Visually, it was stunning to look at, not counting the Calgary Flames' retina-ruining uniforms from days gone blind.
Forty-one thousand hockey fans huddled together outdoors at McMahon Stadium. A setting sun highlighting the east-side stands. Don Cherry emerging from one exit wearing - what else? - a black cowboy hat. Fireworks and flames shooting into the air. People enjoying themselves. Sunday's Heritage Classic between the Flames and Montreal Canadiens was splendid viewing, except for one thing - the actual game.
That wasn't so spectacular. At times it swung between comical, passable to potentially dangerous. Then again, you had to suspect the game was in for a rough go when National Hockey League 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. Then, when a bunch of guys with shovels had to clear away the snow so the rink could be watered down by a garden hose, that's when you were assured this was not going to be the slickest game ever played.
In the end, the 2011 Heritage Classic went into the books as a 4-0 win for the Flames and a corporate cash bonanza for the NHL. The league pulled in more sponsorship money here than it did in the 2011 Winter Classic at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.
But honestly, can we say enough already? 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?
No doubt, these are questions the NHL has considered. But there are earnest indications the NHL has no plans to curtail its outdoor extravaganzas. In fact, the league is open to playing host to more than two a season, perhaps as many as five, maybe even playing host to them overseas in Europe. In other words, if outdoor hockey is something of a golden goose, the NHL is going to get every last egg out of it. Then cook and eat the bird.
There have even been suggestions every Canadian NHL centre, not counting Edmonton and Calgary because they've already had their turn, wants an outdoor game. Toronto is said to be a strong choice with Maple Leafs' president and general manager Brian Burke pushing hard for it.
Okay, so where would the Leafs stage such a showcase? BMO Field, the home for soccer's Toronto FC, has a current seating capacity of 22,100, and while the Rogers Centre may be the most obvious locale, there are apparently issues with opening and closing the roof in winter. (Maybe the garage door-style opener needs a new battery.)
It's the same problem for the Canadiens. Molson stadium at McGill isn't big enough (25,012) and the Olympic Stadium, always out of sync, now has a roof after all those years without one. As for the remaining Canadian-based NHL cities, Vancouver will soon have a reroofed B.C. Place while Ottawa's renovation work at Frank Clair Stadium has yet to begin. (How about the Senators holding a game on the Rideau Canal? Jason Spezza could skate all the way to Kingston on a breakaway.)
When the Oilers held the first Heritage Classic in 2003, they played it in unbearable conditions and they made it clear it was not something they were going to trot out on a regular basis, like some kind of third jersey. So far they've stuck to their word and expect the Flames to take a similar vow for a goodly time. That's how it should be.
Outdoor hockey is a nice idea. It can make for some fetching visuals - the players venting frigid breaths while skating in the iconic confines of Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. But when is enough finally enough?
Watching the Flames in their eyesore vintage uniforms, seeing the puck bounce around like a tennis ball Sunday, settling for so-so hockey at this stage in the regular season, if this was the last game the NHL ever held outdoors, it wouldn't be a bad thing.Report Typo/Error