They remember the cold. And they remember the heaters.
But mostly, the guys who donned the Calgary Flames jersey in the 2011 Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium remember it as a highlight of their careers.
Beating the Montreal Canadiens 4-0 in front of more than 41,000 fans isn’t the type of thing that happens often in a career.
“I’ve still got a picture in my basement from the Heritage Classic,” said former Flames winger Curtis Glencross, who had an assist in the game. “It’s of when we were saluting the crowd and I’m right in the front of it and it’s one of my favourite pictures.
“They have one up when you get off the elevator at the Dome … As soon as I saw that picture, I wanted a copy. The hype of the game, it’s fun. Your friends and family come into town and you make a weekend of it.”
The cold, though, was less fun than everything surrounding the game.
It was reported that with wind-chill, it felt like it was minus-25 at ice-level on that memorable day.
Yes, you warm up as you play and the benches were heated – more on that in a second – but temperatures that cold are still going to affect an athlete. They impacted the ice, too.
“There hadn’t been a lot of outdoor games to that point, they were still learning about it and I don’t know if it’s true, but I remember hearing that they couldn’t flood the ice with a Zamboni at intermission,” said Matt Stajan. “They had to use a hose because it was so cold. I don’t know, you might want to look at that, but I’m pretty sure. The ice was really chopped up for our game, it was hard to make a pass, everything was bouncing like a tennis ball.”
While this particular reporter couldn’t find anyone to confirm or deny the hose rumour, it just serves to illustrate that dealing with the elements was a big part of the preparations for the 2011 Heritage Classic. That’s just the reality of playing outdoors.
“Because it was so cold, the ice was really hard and brittle,” said Brendan Morrison, who had two assists in the game “Guys were legitimately concerned about just getting through the game safe, and almost joking with Montreal ‘OK guys, nobody finish their checks. Let’s just have a hard game of shinny.’
“Obviously once the game gets going, though, guys are competitive and you’ve got a job to do.”
Strangely enough, the cold wasn’t the only issue when it came to temperatures.
When players weren’t skating for a shift, the NHL had installed massive heaters both under the physical benches and to blow warm air and keep everyone warm.
The NHL’s system worked. As Glencross recalls, it almost worked too well.
“I remember it was so bright because it was a cold day but it was sunny, and they had the big Herman-Nelsons blowing down into the benches,” Glencross laughed. “Under the bench was heated, but then the Herman-Nelsons were blowing heat down, and we had to stack trainer towels and shower towels, like, three or four towels high when we sat on the bench because it was so hot on our butts.”
Any complaints about the temperatures, though, were overshadowed completely by the excitement of the game and the event as a whole.
There was the family event the night before, when the Flames players brought out their parents, kids, spouses and siblings for a once-in-a-lifetime skate at McMahon Stadium. There were the legitimately cool heritage jerseys. There was the vintage performance from Miikka Kiprusoff, turning away 21 shots and earning the shutout. There were the tens of thousands of fans, braving the cold and supporting the Flames the whole way.
And there was just the thrill of playing outside, just the way the NHLers did long before they were ever paid to play hockey.
“I grew up in small, small town and there was a neighbouring rink in Hayter, this little Hamlet just outside from where we grew up, and that was our Friday night most of the time,” Glencross said. “If we didn’t have hockey on we were out there playing shinny with your buddies. Those are the memories. You remember them almost more than you remember winning a championship. You remember them, but having your buddies out there with you is the best part, right?
‘There’s nothing like playing in the outdoors. It brings back so many memories of being a kid, even though you’re out there with 30,000 fans.”