Flames Too Hot for Canadiens

For the second time this season the National Hockey League took the game back to its roots—outdoors—for a pond hockey style Heritage Classic matchup between the Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday.

The sell-out crowd of 41,022 had to battle the elements at McMahon Stadium as temperatures dipped to 13 degrees (-9 Celsius). Factoring in the wind chill, it felt more like 1 degree (-17 Celsius).

On the ice, the Calgary Flames were on fire as they defeated the visiting Montreal Canadiens 4–0.

Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff turned away all 39 shots he faced for his fourth shutout of the season.

Rene Bourque scored a pair for a career 100 goals. Anton Babchuk (short-handed) and former Canadien Alex Tanguay also found the back of the net for the Flames.

No Zamboni

The NHL’s ice guru, Dan Craig, decided not to send out an ice re-surfacing machine between periods. Instead, an expert ice crew cleared the ice with specially designed shovels and a custom-made water-spraying unit.

Because of the frigid temperature, the ice was brittle and the machine could have cracked it.

“The ice wasn’t great, but it’s better than some NHL rinks we play in,” Calgary captain Jerome Iginla told TSN. “It was a little bit bouncy, probably a little bit brittle compared to what we’re used to, but nobody was really complaining about the ice.

The Calgary Flames donned a retro-looking uniform at the Heritage Classic honoring the history of professional hockey in the city. The jerseys were inspired by the Calgary Tigers who helped form the Western Canada Hockey League in 1921.

The Tigers became the first Calgary club to compete for the Stanley Cup, losing to the Montreal Canadiens in 1924.

Along with the Maroon and yellow striped jerseys and socks the Flames wore tan-colored pants with a red stripe.

The Montreal Canadiens chose to go with a classic version of their current road sweater.

Not to be confused with the Winter Classic, which is played annually on New Year’s Day, the Heritage Classic in 2003 was actually the first game to be played outdoors as part of the regular season.

That event took place at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium in front of 57,167 fans to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Oilers joining the NHL.

In 2008, the league began the Winter Classic which to date has taken place in American NHL cities.

In a postgame press conference NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, was asked about the future of the Heritage Classic. While he couldn’t commit to a possible date or location, he said the outdoor game was profitable.

“We made a big investment in doing it in Calgary and we think it paid off tremendously,” he said. “As our COO John Collins has told a number of you, our sponsor activation and investment in this was higher than any Winter Classic we’ve done.”


“Bad Ice” No Excuse

Have you ever played hockey on a pond or an outdoor rink?

I have.

Let me fill you in on a little secret… no one plays as good on natural ice as they do on an indoor rink.

Not only is it a bumpier, choppier ice surface it is also a lot harder. I can skate for hours in an arena and I’m fine but after half an hour on the pond or backyard rink my back, knees and legs get sore.

Many people thought the Heritage Classic game was boring and slow. I didn’t.

Sure the game itself was a slower pace but there were 76, yes 76, combined shots on net! Miikka Kiprusoff stopped all 39 shots on net while Carey Price turned away 33 of 37 in the loss.

Unfortunately for the bleu-blanc-rouge their game is about speed and when they can’t use that all else fails. That was evident in the 4-0 loss Sunday at McMahon Stadium.

The Canadiens had 2 shots on net less than the Flames yet couldn’t capitalize on a single one of them. That’s been their story all season long unfortunately.

With just 152 goals this season Montreal is fifth worse in the league when it comes to scoring. The only reason they’ve won as many games as they have is Carey Price; the Habs are ninth in the league when it comes to goals against with 151.

So don’t blame the outdoor conditions of the Heritage Classic for their loss. Calgary did play on the same ice, remember.

NHL All-Star Weekend: Recap and Thoughts

            It was talked about all season long; the new format, the fan balloting, the injured players who would not be able to compete. Then in the blink of an eye the NHL All-Star weekend came and went, leaving many to wonder if it really was all that it’s cracked up to be.

            The events leading up to the game -the fantasy draft and the skills competition- were as exciting as they were anticipated to be (minus a few minor flaws) but the game itself turned out to be another snooze fest.

            With 21 goals being scored in an 11-10 victory in favour of Team Lidstrom the newly formatted game was no different than previous years. The last two games also ended with a margin of only one goal.

            The biggest blowout in All-Star history was back in 1993 when the Wales Conference defeated the Campbell conference 16-6. Since then there has not been much to write home about.

            The skills competition had its moments: PK Subban hamming it up for the crowd donning Jeff Skinner’s jersey for the breakaway challenge, Alex Ovechkin tripping over a microphone cable and then breaking his stick during the hardest shot event, and Zdeno Chara breaking his own record for the league’s hardest shot.

            Even with all the excitement, the skills competition just seemed to drag on far too long. In future goalies should not participate in the fastest skater event (we all know they aren’t going to win anyways) and the skills challenge relay should be eliminated.

            Accuracy shooting, hardest shot and elimination shoot out should remain the same.

            The breakaway challenge, while exciting for the fans and participants, is not a skill necessary to the game. Never will a team win a hockey game because a player used the fanciest move on a breakaway, even if they didn’t score. Because it is an exciting event it should stay in the skills competition, but should be reduced to two attempts per player instead of four.

            Ovechkin opened the scoring at RBC Center just 50 seconds into the game as Team Staal took an early 4-0 lead. Team Lidstrom stormed back to tie things up by the end of the first period.

            Loui Eriksson’s second of the night, on an empty net, would ultimately be the game winning goal. Also scoring two goals were Anze Kopitar and Danny Briere for Team Lidstrom and Eric Staal and Kris Letang for Team Staal.

            Chicago Blackhawk Patrick Sharp took home Most Valuable Player honours.

Here are some suggestions for the future of the NHL All-Star Game:

            1. Use the same format for the player pool selection: Fans get to vote for six players (three forwards, two defencemen, and one goalie) regardless of their conference and the rest of the All-Stars are selected by the NHL Hockey Operations, NHL Players Association and General Managers. The teams are not divided until an hour before game time. All the players’ sticks are piled up at centre ice and are then tossed to each side creating teams. This would really make it a “schoolyard” game.

            2. Go back to the format of pitting the Stanley Cup champions against a team of All-Stars.

 “Well, nobody liked anybody, eh?” Chicago Blackhawks legend Glenn Hall told the Montreal Gazette. “Especially when the all-stars played against the Stanley Cup winner (before the season had begun). That created a better situation for good, tough hockey.”

            3. Move the game back to the beginning of the season instead of closer to the end. Players will be more likely to give a stronger effort earlier in the season when the playoffs are not in the near future.

            4. Scrap the All-Star game entirely, but keep the skills competition. It’s always fun to see who the best in each category is, but the All-Star game is becoming a boring game of ping-pong.