There is nothing more Canadian than outdoor hockey. Most hockey players’ first hockey memory is on an outdoor rink. Skating around all day until cheeks turn red and the feeling in toes starts to fade is a Canadian tradition. The Heritage Classic had returned to Canada after much success in the United States with the New Year’s game, The Winter Classic. It was going to be a classic, the Montreal Canadiens playing in the heartland of Western Canada against the Calgary Flames. I opted to go to one of the classiest buildings to ever house the Habs: The Montreal Forum. This was home to some of the classiest players to play the game, and who were essential to creating the Montreal winning tradition.
However, this is a different era and these are not the same Habs or the same style of game. Actually, the Forum is now known as the Pepsi Forum. I entered the sports bar hoping to feel the nostalgia but felt cheapened by tacky decor, lack of audience and a lack of identity. The bar was also a bowling alley and a game room all rolled into one, great for a group night out in one area but I wasn’t feeling any hockey hype watching.
The hockey hype was being felt at McMahon Stadium in Calgary. Thousands bracing harsh winds and freezing conditions (even the beer froze for the fans, but it didn’t matter). Both teams were enjoying the novelty of playing outside, even though this game was important. The Canadiens were on a West Coast road trip hoping to gain points to secure a playoff spot, Calgary were fighting for the last spot after a horrible start early in the season. I felt that for something special like the outdoor experience, it should have been held earlier in the season when points weren’t up for grabs.
In an outdoor game, the game changes a lot as the puck bounces in weird places and players fall often due to chippy ice. It makes trying to get those two important points even harder. For the Canadiens, it wasn’t going to get any easier since another long road trip plus losing a large core of defensemen to injury and a losing streak didn’t help the cause. It didn’t help my cause that as I sat in an empty bar, I found out the kitchen closed early on Sundays. Yes, the sports bar has the standard pub grub and a chicken wing special on game nights.
My only company for the game was a friend watching and working on a paper at the same time but in another city. We went back and forth on Facebook about how this game wasn’t great on all fronts. Carey Price was filling in the role of defense, taking many Flame shots while half the defense was healing. The latest victim on this road trip was James Wisniewski (warning: lots of blood). He did return in a face cage along with forward Mike Cammalleri but was no match for the Flames. They were on fire, Rene Bourque scored twice and ex-Hab Alex Tanguay scored once.
This was no Classic game for the Habs, it was a shutout and a cold slap-in-the-face and I’m not taking about the frigid wind. Not even Carey Price, hiding in a Jacques Plante-like mask is going to hold together a team game after game. Yes, at the rate the defense is going, I worry if this will be like the road trip I want to forget back in December. There were a few funny moments, though, like this guy during the Metric pre game show.
The Heritage Classic should have been hyped the same way the New Year’s Winter Classic should have been, if you watch the first minute of the Washington/Pittsburgh game, then you’ll want to watch outdoor hockey all the time but that game was a shell of what was great about an old fashioned game of outdoor hockey. The feeling was mutual for the Forum bar, a remnant of the original, but not living up to its hype.
Shout outs of the week: shout out to this past weekend’s Hockey Weekend Across America where USA hockey celebrated and promoted grass roots hockey in the US.
Also a shout out to the upcoming pond hockey tournament on Lac St Louis. Those of you curious about what the outdoor experience is like, the tournament will be happening February 26-27 in Lachine. Those who want to put together a team there’s still time. Information on where it is and how to enter is at www.montrealpondhockey.com. I promise you won’t freeze your ass off.
Photos by Cindy Lopez