans will get a chance to experience live NHL hockey than would ordinarily get to see a game and theyll do so in a setting no one in attendance will ever forget.

Beers turned to slushies, players shoveling snow off the rink and a goalie wearing a toque atop his mask are just a few of the enduring images from the NHLs inaugural outdoor game in Edmonton, when temperatures plummeted to well below minus-30 in 2003. While the conditions might not be ideal for the players, none of them will dare complain as its all being done in the name of entertainment, which is exactly what outdoor games are all about.

Oh sure, there are those who suggest the novelty has worn off or that staging it at McMahon Stadium is a punchline compared to storied venues like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park.

There are also those whining about a matchup featuring the Habs instead of top rival Vancouver or the Leafs, whove never played an outdoor game.

However, at the end of the day, the Canadiens will up ticket demand and draw a few million extra viewers out east whose interest in the game would otherwise be limited.

It also sets up the added possibility of a pre-game shinny contest between alumni from both teams in the 1989 Cup final.

Regardless of the weather or the score Feb. 20, nobody loses.

Now, more notes, quotes and anecdotes from a sports world wondering if despite two NBA MVP crowns, four assist titles and seven all-star nods, Canadians have never been prouder of Steve Nash than they were last week when he played through a broken nose and an eye swollen shut.

Around the horn

Safe to say not everyone is thrilled about the hiring of Steve Yzerman as Tampa Bays general manager. After all, it was he who left Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos off Team Canadas Olympic roster, setting up what could be a deliciously uncomfortable set of introductory meetings Not sure whether its a tribute to the franchise or a sign of the recent financial strife in Detroit, but the Red Wings just announced season-ticket prices would be raised next year for the first time in eight seasons While it seems obvious now, the Blackhawks return to Stanley Cup glory wasnt so when the Stanley Cup tourney began, which is why few in our office can believe that, after years of bungled predictions, the Suns three Flames scribes Randy Sportak, Steve MacFarlane and yours truly picked Chicago to win the Cup.

Parting gifts

Cottonwood pro Jamie Kureluk deserves all the accolades hes receiving around the world after shooting a 25 the lowest nine holes in golf history at the Alberta Open last week. Just six months ago, he was crushed by a quadruple-bogey eight on the 72nd hole to miss moving onto the second stage of PGA Tour qualifying. All he needed was a par to advance All you need to do is listen to another NHL citys game broadcasts like the ones The Fan 960 recently aired from Montreal to realize how brilliant a job Peter Maher does at painting the scene While the promotion of Hitmen mastermind Kelly Kisio to Flames management appears to be a no-brainer, its the hiring of a second hockey mind to assist Darryl Sutter that is so intriguing. Surely an experienced NHL sort is whats needed to offer Sutter the type of innovative and insightful approaches necessary to aid him in changing the way things are run here.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca


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