CALGARY — Steve Staios will once again represent the home team when the NHL’s outdoor Heritage Classic returns to Alberta, only this time the former Edmonton defenceman will be wearing the logo of the rival Calgary Flames.
Staios will suit up for the Flames against the Montreal Canadiens Feb. 20 at McMahon Stadium in the first NHL outdoor game to be played in Canada in seven seasons. Staios was also a part of the NHL’s first regular-season outdoor game ever, when the Oilers lost 4-3 to the Canadiens on Nov. 22, 2003.
“I feel fortunate to get another chance to play in it,” Staios said. “I know that the tradition of hockey here in Calgary and the great fans we have … it’s just going to be a memorable event. I think the fans here really deserve that.”
Staios, who was traded from Edmonton to Calgary late last season in the first ever deal between the provincial rivals, recalled the blistering cold temperatures that the players faced seven season ago in Edmonton.
“It was cold and it was uncomfortable, but people will remember it forever because of it,” Staios said. “I would rather it be on the warmer side (in Calgary).”
Flames president Ken King said he’s optimistic the weather will co-operate, but noted Calgary’s winters in Calgary are unpredictable. Warm chinook winds, which have been known to drastically raise the temperature in Calgary during the winter months, could affect the outdoor ice.
“It could be as warm as now or it could be colder than words could possibly describe,” King said.
King said the Flames and the NHL will develop a contingency plan that could involve moving the game back indoors if the weather is too warm.
“You’ve got to be able to keep the ice in. What you want is a good mid-range temperature day. Let’s just assume we’re going to get a perfect day for a great game.”
While McMahon Stadium can accommodate 35,650 fans for football games, King said additional seating will be added for the Heritage Classic.
“We hope to have something in the order of about 40,000 seats,” King said.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said a second outdoor game in Canada will celebrate the roots of the sport.
“As everyone knows, the roots of our game are in Canada,” Bettman said. “And the roots of our game emanate from frozen ponds and backyard rinks in Canada. When you have a heritage as proud and as strong as we do, you want to celebrate it.”
If it turns out to be exceptionally cold, it might provide an advantage for veteran Calgary blue-liner Cory Sarich.
“It might improve my game a little bit so I’m kind of looking forward to it,” said the Saskatoon native, who played his fair share of outdoor hockey growing up. “I’ve played in all conditions. I’ve been out there where you could hardly handle being outside. I’ve played inside in some rinks where you felt colder inside than outside as well.”
While the Canadiens will wear their current white jersey with a 2011 NHL Heritage Classic patch on the front right chest, the Flames will wear retro jerseys to honour the Calgary Tigers, who became the first major professional hockey team in Calgary in 1921 when the Western Canada Hockey League was formed.
The uniforms will feature a deeper red colour with gold stripes and a beige Flames logo.
“I think it’s really cool,” said Staios of wearing the “It’s a great chance for us as players to show our respect to those players who played in the past and to the history of the game.”
King also announced that the Calgary Hitmen will host a Western Hockey League outdoor game against the Regina Pats the day after the Heritage Classic, also at McMahon Stadium.
“It will be a sequel to this great event and will also afford an opportunity for more people to see our great sport played in the great outdoors,” King said.
Having suited up for his hometown Kelowna Rockets for four seasons from 2000 to 2004, Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges said he was surprised to hear about the addition of the WHL outdoor game.
“I didn’t even know that was part of the deal until the mentioned it today,” Gorges said. “I can remember playing here in junior and you’d get 15,000 fans at a junior game, which I thought was unheard of. To be able to play an outdoor game for those guys has got to be really exciting for them.”