Heritage Classic -:
Ryan McLeod stepped out of the Edmonton Oilers’ locker room to practice on Saturday, and the atmosphere immediately struck him—the chill in the air, the overall scene. It dawned on him that he was about to play in his first NHL outdoor game.
“I’m really thrilled,” the forward remarked. “Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to experience this.”
The forthcoming event is the 2023 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium, where the Oilers will take on the Calgary Flames on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVAS, TBS, MAX), marking the 20th anniversary of the original Heritage Classic.
In the same stadium on November 22, 2003, the Montreal Canadiens secured a 4-3 victory over the Oilers in front of a crowd of 57,167. The concept at the time was to pay tribute to hockey’s outdoor heritage, although playing in an NHL outdoor game wasn’t a childhood dream back then.
Prior to that, the only similar game was a preseason match between the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers in the Caesars Palace parking lot in Las Vegas on September 27, 1991. The inaugural Heritage Classic was the first-ever regular-season outdoor game in the modern NHL era.
Fast forward, and a whole generation has grown up watching NHL outdoor games, which have become an integral part of the NHL dream.
“Absolutely,” affirmed Oilers forward Connor Brown, set to participate in his third NHL outdoor game. “Yeah.”
This marks the enduring legacy of the original Heritage Classic.
It led to the inception of the initial Winter Classic, where the Pittsburgh Penguins secured a 2-1 shootout victory against the Buffalo Sabres before a crowd of 71,217 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, on January 1, 2008.
Consequently, this led to an array of outdoor games. The NHL has organized 37 such games in various venues, involving 934 players and drawing 1,851,642 fans, averaging 52,904 fans per game (excluding two games played without fans for television during the 2021 NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe amid the COVID-19 pandemic).
Penguins center Sidney Crosby vividly remembers watching the original Heritage Classic on TV when he was 16—a face-off official temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit, Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore wearing a toque atop his mask—and then having the chance to participate in the inaugural Winter Classic. Crosby even scored the shootout winner in the midst of the snow.
“It looked like those guys were having a blast,” Crosby reminisced. “It was an exciting opportunity for us to play outside for the first time at that level.”
Flames defenseman MacKenzie Weegar reflects on his cousin Craig Rivet’s participation in the original Heritage Classic back when Weegar was just 9 years old.
“He really enjoyed it,” Weegar shared. “He mentioned it was a great privilege to be a part of it. It was a pretty cool moment for him. I’m sure, looking back at something like that after your career, it’s a special experience to play in one of those.”
When Weegar entered the NHL, the idea of playing outdoors wasn’t a significant consideration. Spending his initial six seasons with the Florida Panthers, the southernmost team in the League and one of the four teams yet to play an outdoor game.
Now in Calgary, he has the opportunity for the first time.
“It’s quite a special experience, and I feel privileged to be part of one,” Weegar expressed. “It’s awesome.”
Oilers forward Zach Hyman recalled watching the original Heritage Classic on TV when he was just 11 years old.
At the time of the 2014 Winter Classic, where the Toronto Maple Leafs triumphed 3-2 in a shootout against the Detroit Red Wings at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Hyman was a player at the University of Michigan, having been picked by the Panthers in the fifth round (No. 123) of the 2010 NHL Draft.
During the event, Hyman sat among the record-breaking NHL crowd of 105,491—although he left about midway through the game due to the cold. He finished watching the game comfortably at home on TV.
Heritage Classic, Unveiling the NHL Players Unforgettable Outdoor Game Experiences, Heritage Classic 2023,
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