Heritage Classic that much more special
Steve Macfarlane, QMI Agency
|A Calgary Flames player celebrates at the Heritage Classic. (QMI Agency)
As the last remnants of the Heritage Classic in Calgary were being snatched up at the Flames’ used equipment sale Saturday, news broke it would be the last NHL regular-season outdoor game hosted in Canada for at least another season.
According to ESPN, the Heritage Classic is not going to be an annual event — at least not yet.
A league source said the 2012 Winter Classic wouldn’t be joined by a second outdoor contest for the 2011-12 season.
The news should make every Calgarian or out-of-towner who made the trek to McMahon Stadium and braved the cold Feb. 20 as the Flames beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-0 in front of those 40,022 spectators feel even better about their decision to take part.
Making the celebration of the roots of hockey in Canada an annual or bi-ennial tradition is probably inevitable, the way the Winter Classic is now used to grow the game in the U.S. every New Year’s Day.
But you have to like the fact the league isn’t cheapening just the second outdoor NHL game on Canadian soil in eight years by jumping right into a commitment to a third in some other city no doubt clamoring for the rights to host because of the added revenue from jacked-up ticket prices, food and drink sales and merchandising.
Instead of taking the meaning out of it the way romance has been spoiled by Valentine’s Day, the league is ensuring by leaving the date of the next one in limbo that it continues to be considered a special event.
And every one of the 40,000-plus people who saw the Flames suit up in their Where’s Waldo-like yellow and maroon throwback outfits and cream-coloured pants can look back today and remember the event for what it was — one even the most cynical skeptic who attended grudgingly to appease a spouse or best buddy has to admit was pretty spectacular.
From the pre-game chants from a cold but frenzied crowd, to the Snowbirds fly-by, to the singing of the national anthem, to the final buzzer on the shutout, the atmosphere was electric.
The winter wonderland usually used to host CFL contests in the summer and fall inspired goosebumps among even the most jaded writers sent to cover the event having had their fill of talk about the Classic in the days and weeks leading up to it.
Watching an obviously chilled Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff sprint for the bench to sit by the heater during TV timeouts, the odd additions of equipment — with some players donning eye black or earmuffs — were things that still stand out to those who watched.
One day, years from now, the specific memories will fade into the more general — the volumes emitted by the crowd, or simply the feeling most of them enjoyed for much of the day even when all feeling was leaving their toes because of the extremely cold weather.
Another Heritage Classic, maybe in Montreal, Toronto or Winnipeg, will capture a national audience again in the not-too-distant future, bumping the Calgary event further into the background of outdoor-game history.
But until then, it remains the most recent, and to those in Calgary, the most special.
The NHL eliminating the idea of having another one too soon preserves that for a little longer.