When Brent Oliver attended the Heritage Classic 20 years ago, he sat five rows from the top of Commonwealth Stadium.
He and 57,166 hockey fans saw the Montreal Canadiens edge the Edmonton Oilers 4-3, but what he remembers most is the biting cold. It was -18 Celsius, and it felt like -30 C with the wind chill.
“I left in the third last time because, after the alumni game and main game, I was frozen to the core,” recalled Oliver. “It took me three days to warm up.”
Oliver was back at Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday. He was one of 55,411 to watch the Oilers beat the Calgary Flames 5-2 in the 20th anniversary edition of the Heritage Classic and the 38th outdoor game the NHL has held. It was announced as a sellout.
With the temperature at 3.1 C at game time, this outdoor experience was a lot easier to take.
“This is so much more hospitable than 20 years ago,” Oliver said.
But, he admitted his view of the ice might have been better 20 years ago, when he was near the stadium lights. The lower you go, the harder it is to see over the boards. In a corner of the lower bowl, he admitted his vantage point for this Heritage Classic wasn’t the best.
“I’m in row 30,” he said. “I can’t see the corners here.”
When the temperature dipped to 2 C during the game, Jerad Cox, sitting in row 79 of the upper bowl, didn’t believe it.
“Two degrees is not possible,” he said. Cox said his section featured a healthy mix of Oilers and Flames fans, but they “mingled nicely during the game.”
The Oilers and Flames both wore themed costumes during their pre-game entrances. Oilers players were dressed in blue rig-hand work clothes.
“The outfit coming to the game is a fun way you can represent your city, the fans and the people,” said Oilers defenceman Mattias Ekholm. “I think it’s a really cool thing and they did a great job getting these done.”
Flames players wore denim coveralls and white cowboy hats. The hat is a Calgary emblem while the cowpoke outfits were forward Nazem Kadri’s idea.
Flames forward Andrew Mangiapane expected the night to be special.
“I grew up playing on the outdoor rink that my dad made me, and it’s a good memory we’ll share out here,” he said.
There was more than hockey offered up at the game, as it featured flybys from military planes and lots of musical entertainment. Canadian indie-rockers, Beaches, played before the game at nearby Clarke Stadium, and the Rural Alberta Advantage served as the house band at Commonwealth.
But the star musical attraction was Nickelback, who was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame earlier this year.
When Nickelback took the stage for its three-song second-intermission set, they were met with a large roar from the Commonwealth Stadium crowd. The band began with a cover of the Elton John classic, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” before getting into two of its best-known hits, “How You Remind Me” and “Rockstar.”
“We grew up in Alberta, we know first-hand the rivalry between these two cities,” yelled Chad Kroeger between songs. “This is what we talk about all year long.”
The game featured a pass from two CT-155 Hawk aircraft, which made the 35-minute flight from 4 Wing Cold Lake, the busiest fighter base in the country.
Before faceoff, there was a moment of silence for former Pittsburgh Penguin Adam Johnson, who died Saturday after his throat was cut by a skate in an English professional game between his Nottingham Panthers and the Sheffield Steelers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2023
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