NHL confirms Flames going outside

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed Friday that McMahon Stadium will host an outdoor game next...

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed Friday that McMahon Stadium will host an outdoor game next season. (Alex Urosevic/QMI Agency)

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:20 PM ET

CALGARY — Too bad Gary Bettman couldn’t come to Calgary to deliver the news.

What better backdrop than a snowy scene at McMahon Stadium to announce the Calgary Flames will host an outdoor game next winter?

Bettman confirmed Friday the Flames will entertain the Montreal Canadiens in a cool clash the NHL is billing as a second instalment of the Heritage Classic, which was held in 2003 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

“It’s a very, very exciting day for us,” said Flames president Ken King. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime, iconic, historical event that people will go to and capture some of the magic of their favourite sport and tell their kids and their grandchildren that they were there.

“People in Calgary are such fanatical hockey fans and so loyal to the game. That they get a chance to experience something that’s nearly unique, like this, is a thrill for us.”

The Flames have been linked to the possibility of hosting an outdoor game since last summer.

During a press conference Friday in Chicago, Bettman made it official, announcing the Flames and Habs would hook up for a Feb. 20, 2011, showdown at McMahon Stadium. The home to the CFL’s Stampeders has a seating capacity of 35,650, but there’s talk of adding additional seats for the Heritage Classic.

Although the NHL’s competition committee still needs to sign off on the event, that step should be a formality. The Flames will schedule a press conference in June or July to dish out more details, including a lineup of special pre- and post-game events.

When the Oilers hosted the inaugural Heritage Classic in 2003, the schedule also included a MegaStars alumni game.

Since then, the Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins have also staged outdoor games.

Bettman also confirmed Friday the Pittsburgh Penguins will meet the Washington Capitals on New Year’s Day at Heinz Field, making the Flames-Habs tussle the sixth NHL regular-season game to be contested under open skies.

Despite some contention that two outdoor games in one season is too many, Bettman told reporters Friday he’s not worried about the novelty wearing off.

Especially in hockey-crazed Canada.

“I believe, based on the sense we’re getting, particularly north of the 49th parallel from our fans, that there was a real interest in desire to have us do another outdoor game in Canada,” Bettman said. “The Winter Classic in the United States has worked extraordinarily well for us and we wanted to make sure that our fans in Canada knew we were paying attention to their interests and their desires, as well.”

One of the lasting images of the inaugural Heritage Classic is a photo of Habs netminder Jose Theodore wearing a toque over his mask as temperatures plummeted to about -30C with the windchill.

Weather will be a question mark at McMahon Stadium — the contingency plan is to play the game on Feb. 21 — but King doesn’t seem too concerned.

“I think it’s the Goldilocks syndrome — too hot, too cold, or just right,” King said. “Part of the romance of an outdoor game is the unpredictability of the weather, and I think nowhere on Earth is their weather that is more unpredictable than Calgary. I think it’s actually, in a kooky kind of way, it’s an added dimension.”


Videos

Photos