On Sunday afternoon the Calgary Flames will host the second ever Heritage Classic as they take on the Montreal Canadiens at MacMahon Stadium. (Note the distinction between Heritage Classic and Winter Classic.) The Flames are coming into this game on a tremendous roll having won 10 of their last 13 games with points in 12 of 13. The Flames were in last place in the Western Conference on December 3, have now climbed into a playoff spot. However history shows that teams that host an outdoor game tend to struggle after hosting the game. The Flames will desperately try to avoid falling into that trap, but the question begs to be asked. Hosting an outdoor game: good idea or bad idea? Here’s the history.
The first team to host an outdoor game was the Edmonton Oilers back on November 22 2003. The Oilers were on a roll heading into the game going 7-2-1 in the previous 10 games. However the visiting Montreal Canadiens eked out a 4-3 at very chilly Commonwealth Stadium in front of 60,000 frozen spectators. The Oilers went into the tank after that missing the playoffs altogether. Kevin Lowe the then general manager of the Oilers has said the Heritage Classic was a turning point on the negative side for his Oilers that season.
The second outdoor game took place in 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo as the Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens won the game 2-1 in a shootout. Consequently the Sabres fell apart after that and ended up missing the playoffs.
The following year the Chicago Blackhawks hosted an outdoor game at venerable Wrigley Field. The Blackhawks lost the game 6-4 to the Detroit Red Wings but the Blackhawks recovered and did qualify for the playoffs. In fact the Blackhawks advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals before being eliminated by the Red Wings.
In 2010 the Boston Bruins hosted the Outdoor Classic at legendary Fenway Park. The Philadelphia Flyers provided the opposition. The Bruins were the first and so far only home team to win the outdoor classic, a 2-1 overtime win over the Flyers. However the Flyers got their revenge in the playoffs defeating the Bruins 4 games to 3 after falling behind 3-0 in the series.
Last month the Penguins hosted the Outdoor Classic at Heinz Field against their arch rivals, the Washington Capitals. The game was hyped up beyond belief as HBO went behind the scenes to cover both teams. The subsequent television series NHL 24/7 was a huge hit with critics and fans. The Pens were on a roll while the Caps were slumping heading into the game. But the Caps won the game 3-1. Worse yet for the Pens, their franchise player Sidney Crosby suffered a concussion and has yet to return.
So is hosting an outdoor game a good thing for the Flames? History suggests no but the Flames cannot think about history. Yes there will be distractions all weekend but the Flames must overcome all of this in order for this to be a most memorable Heritage Classic and even more memorable season.