The 2016 Heritage Classic was last weekend as the Winnipeg Jets hosted the Edmonton Oilers in a weekend of fun and hockey. The two teams battled at Investors Group Field, home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, as the Oilers took a 3-0 win in the actual game.
Much like the Winter Classic in the US, the Heritage Classic is much more than a simple hockey game, it is a celebration of the past, present, and future of hockey within the surrounding areas and in the entire country.
With the Jets and Oilers playing in the most recent game, the Flames have now gone the longest without playing in an outdoor game among Canadian teams. In my opinion, the Flames are due, perhaps not next season, but the Flames are due to play in one.
Since the most recent series of Heritage Classics started (beginning in 2011 in Calgary), they’ve been played every third season. This would set the next one for approximately the 2019-2020 season. The Flames should be involved in the next one, and the game should be against the Oilers in Edmonton in my opinion, and here’s why:
- Rivalry: The key to making and marketing a successful outdoor game in the NHL is the pull of the game for fans, especially those outside the fanbases of involved teams. The Battle of Alberta stretches back to the inception of both franchises into the NHL, with the rivalry reaching it’s peak during the 80’s. The Calgary-Edmonton rivalry may have tapered off in recent years as both teams failed to yield strong teams, but there is still a strong dislike among the cities and an outdoor game would be sure to ignite this. Both teams now appear to be headed in the right direction which would result in a very competitive rivalry once again to draw the fans a few years down the line. A rivalry would add a certain element to the outdoor games which could pull in more viewers to watch the game, more so than an average game outdoor game between non-rival teams.
- The Players: These two teams have a wealth of young stars on them who will beginning to hit their prime such as Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Jordan Eberle etc. Chances are very good that McDavid and Gaudreau will be in top scorers and players in the NHL consistently by then, creating a draw from other hockey fans who would want to see elite young players square off. These two teams will likely have been in the playoffs a few times by then too, leading to an added interest from other fan bases in the Western Conference. If the game is to be played between two smaller market teams like Calgary and Edmonton, then McDavid and Gaudreau should be enough to draw other fans in as well.
- An Intraprovincial Celebration of Hockey: I’m pretty sure intraprovincial is not a word but you get the point. Aside from Ottawa/Toronto, Calgary/Edmonton is the only provincial rivalry in Canada and it provides an opportunity for the entire province of Alberta. It would be something truly great to have a province, which is quite divided among Flames and Oilers fans to get together and dawn their colours at the game.
They could even turn the event into a half week event celebrating hockey in our province by incorporating WHL teams with their own games on the outdoor ice prior to the NHL game. It would be an opportunity to bring fans of hockey from across the province especially non-NHL cities such as Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, and Red Deer to watch their teams play outdoors, and stay for the Flames vs Oilers contest.
The reasoning behind playing the game in Edmonton would be that the Flames recently hosted an outdoor game, the Heritage Classic in 2011 against the Habs, whereas Edmonton last hosted in 2003 also against Montreal. Edmonton also has a bigger stadium capable of being filled by a larger number of fans.
As I said earlier, the keys to making events such as the Heritage Classic a success are 1. Filling the stands and 2. Creating an event with the capability to establish a strong pull to TV viewers from other parts of the league and around the world. This matchup would hold the rivalry and the skill of players to pull in fans on TV, while also bringing in fans from Alberta to watch their NHL teams do battle on a grand stage.
It is an opportunity for fans who normally don’t want to drive a long distance to the NHL games in normal arenas, to congregate in Edmonton and become a part of an unique event. Hockey is something very important and loved by many Canadians and Albertans, and this game would provide the opportunity for a truly special event in Edmonton. And that’s what hockey is to us, truly special.