A Wonderful Game Day Experience
By Jason Gregor28 days ago
I’m not sure the NHL could have asked for better weather for the Heritage Classic. It was cold enough that the ice was fast and smooth, but warm enough for fans to be comfortable in their seats, as long as they dressed appropriately. It was the ideal day for an outdoor hockey game.
My nine-year-old son Beckett wanted to go to the game, and I wanted him to experience the wonder of the Heritage Classic, so we purchased seats months ago. It was great sitting in the crowd. I believe that is the best way, and only way, to get the full game experience. We arrived right at 3 p.m., as I didn’t want to get stuck in long lines waiting to get in (I learned my lesson from the CONCACAF game between Canada and Honduras two years ago). We, along with Frank Seravalli and his nine-year-old son, Christian, arrived early, got in easily, and easily walked around the main concourse. I noticed many beer vendors setting up with Supercans for only $10.50. These vendors only took cash, but compared to a beer at Rogers Place, the $10.50 was a bargain. They were only there pre-game though. I didn’t see any during intermission, which made sense once you got to the first intermission.
We were lucky to have been given passes to the Breakaway Bar, and after a tour around the stadium and the boys wanting to see the ice, we slid into the Breakaway Bar for pizza and a drink. We got to our seats around 4:15 p.m. It was beautiful outside. We were on the east side, so the sun warmed up our seats. Toques came off as we sat and enjoyed the warmup. The stadium started filling up, and in section T, there was a mix of Oilers and Flames fans. The mood was upbeat and happy. We sat in row 24 and couldn’t have asked for better fans to watch the game with.
The players warmed up with toques on. I’m guessing the NHL won’t fine players like Dylan Holloway, Philip Broberg and Vincent Desharnais, who entered the NHL after the 2019-2020 season and are supposed to wear helmets in warmups (I don’t like that rule). The stadium kept filling up and by the time the players returned to start the game the majority of the seats were full. A few stragglers were getting food and beverages, or wisely going to the washroom.
Prior to puck drop, two CT-155 Hawk jets from the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 4 Wing Cold Lake fighter base soared overhead. They were quieter than I expected. They flew over twice.
The game began and the Oilers took over. They controlled the play from the start and four minutes into the game a kid from Stony Plain opened up the scoring for his hometown Oilers. What a moment for Brett Kulak.
“Being outdoors in the city I was born in, I’ve got lots of family here watching the game. There are lot of ties to the game,” said Kulak. “The atmosphere in the rink was amazing, so to be able to score one and get us going, lots of emotions for sure. It felt good.”
Three minutes later the Oilers found themselves killing off a 5-on-3 for 1:21. The Flames’ power play looked awful. They didn’t create one good scoring chance and 13 seconds after Leon Draisaitl stepped out of the penalty box, he made a nice pass to Zach Hyman to make it 2-0. The frustration and tension from a 1-5-1 start seemed to dissipate from the crowd. This was the team many Oilers fans were expecting to watch this season.
Three minutes later the Oilers found themselves on a 5-on-3 again, this time for one minute and 46 seconds. Calgary scored with one second remaining on the first penalty, and they had some life. The Oilers killed off the final 35 seconds of the second penalty and continued their 5×5 domination. Evan Bouchard’s point shot found the back of the net and Edmonton led 3-1. The Oilers dominated the first period 5×5, outshooting Calgary 13-3. Calgary had zero shots from the slots, zero high-danger chances and zero chances off the cycle in the first period.
The first intermission was a gong show for fans. The concourse was jammed. Lineups to the washroom and concession were long, and if you were claustrophobic, I don’t think it would have been manageable. My son and I made our way, ever so slowly, through the crowd. As I looked at the madness, I wondered: is this how it was for every Edmonton Elks (then Eskimos) game in the early 1980s when they had 50,000 fans every game? Bladder control was pushed to the limits for many fans.
We missed the first eight minutes of the second period. Even with half a period to go, the lines were still very long, but there was a bit more space on the concourse. Not much, but at least we didn’t feel like sardines on the way back to our seats.
AJ Greer drew a penalty on Vincent Desharnais just as we sat down, and then he scored two minutes later, before Desharnais’ was out of the box to make it 3-2. Two power play goals scored within the final second of the penalty expiring — you don’t see that very often. For a second consecutive period, the Oilers controlled the play 5×5, but Calgary’s power play had them in the game.
We remained in our seats for the second intermission to watch Nickleback. At one point when they were playing the LED ring on the front of the second deck read Nickleᗺack. I said to myself, I’ve never noticed it was spelt that way. I chuckled at my ignorance, but then later they spelt it properly and I realized it was just the in-stadium video guy having fun. He got me.
After the mini-Zambonis flooded the ice, the band took to the stage located right in front of the fans on the west side. I’ve never understood the backlash for Nickleback. They’ve had an unreal career and have many great songs. They played three songs, opening up with Saturday’s Alright for Fighting and ended with Rockstar. My son and I really enjoyed it and many fans around us sang along. It was a fun 13-minute show.
The Oilers controlled the first 40 minutes at 5×5 by a large margin.
However, Oilersnation wasn’t too comfortable with a 3-2 score, given the Oilers’ disastrous third periods thus far this season. The Flames pushed, but Stuart Skinner stood tall. He wasn’t tested much in the first 40 minutes, but he made some key saves in the third period. Just over six minutes in, Vincent Desharnais scored his first career NHL goal. Originally, they announced it as Evander Kane’s goal — they thought he deflected it — but after re-watching it, they determined Kane never touched it, and in his 42nd NHL game, Desharnais scored his first goal. The excitement on the bench when they made the announcement was noticeable. Players love it when a player scores his first NHL goal, and when it comes from a guy who isn’t expected to score, the jubilation intensifies.
“We thought it was him (Kane) at first, even he didn’t know, he said ‘I’m not sure if I touched it,” explained Desharnais. “No one really knew it was my first one… I don’t know how they didn’t know that,” laughed Desharnais about his teammates not knowing it was his first career goal.
“It is a pretty cool environment to score your first goal, and especially because this game was really important for us. I’m very happy we got the two points. I knew that goal was big, and whoever scored it, I didn’t really care, I just wanted to win tonight,” he added post game.
You can tell in this celebration how excited he was, and at that moment he didn’t know the goal was going to be his.
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Skinner was excellent the rest of the way, before Evander Kane scored into the empty net in the final minute. Kane was the best player on the ice. He had six shots, six hits and finished with a goal and an assist. How he wasn’t named a star of the game was comical. He was easily the Oilers’ best player; and the most engaged. I feel he’s been the Oilers’ most consistent player the past three games. He had a slow start in the first three games, but since his fight in Winnipeg, he’s been very good. Not only producing points, but he’s been very physical and he’s starting to get more PK time.
We left our seats with five minutes remaining and watched the final few minutes from the concourse on the south end zone. Once Kane scored, we left and were able to beat the massive rush.
It was a great experience to share with Beckett. He’s old enough that he will remember it and in the car ride home he talked as much about the final score as he did all of the other events, from seeing the entire stadium empty, to having it fill up, to the crazy first intermission crowds, the concert and how it wasn’t too cold (although he did admit he wished he had one more layer of pants on for the third period). This came after he had argued all day that he wouldn’t be cold. Sometimes it is best for them to learn for themselves (inner dad voice).
Oct 28, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Edmonton Oilers centre Leon Draisaitl (29 ) walks towards the ice during practice day for the 2023 Heritage Classic ice hockey game at Commonwealth Stadium.
The Oilers only allowed two high-danger chances at even strength — easily their best defensive effort. Yes, it came against the Flames, who are struggling to score, but Edmonton entered the game 26th in high-danger chances allowed (all situations) at 16.4/game. Calgary finished with seven total. It was a step in the right direction defensively for the Oilers and they need to bring the same defensive awareness Thursday when they host the Dallas Stars.
Kane was a force all game. He delivered a few huge hits. He got penalized early, but if you want players to play physical there will be the odd hit that results in a minor penalty. His boarding penalty wasn’t a dumb penalty in my eyes. I’d rather see an aggressive penalty than a lazy hook or holding call, but that’s just me.
Connor McDavid looked fine, and the good news for the Oilers was they didn’t rely on him to win the game. He had one assist and played over 23 minutes. There will be games where he dominates and carries the team, but the Oilers need to win when he isn’t the focal point like last night.
Skinner had his third consecutive solid start. I thought he was excellent in the loss to the Rangers on Thursday, and he was solid last night. He’s another player who, after a slow start, is playing like he should.
Evan Bouchard is also on that list. He had a rough first few games defensively, but he was very good defensively v. the Rangers and last night I saw no glaring errors from him. His offensive game is excellent with nine points in eight games, but he’s been much better defensively the past two and that needs to continue.
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