The recently resolved NHL lockout dragged on far too long and one of the many casualties of the prolonged negotiations was the cancellation of the Outdoor Classic, which was to be held on New Year’s Day in Michigan.
While that contest was literally put on ice, Prince Albert’s first-ever version of the mid-winter novelty will be held next Saturday at the Crescent Heights Arena. When I first heard about this venture, I was a bit sceptical, but now that it is quickly approaching my excitement is growing.
The day will be full of hockey action on the outdoor rink with an atom division game opening the festivities at 10 a.m. followed by a Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League game between the A&W Bears and Saskatoon Stars at noon. Another atom game will be held at 2:30 p.m. with the final match of the day featuring the Mintos and Saskatoon Blazers in a Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League tilt.
It is the first time anything like this will ever have been staged in the province so that alone should attract huge crowds. Bleachers have been set up, the ice has been redone with both the Bears and Mintos logos prominently on display at centre ice and the adjoining indoor facility will be open for concessions and a place to warm up.
For people like myself, it will take them back to the day where playing outdoors was the norm. When I was a kid, and that is a long time ago now, the East Hill Community Club was my second home. There were no covered rinks like there are today at most of the community clubs so playing outdoors for hours on end was the way I spent my winter.
In fact, I remember my squirt team -- I guess they call that atom now -- having an exhibition game on the outdoor rink at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary. Even at nine years old you knew something was different and it was a bit unnerving. That would never happen in this era and rightfully so.
The games next Saturday are certainly going to be a lot of fun for the players and there are some nuances that could prove to be frustrating considering the teams are all used to playing in modern indoor facilities.
For one, there will be no Plexiglas, either along the sides of the rink or at either end of the playing surface. In its place is old fashioned chain-link fencing behind the goals while the side boards will be regular height and nothing attached to them to keep the puck in play.
For the atom teams, these peculiarities won’t pose a problem, but for the older players, it will certainly change the flow of the game and also create some changes to their strategy. The fans will also have to be aware of the puck at all times as the disc will most certainly leave the playing surface on a regular basis and at times with plenty of velocity on it.
Still, from the day the plan was put in place to hold the event, there has been nothing but positive feedback for holding the extravaganza. It is the way the game is to be played with far more emphasis on enjoyment than in normal game situations where the players and coaches are far too serious and forget this is just a game.
Here’s hoping that the weather co-operates and that a large crowd turns out. The cost is so minimal -- $15 for the entire day -- that that shouldn’t even be a factor in keeping people at home. So often I hear people say there is nothing to do in the winter in Prince Albert. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Dave Leaderhouse is a reporter with the Prince Albert Daily Herald