The NHL 2003 Heritage Classic
Having a hard time with this whole “social distancing” thing? Yeah – us too. Especially when it comes to the lack of sports. So, we here at The Turf thought we’d offer a way to help ease the pain and suffering. While we may not have any of the current sports leagues to watch live, there is PLENTY of archive footage available at our fingertips. We’ve scoured the internet and assembled some of the most iconic, noteworthy and remarkable sporting events we could find. We also found some mundane, run of the mill matches and contests, that seemed banal at first watch. However, at this point, we’ll take anything that resembles sports, right? Each day, we’ll feature one of the contests and provide you a link where you can relive the glory, exhilaration, and thrill from the comfort of your couch.
Today: One last dose of winter as we officially head into spring.
We all woke up the other day to the news that spring has formally begun. While I welcome the concept, I have to be honest: we didn’t really have much of a winter – at least not here in NYC. Global warming? Climate change? Mother Nature knew we were in for “coronavirus”? Whatever the reason, there wasn’t really much in the way of winter weather. The city saw only trace amounts of snowfall. Combine that with a few stretches of “cold” temperatures here and there and, well… that was it! Skiers, snowboarders, people who like to sit by fires in their snowsuits drinking hot chocolate – disappointment abounds. SO – for those of you who lament the lack of blizzards and temperatures that make you wonder if your appendages are frostbitten, I offer you the 2003 Heritage Classic:
In 2003 the Oilers were celebrating their 25th season as a member of the National Hockey League. While the season started out well, the team ran into a slump that landed them in 12th place in the Western Conference. Despite turning it around somewhat to finish out the season, they fell short, finishing 9th – behind the Nashville Predators for the final playoff spot. Tommy Salo – their #1 goaltender at the start of the season – had already lost his spot to Ty Conklin, who would start this game between the pipes.
While Edmonton was celebrating it’s 25th season, the Canadiens were heading into their 87th! A member of the NHL’s Original Six – they would enter this game with a losing record. Players like Richard Zednick, Michael Ryder and Saku Koivu typically drove their offense, while Jose Theodore tended goal for the majority of the season.
The game, played in Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, drew nearly 60,00 fans. The temperatures hovered around -18° Celsius and, when you factor in the wind chill, touched -30°. In fact, temps were so cold that there was talk of not even completing the game.
Thankfully – because they’re hockey players – both teams toughed it out and gave the fans their money’s worth. Even the ceremonial face-off between Wayne Gretzky and Guy Lafleur was impressive! This game was the first regular-season outdoor game in the NHL. There had been previous outdoor battles over the years, with a pre-season exhibition between the LA Kings and NY Rangers in Las Vegas being the first officially sanctioned outdoor NHL game of any kind.
The success of the 2003 Heritage Classic has led the NHL to expand its outdoor game slate, creating catchy events like the Winter Classic or Stadium Series. Over the years it’s been “hit or miss” in terms of the execution of these contests. Some years the weather has been difficult, and other years some logistical snags have hampered things, but overall the fans have fallen in love with watching their beloved hockey played outside, in the elements. And this inaugural battle in sub-zero weather is a big part of the reason it’s been such a success. We hope today’s offering gives you a little bit of that winter feeling you may have been missing.
See you tomorrow. Stay Safe. Stay Smart. Wash Your Hands.
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