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37 FOR 37: HERITAGE CLASSIC

Outdoor game at McMahon was as Canadian as you can get: frigid weather, toques and blankets by the tens of thousands, Don Cherry in a cowboy hat, and manual flooding of the ice with hoses

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

At puck-drop, the thermometer hovered at a cool -8.6 degrees Celsius. 

A crowd of 41,022 had huddled together, braving the elements at McMahon Stadium. Toques and blankets and flasks at the ready.

The garrulous Don Cherry arrived, emperor-like, sporting a black cowboy hat. Fireworks and, naturally, flames greeted the combatants as they made the long trek from the football dressing rooms to the temporary rink.

Canadiens' goaltender Carey Price had a mask especially designed and painted for the occasion, featuring his face under an old Jacques Plante style mask.

The weight of the Zamboni had exacted a measure of damage to the ice surface the previous day, leading into the Alumni Game.

So the morning of the game itself, NHL ice guru Dan Craig opted instead to manually scrape the ice and flood the old-fashioned way, using hoses.

As the game wore on, the sun began to set and an eerie darkness fell over the home of the Stampeders.

What the Tim Horton's Heritage Classic on Feb. 21, 2011 perhaps lacked in drama it more than made up for in ambience.

"It's definitely not Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, but this is a game after my career I'm going to cherish and remember,'' said Flames left-winger Alex Tanguay.

"For us players, we get a chance to play regularly in front of 20,000, but it's not every day you get to do it in front of a big stadium like that.

"And for the fans to brave the weather and stay out there for three periods . . . yesterday we were skating around and we were cold. And those fans, they were out there for three periods sitting in their seats. That's pretty remarkable.

"I'm glad that I experienced it."

A 4-0 victory over the Habs pushed Calgary's surge up the Western Conference standings to 17-4-5 since Dec. 23.

If anything, the game provided yet another reminder of Tanguay's unerring way with a pass.

On brittle, chippy, ice that had the puck skipping and bouncing wildly, Tanguay made it do his bidding.

His sublime pass to Rene Bourque 5-on-3 opened the scoring for the locals and Tanguay was on hand to cash a back-door pass from linemate Jarome Iginla to close out the scoring.

"Man, he could pass the puck across any surface,'' praised Flames defenceman Cory Sarich afterwards. "Good ice. Bad ice. Bumpy. Smooth. It's a knack. The rest of us just make do with what we've got.

"The ice was . . . tough. It was a dump-and-chase game and that seems to suit us fairly well. Just keep things going straight ahead. The boards and glass didn't seem to have a lot of life, either.

"Didn't seem to bother Alex much."

As memorable as Tanguay's offensive turn was, the night belonged to someone conscripted to defend the fort: goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.

The silent Finn blocked all 39 shots - 21 through a one-sided second period - the Habs could generate to send the 41,000 plus home happy.

 "Nothing fazes him, as everyone knows," praised D-man Mark Giordano (pre-captaincy days).

"You go into a unique game such as this one, with the elements being different, and he'd be the one guy you'd figure wouldn't be affected at all.

"He never lets too much get to him.

"Tonight's just another example.''

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