CALGARY — Brace yourself Flames fans. Home teams don’t win NHL outdoor regular season games.
Edmonton Oilers in Commonwealth Stadium. Lost.
Buffalo Sabres in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Lost.
Chicago Blackhawks in Wrigley Field. Lost.
Pittsburgh Penguins in Heinz Field. Lost.
Only the Boston Bruins in Fenway Park triumphed. And that one was in overtime.
The Heritage Classic II is only the sixth two-point tilt outdoors in NHL history. That’s most certainly a small sample. But it makes nothing but sense that home teams haven’t succeeded.
There is no home-ice advantage in an NHL outdoor game. Neither team has played in the venue before.
And in the case of the Heritage Classic, if the Montreal Canadiens are involved, half the fans are cheering for them anyway.
But most importantly, the visiting team parachutes in like the Montreal Canadiens did here yesterday, fresh for the adventure. The home city, on the other hand, has been focused on this all year. It’s a massive distraction.
“That pretty much hits the nail on the head. I think it has a lot to do with it. There is such a build-up. There are so many distractions,” said Steve Staios when hit with that suggestion after he left the Saddledome ice after a practice in the seriously retro Calgary Tigers tan pants.
(“Don’t you guys know you never wear tan after Labour Day?” one wit pointed out.)
Staios is the only expert on Heritage Classics on the Calgary Flames, having been in the original game with the Edmonton Oilers in -28 degree weather in 2003.
“It’s like the Grey Cup. It’s a one-time event,” he said.
Except, with the Grey Cup, he suggested, you don’t know that you’re going to be in the game until one week before the game. With the Heritage Classic you can see it coming for months.
“There are so many ticket requests and people around. It’s such a big event,” he said in a Flames dressing room, which hasn’t been packed with so many media members since the Flames were in the 2004 Stanley Cup final.
“That game in Edmonton had such a great build-up. And it was at the start of the season,” he said of the late-November date.
This one, he says, has had a big build-up, too.
But it’s not the original. And this is the stretch run, not the second month of the season.
The Flames have gone 16-4-5 in their last 25 games and put themselves very much in playoff contention.
Considering their massive movement upwards in the standings to put themselves in playoff contention, he says, when it comes to playing the outdoor game this weekend “we could probably have done without it.”
One thing for sure: Staios hopes there isn’t the same Heritage Classic effect coming out of this one as the original.
It doesn’t hurt to have Staios around to remind everybody of what happened in Edmonton.
The Oilers were going good into the first Heritage Classic, too. They’d won five of their last seven.
After the Heritage Classic they won three of their next 17.
“We lost the game and we went on a serious slide after that.
“This game means a lot to us. And definitely the atmosphere is different,” said Staios.
“Once the game gets going you need to get focused. I think everyone understands that. We have to find a way to get forcused and find a way to play the game.”
Brent Sutter was in a good mood meeting the media mob, saying the tan pants are “uh … different” and asking a reporter for the forecast for Sunday and, when told -10 to -17 C, quipping “perfect for hockey”.
But when it came to the idea that the home team is at a disadvantage in this game, he lost the grin.
“Perhaps,” he said.
“The visiting team doesn’t have all the things leading up to it. The circumstances are not normal. It’s the same for both teams. Playing in front of 47,000 is new, too.
“To me, it’s not the game itself. It’s what’s leading up to the game. I think it’s important that we enjoy it and that we have fun with it. It’s a great thing for Calgary, for the Flames, everyone involved and for hockey in general.”
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