Far from regular season

Travis Moen of the Montreal Canadiens takes a hit from Mark Giordano of  the Calgary Flames after...

Travis Moen of the Montreal Canadiens takes a hit from Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames after running into Miikka Kiprusoff during the NHL's 2011 Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium in Calgary on Sunday. (Jim Wells, QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

CALGARY — If you build it, they will come. And it will come off.

If you have an NHL franchise in a location where there’s snow, an outdoor NHL Classic will go.

Even if they keep holding them again and again and again. Maybe you can never go back, but every northern NHL city wants to have the experience and manufacture the memories.

The 41,022 fans who came to McMahon Stadium for Heritage Classic II savoured the same sort of scene Edmonton, Buffalo, Chicago, Boston and Pittsburgh experienced.

It was proven here Sunday — 300 kms south of where they held the original — that even if these outdoor regular-season NHL games become somewhat stale from the outside looking in, even when it starts to look like there will be an expiry date on the novelty of these games, it will work in locations where it has never been held before.

In a way, that presents a problem for the NHL, quite happy to have the annual one on New Year’s Day on NBC. But now the franchises and even their U.S. networks want more.

And this one, like the first five, worked.

“We have to balance the uniqueness versus an appetite for teams and fans to have these events,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, when it was over. “Some of the preliminary research we’ve seen is that our fans want more of these. They don’t care how many of these have been held as long as they get one.

“Obviously you can’t do an unlimited number and we don’t want to dilute it.

“We thought it was important to go to a second game this year and have one in Canada. But it’s a question which we haven’t yet answered.

“Our sponsor activation and investment in this was higher than any Winter Classic we’ve ever done. From a fan standpoint, from all our media platforms, from the players’ experiences and from our business partners, this was a terrific, terrific event for us.”

Heritage Classic II left indelible memories of the day, in -8.6 C winter weather.

It was different here because the original was held in Edmonton and the comparisons were inevitable.

And in some ways there could be no comparison. But in the end it must be written. Calgary won the day. And most important with this one, Calgary won the hockey game!

It was very much an event from the git-go when fans woke up to a Sunday Sun with a 40-page Heritage Classic section and then headed to McMahon Stadium where there were very real concerns as to whether the ice would hold up as Dan Craig and his crew decided not to use the Zamboni, which was causing problems due to its weight. The result added to the scene as a team flooded the ice by hose. And wouldn’t it be a nice touch for the future to recreate a few of those old push barrel units for the next one.

The fanfare of shooting flames, fireworks, a Snowbirds flyover, the unveiling of giant flags for the national anthems and the rest of it, was all part of the legacy of memories, which is why fans spend four or more hours in the stands in sub-zero weather to watch these things.

It wasn’t all positive. It wouldn’t have hurt if Paul Brandt had scribbled a few words of O Canada in French inside his cowboy hat and, well, there were those hideous McFlame uniforms allegedly representing the 1920s Calgary Tigers. But there also was the actual hockey game, a forgettable one in many ways, but also a more important one than any of the ones previously played because of the standings and the number of games remaining on the schedule.

As an event, despite the soft Saturday with 10,000 fans at the old stars game, it was a massive success.

As far as the day went, Flames president Ken King said it means so much to Calgary.

“It’s huge,” said King. “When you have an execution like we had, how the NHL transformed this great, old stadium, I think it just exemplifies when you take our great game and showcase it in a special way, it’s a real winner all the way around.

“There are times when you say ‘Holy cow, is this what we want? Or is this a distraction?’ But until you get to this day ... well, you get to this day and you say everything was worth it. It was totally worth it.

“I can’t imagine having a better execution, a better outcome, happier fans and a better showcase for the game.”

Twitter.com/sunterryjones


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