Outdoor fever hits WHL

SCOTT FISHER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:20 PM ET

It worked out so nice, they did it twice.

The second WHL outdoor game of the season — and the first on Canadian soil — went off without a hitch Monday afternoon at McMahon Stadium.

WHL commissioner Ron Robison said the Calgary Hitmen/Regina Pats outdoor tilt was a huge success.

“It couldn’t have gone any better from our standpoint,” Robison said. “It was ideal conditions for the players to play in, weather-wise. And, of course, it was the largest crowd ever to watch a junior hockey game in this country.

“We couldn’t be more excited with the outcome.”

Now that the league has joined the outdoor frenzy — the Spokane Chiefs hosted the Kootenay Ice in January — expect there to be more to follow.

Robison said he’d like to see an outdoor game become an annual event.

“We certainly hope so,” Robison said. “Ideally, one a year would be great.

“This was a national showcase opportunity for not only the WHL, but the CHL with the national broadcast.

“I think we have room for at least one (per season).”

Putting on an outdoor game isn’t cheap. But tying a WHL game with the NHL seems to make sense.

“We were in a position to piggyback on the Heritage Classic weekend, and it gave us a wonderful opportunity to be a part of it and display our product,” Robison said. “Ideally, we’d like to be a part of the NHL’s Heritage Classic and their plans moving forward.

“We’ve had a number of inquiries from other centres in the league, and we had a couple teams here to observe.

“There’s certainly a lot of interest, but it is a major undertaking.”

Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson said despite coming out on the wrong end of a 3-2 score against the Regina Pats, it was an event his players won’t soon forget.

“We were happy to be a part of it,” said Williamson, whose coaching staff resembled actual hitmen with their black jackets and fedoras.

“We’re thankful that so many people put so much hard work into it.”

Williamson said keeping his players focused on the task at hand was a chore.

“The excitement factor was there, for sure,” Williamson said. “You always try to gauge the level of emotion from your hockey team.

“And right from the time we saw the whites of their eyes (Monday), you could tell they were excited to play.”

Both teams did an admirable job of curtailing their emotions in what turned out to be one of the most entertaining Hitmen games of the season.

“We talked about the atmosphere,” Williamson said. “We skated outside (Sunday) because we wanted the guys to enjoy the moment, but not get lost in it.

“We came early today, so they could get that awe factor out of the way.

“But we looked down a few times and had to tap heads to make sure they were watching the play and not looking up in the stands.”

scott.fisher@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos