VANCOUVER -- For a couple of fourth-grade classes, a Tuesday field trip to skate on the outdoor rink at Robson Square in downtown Vancouver was already a nice escape from the classroom. With the sun melting away the last remnants of two days of snow, it was hard to imagine a better way to spend the day.
But when members of the Vancouver Canucks 1994 Stanley Cup Final team arrived unannounced to skate with the kids, it got even better. When injured Canucks center Mike Santorelli joined them and mascot Finn arrived to hand out tickets to the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic on Sunday, a perfect day was complete for the students from Strawberry Hill Elementary. (Click here for photos)
"Best day I've ever had," 9-year-old Abdullah Mahabub said. "I was totally surprised the Canucks were here too."
Santorelli, who is sidelined after having shoulder surgery on Jan. 30, and Finn got the biggest cheers. But the presence of retired players such as Jyrki Lumme, Kirk McLean and Cliff Ronning from the 1994 Canucks team that lost Game 7 of the Cup Final to the New York Rangers wasn't lost on the students in Brett Cameron's class.
"We watched a little bit of Don Cherry's 'Rock 'Em Sock 'Em' video from 1994 in class yesterday, so they recognized them," Cameron said with a laugh. "And I have McLean and Ronning posters up in my classroom that they see every day. They knew who these guys were."
So did Santorelli, who grew up in Vancouver cheering for the Canucks, especially the 1994 team that is reuniting during the Heritage Classic to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their run to the Cup Final.
"I grew up idolizing the Canucks and '94 was such big excitement for the city of Vancouver, so it's great to see my idols," Santorelli said.
There's a similar buzz building for the Heritage Classic game at BC Place, with 55,000 fans expected to watch the Canucks and Ottawa Senators stage a rematch of the 1915 Stanley Cup Final.
"It's a great event," Santorelli said. "Not very many people get to play in an outdoor game. I think the boys are excited to play in it."
The old guys are excited just to watch it.
"The outdoor game is really exciting,'" said Lumme, who played nine of his 15 seasons in Vancouver before finishing his NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2002-03. "The first outdoor game was the year I retired, so I never got a chance to play in one. I can't even remember anyone talking about playing outdoors or in the big stadiums back when I played. Nobody ever even thought about it. I think the NHL has struck gold. As a fan, I love it."
There was a whole new generation of fans eager to take one in on Sunday after meeting Lumme and his teammates.
"I cannot wait to go to the game," Mahabub said.