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Jon Dolezar Inside the NHL

The great outdoors

Heritage Classic taking shape in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium

Posted: Friday November 14, 2003 9:27PM; Updated: Friday November 14, 2003 9:51PM
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  Marlin Gogowich
Marlin Gogowich installs the hoses that will help keep the ice surface frozen for the NHL's first outdoor game.
AP

There is just more than one week until the NHL holds its historic first outdoor game -- the Heritage Classic in Edmonton on Nov. 22.

And preparations are starting to come together at Commonwealth Stadium to host the 56,169 fans who will witness the Canadiens and Oilers face off in this groundbreaking event.

Edmonton's outdoor game won't come close to approaching the attendance at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich., for the Michigan at Michigan State "Cold War" game on Oct. 6, 2001. But the fact that this is the NHL and that two of its marquee franchises over the past generation will be taking part will make this a far bigger deal than what was essentially a regional college event.

And if the Heritage Classic is a success, there is a possibility that cities like Boston (Gillette Stadium), Buffalo (Ralph Wilson Stadium), Chicago (Soldier Field or Wrigley Field), Denver (Invesco Field), Detroit (Ford Field or Michigan Stadium), New York (Giants Stadium or Yankee Stadium), Pittsburgh (Heinz Field), Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field) or Toronto (SkyDome with the roof open) could explore hosting an outdoor game in the future.

"The thought of seeing multi-millionaire hockey players skating around outside playing for real points has captured something," Oilers vice president of marketing and communications Allan Watt said Thursday in a conference call.

NHL facility operations manager (aka, the ice guru) Dan Craig said that everything is on schedule for the rink to be up and running on Wednesday for initial skating tests and three days of final preparation leading up to the game.

"For making the ice, we made sure we have allowed ourselves enough time so that we are not going to get ourselves jammed into a corner," Craig said. "We are going to be patient to make ice in the best way -- the best way to make a solid layer of ice is you layer it a little bit at a time and you don't rush it. You don't go up there and dump 1,200 gallons and walk away and wait for it to freeze. We do it in small layers with a hose and a fine mist, and hour after hour."

The majority of the ice crew will be Craig's from the Skyreach Centre in Edmonton, which has long been regarded as having the best ice in the NHL. But the Canadiens will be represented, too, as Francois Martindale from the Bell Centre is taking part in the ice-making process as well.

It will take 20 hours to lay down the first few inches of ice. By Monday, there will be enough ice to paint the surface white, and then another 22 hours of work will be required to prepare the final layer.

Because the game is being played in a football stadium, Craig and his crew had to deal with the unique situation of building a rink on top of a crowned field, rather than a flat cement surface. Because of the crown in the middle of the football playing surface for drainage purposes, 65 truckloads of sand were brought in to make a flat surface.

Approximately 1,400 gallons of freezing agent calcium chloride will flow through the tubing in the sand floor to initially freeze the ice and to keep it frozen in the event of unseasonably warm temperatures.

MAILBAG

But if you live in the United States and don't have the NHL Center Ice package so that you can watch CBC's telecast, you won't be able to see the Heritage Classic. No U.S. cable network has picked up the television rights, so CBC's Hockey Night In Canada will have the exclusive broadcast.

Glen Sather coached the Oilers during their dynasty years and he said this week that he tried to get NHL president John Ziegler to play an outdoor game 20 years ago.

"It's not the first time that the game's been proposed," Sather told the Edmonton Sun this week. "We tried to get that through Ziegler in the early 1980's. We wanted to play against the Russian team. He turned us down. He said it was a ridiculous idea."

Sather and Mark Messier will fly to Edmonton after the Rangers' game in Colorado on Thursday to attend the Heritage Classic.

"It's not the game," Sather told the Sun. "It's to be part of the event in Edmonton and to be part of the crowd. To see all of these players we spent so much time with in the 1980's."

Watt says the Oilers received 700,000 applications for the 7,000 casual tickets that were available after the 15,000 season ticket holders, as well as NHL and local sponsors were taken care of. With that kind of demand, ducats to the game are the toughest ticket in town -- and Canada, for that matter.

And no one is worrying about the weather, since temperatures in Edmonton have hovered around 40 in recent weeks.

"Could it be minus 40?" Watt wondered. "Yeah. Would that be too cold to play? Yeah. But that's the risk you take when you put an NHL hockey game in a football stadium outside in November."

It's a risk well worth taking, and one that hopefully the NHL will explore in other cities in the future.

While you were sleeping

If you went to bed early on Thursday night, you missed three incredible comebacks in the late West Coast games.

The Sharks scored three goals in 45 seconds to erase the Blues' 3-0 lead in the third period in San Jose. But Petr Cajanek beat Evgeni Nabokov high to the far corner in overtime -- after a weak effort at a check by Kyle McLaren -- to end one of the most thrilling games in recent memory and make the Sharks' comeback efforts for naught.

In Los Angeles, the Maple Leafs rallied from 4-1 deficit with three goals in a 12:03 stretch to earn a 4-4 tie with the Kings. That was the second time this season Los Angeles blew a three-goal lead in the third period at home.

In Phoenix, the Coyotes got goals from Brian Savage and Ladislav Nagy 2:26 apart to pull back even with the Avalanche, before Branko Radivojevic won it for the 'Yotes in overtime.

East Coast residents, and media members in particular, after often accused of having an East Coast bias. But as someone who doesn't flip the TV off until the final horn sounds on the last West Coast game every night, I urge you to put on a pot of coffee and make sure you stay up for the late-night Western Conference tilts as often as possible. You never know what will happen in the wild, wild West.

Dan is their man

While Dan Cloutier's reputation of slumping at inopportune times and allowing the occasional soft goal riles some Vancouver fans, Kevin McGregor is stepping up to offer unfailing support to the Canucks netminder. McGregor started InDanWeTrust.com to offer Cloutier a loyal group to support him through thick and thin.

"Somebody has to support Dan Cloutier in the city of Vancouver so I am personally taking it upon myself," McGregor said. "He is in dire need of a public relations campaign and I am going to start one as best that I can. His critics are quiet now but they will rise again. [The Web site] is up and running with my argument as well as T-shirts that will hopefully bring out the supporters and drown out these negative sentiments."

Look for Kevin and his band of merry men cheering loudly in the GM Place stands each time Clooch comes up clutch. No word yet on whether they have reserved JohanHedbergIsABum.com to lob verbal taunts at Cloutier's challenger for crease time.

Everything old is new again

The NHL kicks off its retro-themed Vintage Hockey program Saturday with the Blues and Kings wearing throwback jerseys in the first of seven such games this season. Montreal got things started by wearing their white 1945-46 sweaters a few weeks back, but the St. Louis at Los Angeles game will be the first in which both teams will wear classic sweaters.

The Habs and Canucks also will wear throwbacks on Tuesday, while Montreal's outdoor game with Edmonton on Saturday will be the crown jewel of the Vintage Hockey series. After that, the remaining four games at Vancouver at Montreal on Nov. 25, Los Angeles at St. Louis on Dec. 2, N.Y. Rangers at Boston on Jan. 19, and Boston at N.Y. Rangers on Jan. 20.

The Kings will wear their purple and gold sweaters with the crown logo from the 1980-81 season, while the Blues will wear their 1979-80 unis. The other teams taking part in the program are the Canadiens (1945-46 white sweaters and 1958-59 red ones), Bruins (1967-68), Rangers (1976-77) and Canucks (1972-73). The NHL expects to sell approximately $230 million in Vintage Hockey products this season.

"The Vintage Hockey Program commemorates hockey's rich, 87-year history," said Ed Horne, president of NHL Enterprises. "The program involves the entire hockey family on and off the ice. Players and fans alike will have the chance to wear authentic jerseys and vintage fashion apparel as well as participate in Vintage Hockey-themed activities such as 'turn-back-the-clock' contests and promotions."

The league is also selecting the NHL Legendary All-Star Team in voting that will coincide with voting for the 2004 All-Star Game. All retired players who made seven or more All-Star Games are eligible, so you will be able to select from legends like Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr through Dec. 31.

Coverboy jinx for EA Sports

For all the complaints that Sports Illustrated has a cover jinx, Electronic Arts has taken it to new heights with the hex it puts on athletes who grace the cover of EA Sports' video games.

Michael Vick was featured on the cover of Madden 2004 and broke his leg, but the EA Sports jinx has been especially prevalent in its hockey video games over the past five years.

Eric Lindros had 93 points in 71 games in 1998-99, but was perhaps the victim of a delayed jinx after being the subject of the NHL 99 cover. Lindros suffered the most severe of his numerous concussions late in the 1999-2000 season and hasn't been the same player since.

Chris Pronger had a career year in 1999-2000 after EA put him out front for NHL 2000, but he then missed 112 of the Blues' next 259 games with injuries.

Owen Nolan has had a series of disappointing seasons since appearing on the NHL 2001 front.

Mario Lemieux played just 24 games for the Penguins in 2001-02 after appearing on the NHL 2002 cover, though he did captain Team Canada to the gold medal in the 2002 Olympics.

And Jarome Iginla slumped from 96 points in 2001-02 to 67 in 2002-03 after making the cover of the NHL 2003 game.

But this year has been the worst ever for EA's hockey franchise. Joe Thornton was slated to be the man for NHL 2004 prior to his arrest for assaulting a police offer. That negative publicity caused EA to dump Thornton in favor of Dany Heatley, who graced the cover when it was released in September.

But after Heatley's Sept. 29 car wreck which claimed the life of teammate Dan Snyder, EA apparently didn't want the negative publicity surrounding Heatley, nor the fact that its poster boy wouldn't be on the ice for most, if not all, of the 2003-04 regular season. So EA has switched all of its ads and game covers to a new image of Avalanche center Joe Sakic, who would be wise to look both ways twice before crossing the street and watch his back on the ice for cheap shots.

Worth Noting

Despite Anaheim's seemingly slow start, the Mighty Ducks are only slightly off their pace from last season. The club was 7-6-3-1 after 17 games last year and is 6-7-1-3 this season. ... Maybe Barry Trotz is grumpy this year and it's rubbing off on his players. After totaling 23 fighting majors last season, the Predators already have 24 this season. ... Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock coached his 600th NHL game on Thursday. ... Roman Cechmanek is one win away from the 100th victory of his NHL career, while Jose Theodore is just three wins shy. ... Prior to Thursday's 4-4 tie, the last time the Maple Leafs and Kings met in Los Angeles was March 12, 1998. ... The Kings honored Dodgers closer Eric Gagne for winning the 2003 NL Cy Young Award before the Leafs game. Wearing a Kings sweater with his familiar No. 38 on it, the Montreal native dropped the puck in the ceremonial pregame faceoff. ... After beating Vancouver at home on Thursday, Philadelphia is 6-0-2 at the Wachovia Center. The Canucks are the only other team without a home loss (7-0-1). ... The Devils are 6-0-2 since losing to the Bruins on Oct. 25. ... The Canadiens are 2-8-1 in the 11 games they have scored two goals or fewer. ... The Sharks are 0-3-3-1 in their seven home games. ... The Hurricanes drew just 8,674 to their Thursday game against the Thrashers, making it Carolina's fourth crowd under 10,000 in eight home dates at the RBC Center. ... The Wild are winless in regulation against the Oilers (0-12-2-2) in their 3 1/2-year history. ... The Thrashers are just 2-5-1 in their past eight games after starting the season 5-1-2-1. ... The Ducks lead the NHL with a 56.0 faceoff percentage after finishing first a year ago with a 55.21 win percentage. ... USA Hockey and Hockey Canada are teaming up for a series of public service announcements for the new "Relax, It's Just A Game" campaign. The focus of the campaign is about returning the fun to the rink and the hopes are that youth hockey parents will chill out and realize their children are on the ice to have fun, learn about teamwork and get some exercise.

Rumor mill

Despite leading Team Canada to its first Olympic ice hockey gold medal in 50 years, the fact that Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson was passed over for the Maple Leafs' general manager job in favor of John Ferguson Jr. could hurt Pat Quinn's hopes of returning as the national team coach for the 2004 World Cup. Also, Jacques Martin is reportedly not a favorite of Wayne Gretzky because of the defensive style the Senators favor. The Great One wants Team Canada to run and gun, like it did under Quinn in 2002. If I had to put money on who the Canadian coach would be at this point, I'd say Hitchcock or Andy Murray, both of whom have been loyal to the Canadian national team and favor an all-around game more exciting than Martin's favored trap and counterattack leanings. ... The thought that Rick Dudley may coach the Panthers for the remainder of the season and then search for a new coach after the possible 2004 lockout is losing steam. Dudley has received permission from the Devils to talk to consultant Larry Robinson, who has now emerged as the top candidate ahead of ex-Isles head coach Peter Laviolette, Panthers assistant Steve Ludzik and former Winnipeg Jets head coach John Paddock. ... Devils center Scott Gomez is on the trade block (when isn't he?), and the New York Post reports that Gomez could be among the players New Jersey is dangling in an attempt to land Iginla. ... The first move of the Capitals' efforts to shed salary could involve sending Michael Nylander ($2.675 million this season) to the Islanders, perhaps for one of New York's top-four defensemen. The Isles lost Jason Wiemer on waivers to the Wild because they wanted to dump his $1,622,500 salary. So acquiring Nylander for any of Adrian Aucoin ($3.25 million), Roman Hamrlik ($3.6 million), Kenny Jonsson ($3 million) or Janne Niinimaa ($2.9 million) would result in a net salary gain for New York while adding a skilled playmaking centerman.

Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for SI.com.

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