The Maple Leafs are finalizing plans for an outdoor regular season game to be played around New Year's Day 2008 at their new 20,000-seat BMO Field.
"I have spoken to commissioner (Gary) Bettman and he likes the idea," said Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. "We haven't signed off on it yet, but it would be a special event for a new stadium and put it on the map. It's certainly feasible to put the ice in, but now we have to work with the City of Toronto on such things as the sports bubble (that is to cover the field for winter community use).
"We also have to consider the cost. I've spoken to Pat Laforge (CEO of the Edmonton Oilers, who staged the hugely successful Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium Nov. 22, 2003) who reminded me it's an expensive thing.
"So if we go to that trouble, we'd want to make a real event out of it, have some things leading into the game and something leading out. Of course we'd also have to decide on who we'd want to play."
The Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings come to mind, all within driving distance and able to buy tickets any Leafs loyalists would not likely snap up. The Oilers played the Canadiens in their outdoor game, drawing 57,167 fans, preceded by an oldtimers match involving stars from the two clubs' Stanley Cup dynasties. Temperatures hovered around the freezing mark during the Edmonton game, but frigid fans loved it.
"It would be very hard to duplicate the magic of that game," Peddie said. "But I think New Year's Day would be a date to look at, which would create a lot of interest in Canada and the United States."
BMO Field is nearing completion for the expansion Major League Soccer team, Toronto FC.
"I'd love to play in an outdoor game," said Leaf forward Wade Belak, who is from Saskatchewan. "I know they were talking about using the SkyDome once. It probably won't be as cold as it was out west for the Edmonton game, but I still wouldn't want to be blocking shots outside here either."