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Outdoor game between Flames, Leafs in works

Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres and goalie Ty Conklin of the Pittsburgh Penguins matched wits during an outdoor game at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., on Jan. 1, 2008.

Dave Sandford/2008 Getty Images

The marquee outside McMahon Stadium this winter is expected to say Calgary v. Toronto, only it won't be the Stampeders and Argonauts looking to block and tackle one another.

Try the Flames and the Maple Leafs in what is shaping up to be a New Year's Day double dip, two NHL Outdoor Classics, one at Boston's Fenway Park and the other in the same facility that will play host to the CFL's 2009 Grey Cup game on Nov. 29.

The NHL's plan to hold a second outdoor game was confirmed Friday by several sources, one of whom thought the Vancouver Canucks would end up playing in Calgary. The Maple Leafs, however, are always a top draw in Western Canada and would engage their usual high number of Eastern television viewers, thereby assuring a ratings bonanza.

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Originally the NHL scheduled just one outside game involving the Boston Bruins, likely against the Washington Capitals, at legendary Fenway Park. But the proposal to have a second game, in Canada, was first broached four months ago and has been largely driven by the CBC, the primary TV rights holder in Canada.

Under a proposal that still requires approval from all the major stakeholders, as well as the NHL's competition committee, the two games will be played back-to-back with the Boston game televised on NBC and the Calgary game on CBC. The NHL's other U.S. television partner, Versus, would pick up the later game as well.

The primary logistical issue will be cobbling together a second ice-making plant for the McMahon Stadium game, after the NHL purchased its own mobile ice-making plant, which was used successfully for the first time this past Jan. 1 for the Wrigley Field game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings.

The NHL's ice guru, Dan Craig, cannot be on-site in both Boston and Calgary simultaneously so the league's expertise will be divided between the two venues if the second outdoor game goes ahead.

There is some opposition at the league level to the proposed doubleheader on the grounds that the outdoor game could become passé if it becomes diluted by too much exposure. Given that the CBC invests a great deal more in rights fees than NBC, it is believed that the CBC's wishes will be met.

Michael Cammalleri, who played for the Flames last season and is now an unrestricted free agent, endorsed the idea.

"The details still have to be weighed - and whether it works for both the [National Hockey League Players' Association]and the league - but it brings a smile to my face when I think about playing an outdoor game in front of those fans," said Cammalleri, who played an outdoor game in college for Michigan against Michigan State. "I can imagine it would be a lot of fun."

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McMahon Stadium sits 35,650 for football games but that count will be upgraded to 45,000 for the Grey Cup game through temporary bleachers. Those seats will then stay in place for the outdoor game.

The Edmonton Oilers were the first NHL team to stage an outdoor game when they played host to the Montreal Canadiens at Commonwealth Stadium on Nov. 22, 2003. That frosty affair drew 57,167 spectators despite temperatures of minus 18 C without the wind chill.

Since then, the Buffalo Sabres and Blackhawks have tried their hand at outdoor games. Unfortunately, the home team has yet to win playing hockey at a baseball or football stadium.

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About the Authors

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

Sports writer

Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. More

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