Heritage Classic more than a game for Conroy

2010-11 is going to be a big year for the Calgary Flames' Craig Conroy. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

2010-11 is going to be a big year for the Calgary Flames' Craig Conroy. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:47 PM ET

Craig Conroy considers it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Set to secure his 1,000th NHL game early this year, the Calgary Flames veteran will have a chance to take part in something just as incredible in what could be his swansong season — suit up in the Heritage Classic against the very team with which he started his 15-year pro hockey career.

“That’d be unbelievable. It’s the Montreal Canadiens,” said the Potsdam, N.Y. product.

“I loved the Canadiens growing up. I watched all the games. Then to be drafted by them and play at the old Forum — all that stuff was so much fun.”

The 39-year-old centre remembers joining the Canadiens as a 22-year-old call-up.

A veteran Mark Lamb, who joined the Habs in a trade during the 1994-95 season, was talking to the youngster on the bench.

“This is what it’s all about,” Conroy recalled of the conversation. “If you only play one game and it was on Hockey Night in Canada in Montreal, that’d be the best game ever.

“That kind of stuck with me.”

And the opportunity to play outdoors against the Canadiens is a tale Conroy would be able to tell long after he hangs up his skates.

“Chance of a lifetime,” he said with a smile. “All these years later, something I’ve never done, again. I’ll probably never get another opportunity to do something like that. To be able to play in that outdoor game would be special — as long as it’s not too cold.”

The weather is the wildcard. Temperatures in Calgary

Feb. 20 over the last decade have ranged from plus-9 to minus-19.

That’s what ran through Flames captain Jarome Iginla’s mind when the game at McMahon Stadium was first mentioned as a possibility.

“First, a little bit of hesitation,” Iginla said with a grin. “It’s exciting, but you’re like, ‘Oh, man, it could be pretty cold.’ But then you wrap your head around it, I’m growing more and more excited about it.

“For a lot of us, we’ll only get one chance to do it.”

Iginla’s 33 and has three more years on his contract. He might get another opportunity.

Conroy is pushing 40 and took a two-way, $500,000 deal to give himself a shot at what might be his final season.

He didn’t even think he’d get this one chance at playing outdoors on NHL ice.

“No, never — even when they had the first one with Edmonton,” Conroy said.

“I thought, ‘That’s kind of awesome, but I wonder if they’re going to have any more.’”

Becoming an annual tradition on New Years Day as the Winter Classic, the outdoor venue hasn’t been in Canada since the Edmonton Oilers hosted the first Heritage

Classic against the Canadiens in 2003.


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