Defenceman Steve Staios recalls playing in the first Heritage Classic
And the ice. And the bitter cold.
We are talking, of course, of the first Heritage Classic, held at Commonwealth Stadium in front of 70,000-plus fans. Staios was a defenceman with the Oilers, who hosted Montreal, for that historic game that has spawned the annual Winter Classic in the United States and now, a Heritage Classic in Calgary.
The Flames will host Montreal on February 20 at McMahon Stadium with an expected live audience of 40,000. The NHL confirmed the Classic this week after it was approved by the players' associaton.
"It is definitely a different walk out to the rink," recalled Staios, then 30 years old. "You had to walk about 50 metres to get to the ice. It was pretty cool. It was a pretty neat event."
As the first such game staged in the modern National Hockey League era, the logistics were significant. And so was the weather. A bitter cold day kept off-ice officials hopping. Who can foget Jose Theodore's toque and the breathe coming through his goalie mask?
|Jose Theodore at the Winter Classic in 2003
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the NHL staging a game in Calgary will also be the weather -- the one thing nobody but Mother Nature controls. It might be minus 20 or it might be plus 20. Who knows?
"The weather was really cold. Keeping the ice in good shape was a big job. With the weather it was getting pretty chippy. It wasn't the normal NHL ice standards. But they did a pretty good job of keeping things together."
Goalies wore toques. The players wore balaclavas under their helmets. And they changed gear after every period. The sweat made the gear wet and it instantly became cold.
"You had to change gear after every period. It got cold and uncomfortable," said Staios. "There were heaters by the benches. Nobody took too long a shift that day."
Still, the event is one he will remember for a long time.
"It was a great event. The conditions weren't the best but it was a great event for the fans," said the veteran blueliner.
Staios expects the same for Calgary. Coincidentally, he'll again be facing the Montreal Canadiens.
"It will be a unique event for the guys who have not done it before," he said. "It will be fun for those guys. The fans will get a kick out of it. It's a good way to celebrate the game in a traditional sort of way."
But it's not like players will be thinking about that game, which comes in the final third of the season, during the season.
"When it comes, you enjoy it. But it is a game that counts for points, so it is important. When the season starts I won't be thinking about it because you have to get points and wins. When it does come, you try and do your best."
Indeed. Do your best no matter what the conditions might be.