Can you believe it’s been 15 years since the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens were involved in the first ever Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium? Crazy, right?
It was on this day back in 2003 that the Oilers and Canadiens faced off for the first every Heritage Classic, a tradition that turned into a yearly event after the NHL saw how cool it could be. But do you remember how there were doubts about the game even happening at all?
In the days leading up to the game, Edmonton was hit by some horrible weather. Snowstorms, tundra-like temperatures, and fears that the ice wouldn’t be ready for puck drop almost caused a postponement. Fortunately, the ice crews and event staff busted their asses to make sure that Commonwealth was ready for showtime and the 57,000 people that had tickets for the game didn’t have to miss out.
When game day finally rolled around, the event staff did everything they could to make sure the game went off without a hitch, but the weather did not cooperate. Looking back on the reports, the temperature was -20 C when the Oilers and Canadiens alumni took the ice for their two 15-minute halves, but the windchill brought it down by another 10 to 15 degrees. Even with the freezing temperatures, no one in the stands or on the ice let that affect their day.
To start, the alumni from both the Oilers and Canadiens competed hard and put on a good show. When I think back, I have fond memories of watching Gretzky and Messier do their thing with smiles on their faces and then seeing them scrap the ice between the two 15-minute periods. The whole thing had a very shinny-like vibe to it and that was something to behold. Not to mention, the good guys won that game by a score of 2-0 so what more could you ask?
Looking at the main game, it was one of the sloppier games that you could ever see, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was the vibe and the fact that we were watching something new. Does it matter that the Oilers dropped the game by a score of 4-3 despite a late charge that almost tied things up? Not at all. At the end of the day, what we saw was the beginning of a new era for the NHL. This game was the first time the NHL had ever had an outdoor game in the regular season. That’s weird to think about when you consider that there are multiple outdoor games every single season.
I remember friends who attended the game telling me that their beers always seemed to have a thin layer of ice on top of them and that it wasn’t at all uncommon to sneak in a quick cuddle with the nearest warm body. Baileys and coffee, ice cold beers, and wearing all the clothes in your closet was the move — whatever it took to keep warm. That was, of course, unless you were the dude that decided to strip down and charge his naked ass across the field, prompting cheers from 57,000+.
It was one of those days where memories were to be had at every corner, making the game itself almost inconsequential. I’m sure if you ask anyone that attended the game, they may or may not remember how the score played out, but they’ll sure as hell have a handful of stories from their day in the deep freeze.
|2nd||MTL||Richard Zednik (5)||Patrice Brisebois (7), Michael Ryder (7)||0:39||1–0 MTL|
|MTL||Yanic Perreault (6) (PP)||Craig Rivet (8), Mike Ribeiro (11)||10:53||2–0 MTL|
|EDM||Eric Brewer (1)||Jarret Stoll (1), Steve Staios (7)||13:45||2–1 MTL|
|3rd||MTL||Yanic Perreault (7)||Niklas Sundstrom (3), Craig Rivet (4)||2:22||3–1 MTL|
|EDM||Jarret Stoll (4)||Steve Staios (8)||13:06||3–2 MTL|
|MTL||Richard Zednik (6)||Sheldon Souray (3)||14:18||4–2 MTL|
|EDM||Steve Staios (3)||14:57||4–3 MTL|