I’ve been to a lot of live hockey games in my life: NHL, AHL, OHL, NWHL, CWHL, University etc… but I had never experience an outdoor game before, until this past weekend.
With the AHL Outdoor Classic taking place less than 100 km from my house, in Hamilton, I jumped at the chance to watch future NHL stars duke it out, outdoors, in the middle of January.
This is Canada, eh.
Everything about the entire experience, from purchasing tickets to the final buzzer, was above my expectations.
I purchased my tickets online, where I was able to pick my seats from the section, to the aisle to the exact seat numbers I wanted. (In the end I wound up sitting two rows, in the same seat numbers, in front of fellow Tweeter @thirtyonesaves).
The ticket prices were outstanding, $80 per person, for great seats AND that deal came with tickets to the PepsiCo Outdoor NHL Alumni Game Friday night between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs and tickets for the AHL Outdoor Classic Saturday afternoon with the Hamilton Bulldogs hosting the Toronto Marlies at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
In the days leading up to the event I was a bit apprehensive because of the strange weather we’ve been getting around here lately, but it turned out to be the most beautiful weekend possible for outdoor hockey!
I had never been to an NHL Alumni game before either and wasn’t sure what to except from ex NHLers, especially when some people on Twitter said they’d never waste money on that, but I was actually blown away.
Sure, it was much slower than an NHL game but damn, most of those guys can still outplay me, that’s for sure!
Cujo was absolutely brilliant for the Leafs, some fans even went as far as to say he played better in the outdoor game than he did his last few seasons in the NHL!
During the second half of the NHL Alumni Game, Kraig Nienhuis left the Leafs bench and climbed on stage, in full equipment, to rock the crowd with his rendition of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline.
He wound up playing the tune again on Saturday for the record-setting crowd of 20, 565 fans at the AHL Outdoor Classic.
Before the game and between periods the ex NHL players signed autographs for fans waiting along the pathway to the dressing rooms.
It was funny how OLD some of those guys look now!
The weather forecasters called for snow flurries at 9 p.m. and low and behold they were actually right, as flurries started coming down at 8:56, delighting the snow flake loving kid in me.
What I loved the most about this setting was how friendly the fans were – Habs and Leafs fans alike.
I was surrounded by Leafs fans and they chimed a few cracks at me here and there but they took the comebacks in great stride.
There were even a few people sporting Boston Bruins apparel -puke- that I was joking around with.
Normally the animosity between these fan bases is pretty high in other settings, so it was a welcoming surprise to share some good laughs with them.
I couldn’t have asked for more picture-perfect weather for Saturday’s AHL game. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Hamilton came out flying, scoring less than 30 seconds in the game which led to an ensuing fight (which Hamilton won).
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs went on to lose 7-2.
The crowd kept cheering until the end though, not like the boos you would typically hear ringing through the Bell Centre.
If you didn’t have a chance to watch the live feed on Sportsnet, here is the game in six minutes from the NHL Videocenter.
You can find more photos of the game on the Facebook Page for the 2012 AHL Outdoor Classic presented by Molson.
Overall, it was a great experience that I would do over in a heart beat (although, I can’t see myself paying the $200+ ticket price for the NHL Outdoor Classic).
At Friday’s game there was a Habs fan sitting in front of us with a Cammalleri jersey on. He had taped over the name bar and wrote “GM is an idiot”.
I wound up posting the picture to Twitter and it was still getting retweets more than 24 hours later.
During the NHL Alumni game, one of the Hamilton announcers interviewed George Laraque at the Montreal bench regarding the coach, Guy Lafleur.
After telling the reporter what a great coach Guy was behind the bench, he threw a little jab at the Quebecois media with a sly grin on his face.
“He’s great…and he can speak French”
The entire stadium roared with laughter and the play-by-play announcers had a field day!
Oh, George…you funny man, you.
Here are a few other photos I took with my iPhone…sorry for the quality.