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Yep, our captain sums it up perfectly when asked about the Heritage Classic

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

There's nothing, but nothing, says Mark Giordano, to compare with a brace of fresh air pumping through the ol' lungs.

"Playing outside,'' stresses the Flames' captain, one of two holdovers (Mikael Backlund being the other) from the 2011 Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium, "is cool. Always. For some reason breathing in that outside air is always nicer than being inside a building.

"I remember growing up back home, the practices outside with our minor-league teams. You had the chain-link fence on the boards instead of glass, right? 

"Those were the practices you look forward to. The fun ones. The outdoor ones.

"Now, I guess, everything's more organization and inside. But for me, taking my son to the park and skating on the ice outside is just so much fun. A special feeling you never want to lose.

"I remember the game (in 2011) being a great experience.

"You do get a little nostalgic. For sure. This'll take me back to my younger days."

The latest incarnation of the Heritage Classic goes Saturday at Mosaic Field in Regina.

"Outdoor hockey?" says Flames' head honcho Bill Peters. "Outstanding. Been to one as a fan, when I was in Chicago's organization, at Wrigley Field. First time at Wrigley Field was for a hockey game. My son was very young at the time. It was snowing but not bad.

"Then later in the year we went to a game at the United Centre and it was raining that day. And he goes: 'Dad, are we going to get wet at the game?' I go: 'What?' And he goes: 'Is it outdoors?' And I go: 'No, son, it's not outdoors. This one's indoors. You won't be to (another) outdoor game in a long time.'

"Lucky to be part of the one at The Big House, 100,000 plus, fun game, went into a shootout. The atmosphere was fantastic and I expect the same at Mosaic Stadium."

These outdoor events are often described as "once in a lifetime" opportunities by the participants.
Well, for some people, perhaps …

"This'll be the fifth one I'll have been a part of," says goalie Cam Talbot. "A favourite? If I had to choose one, I'd pick Winnipeg (at Investors Group Field). And not only because that's the one I got to play in. I just thought the ice conditions were great, the time of the game was perfect, and all the events going on around it were well done.

"But they're all special in their own. Playing outdoors never gets old. It's not like we're doing it every night.

"We played the one in New York (Stadium Series) - two games against Jersey - and the second night was just miserable. Playing at Yankee Stadium was really cool, but they didn't make the benches long enough for the back-up goalie - me. So even though they're heated, the back-up goal - me - is sitting off by himself, freezing."



During his tenure in Boston, Milan Lucic missed the Jan. 1, 2010 Winter Classic versus Philly at iconic Fenway Park - home to legends the lustre of Ted Williams, Yaz, Big Papi and El Tiante - due to a high ankle sprain.

"That," confesses the power winger, "was really disappointing, considering the venue, all that history in Fenway. Then I got traded the year they played in Foxboro, so I missed that one, too.

"But I finally got into one at the Heritage Classic three years ago in Winnipeg. I remember that the glare of the sun, the way it was hitting the ice, delayed the game something like three hours. It ended up being a good experience, though.

"This, in my mind, is the best time to play an outdoor game. Not December or February. 

"I've heard nothing but good things about Roughrider fans and how passionate they are. So it'll be fun to see the new stadium in Regina.

Last time, my family didn't come out to Winnipeg. This time they're all going to be there. I know my oldest daughter's the most pumped about it.

"I'm going to today to get them new skates for the family skate."



The alfresco experience can sometimes, as Talbot and Lucic mentioned, hit unforeseen snags.

Flames' assistant coach Ryan Huska was the gent in charge of AHL Stockton on Dec. 18, 2015, when the Heat faced the Bakersfield Condors at Raley Field, home of baseball's AAA Rivercats, up the highway in Sacramento. 

A torrential downpour forced postponement of the game to the next day, the Heat ending up 3-2 winners.

"Well, as we said after the game, like the song goes: It Never Rains in California. Well, no, that's true, unless there's an outdoor hockey game,'' laughs Huska.

"Boy, did it ever come down that night.

"It's too bad, because the atmosphere wasn't the same. A pretty neat venue to hold a game like that but the weather just wouldn't co-operate. We played the next afternoon and a lot of the people who had tickets couldn't come back.

"That first night it was muddy and miserable. I remember checking my iPhone for weather updates that week and they kept forecasting rain.

"And sure enough …

"But I really think the outdoor games are pretty cool. This will be a great experience for our guys. Playing in Regina will only add to it. You think of Canadian football and Saskatchewan is one of the teams that has a massive following."



One of the newbies to the format, Andrew Mangiapane, can't wait to get a taste.

"This'll be my first one, so of course I'm pumped,'' confesses the 23-year-old.

"When Stockton played in that outdoor game a few years ago, I was not there. A year late, unfortunately.

"So this is definitely going to be a neat experience. Outside is where I learned how to skate. My dad built a backyard rink when I was really small.

"Then as you get older, you'd to out to the ponds and play with your buddies.

"I'm excited to soak up the atmosphere, hear the crowd. It's not like you get to play in these types of games every day."

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