Canadian outdoor event overdue

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

Check the calendars, it’ll be more than seven years.

That’s how long the NHL has taken to take a great idea — an outdoor game — and re-implement it where it belongs.

In Canada.

Good on the league for having the courage to hold outdoor games in the United States on New Year’s Day — a day normally reserved for college football south of the boarder — and making it work.

Good on the league for being smart enough to market the Winter Classics in Buffalo, Chicago, Boston and — this coming season — Pittsburgh with a salute to the game’s history.

For all the criticisms the league has received, and deserved, let’s give credit where it’s due.

But it shouldn’t have taken this long before holding another game in Canada.

It felt about as long as waiting for Alex Rodriguez to nail home run No. 600.

“I really haven’t followed it and the reasons why (it’s been so long), but it’s a great event,” said Flames defenceman Steve Staios, who played in the 2003 game in Edmonton.

The Oilers were the first NHL team to hold an outdoor game, and did it right.

With the Montreal Canadiens as the opposition, the squad which will face the Flames Feb. 20, 2011 at McMahon Stadium, Edmonton made great use of nostalgia. It’s hard to top an old-timers game between the Oiler greats of the past, led by Wayne Gretzky, against the Canadiens greats, mainly from the 1970s, such as Guy Lafleur.

The whole event had everything.

Sure, it was crazy cold, but the endearing image of Montreal goaltender Jose Theodore wearing a toque atop his mask is one for the ages. Heck, it made it fashionable to wear toques with a pompom on them again.

Which makes it absurd to wait so long to have another game in Canada.

Yes, there are only six cities to begin with, and you likely couldn’t count on Vancouver being cold enough, not that Calgary and its chinooks make it a slam dunk here.

Still, to wait so long seems wrong.

At Wednesday’s press conference to unveil the sweaters — great job on the Calgary jerseys honouring the Calgary Tigers from the 1920s and ’30s — the sight of boards forming a hockey rink atop of a football field isn’t out of place, even in August.

Canada’s hockey fans are ultimately the lifeblood of the league. They show it by filling the rinks in this country and buying plenty of tickets when they’re on vacation, and they do the same by tuning in to the games on TV, be it at home or at the bar.

The money from CBC and TSN for broadcast rights add plenty to the league’s coffers.

Those fans deserve to be able — to borrow a slogan from the Edmonton Eskimos 1987 Grey Cup event — party in their parka on a more regular basis. And they should, across the country, not just Alberta.

Doesn’t the thought of the Ottawa Senators hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs as soon as a new football stadium is built in the capital make perfect sense?

Or re-opening B.C. Place in Vancouver, when its shiny new retractable roof is completed?

Fans in Canada shouldn’t have to go through a seven-year itch again before the next game.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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