Flames-Canadiens Heritage Classic Draws 41,022 at McMahon Stadium
The Flames defeated the Canadiens 4-0 yesterday in the NHL Tim Hortons Heritage Classic in front of 41,022 fans at McMahon Stadium, and Flames President & CEO Ken King said that the outdoor contest “exceeded expectations” despite temperatures hovering around 15 degrees, according to Schneider & Busby of the CALGARY SUN. King said, “This was better than we ever imagined. We had high hopes but it went better than that.” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that “both squads enjoyed playing outdoors.” Bettman: “Feedback we got was they really enjoyed the experience, which is what we typically get from the players who play in one of these games.” He added, “This event, this outdoor game, probably in terms of infrastructure, setup and what we had to put into the event, was the most complex and most intensive of all the ones we’ve done” (CALGARY SUN, 2/21). Bettman noted, “Our sponsor activation and investment in this was higher than in any Winter Classic, so from a fans standpoint, the media platforms, player experience and from business partners, this was a terrific, terrific event for us” (CALGARY HERALD, 2/21). In Calgary, Eric Francis wrote, “By most accounts, it was a perfect day” (CALGARY SUN, 2/21).
SLIPPERY SLOPE? The GLOBE & MAIL’s Allan Maki writes the Heritage Classic “was splendid viewing, expect for one thing -- the actual game.” At times it “swung between comical, passable to potentially dangerous.” You “had to suspect the game was in for a rough go” when NHL officials “decided not to use any Zambonis for fear the weighty machine would cause irreparable harm to the very ice it was meant to fix.” In the end, the game will be remembered as a “corporate cash bonanza for the NHL.” The league “pulled in more sponsorship money here than it did” for the Capitals-Penguins Winter Classic at Heinz Field.” But Maki wonders, “When does the novelty of outdoor hockey in Canada or the U.S. become not only run of the mill but something that cheapens the game, maybe hurts a player who catches a rut and blows out a ligament?” (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/21). Canadiens D James Wisniewski said, “The ice wasn’t up to par. You could see it out there -- (the puck) was like a tennis ball.” Canadiens C Ryan White: “The ice wasn’t great, but what do you expect? It’s going to be like that” (CALGARY HERALD, 2/21). Flames D Cory Sarich: “The boards and glass didn’t seem to have a lot of life, either” (CALGARY HERALD, 2/21). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Eric Duhatschek writes, “A classic? No. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But for what [it] was, a game played under less-than-ideal conditions, one that they may remember for a good long time” (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/21).
APPETITE FOR MORE: NHL COO John Collins indicated that the success of the outdoor games has been “so great the NHL and its sponsors could stage four or five such events every year, prompting a debate over preserving the uniqueness of the event versus satiating the never-ending appetite to host more.” Bettman said, “We were extraordinarily pleased with the experience. But you will have to give us a little more time to figure out what comes next” (CALGARY SUN, 2/21). Bettman: “We have to balance the uniqueness versus an appetite for teams and fans to have these events. 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” (CALGARY SUN, 2/21). ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun wrote, “One day we’ll get sick of these outdoor games, but that day isn’t here yet.” Starting in ’12-13, you “might see more than two outdoor games if the league continues to believe in the dynamic appeal of these events” (ESPN.com, 2/20). In Toronto, Damien Cox writes it appears the NHL “is going to sell this outdoor idea and sell it some more until some city, some day, turns up its nose” (TORONTO STAR, 2/21).
WAITING FOR THEIR TURN: The Maple Leafs have yet to play in an outdoor game, and Collins said, “I think ultimately, absolutely we want to get to every Canadian market for sure. Toronto has a lot of strong thoughts about how we would stage a game and where we would stage a game. You know it’s a great market, we want to do something there.” In Toronto, Dan Robson notes Rogers Centre “certainly has the seating capacity” to host a hockey game, but the roof is “sealed shut in the winters.” Collins: “It becomes kind of an arena game, but bigger.” Another option is BMO Field, and Collins said MLSE “has talked about adding seats as their natural growth plan. I think right now it’d be a little tight” (TORONTO STAR, 2/21).