REGINA - Friday was special on many fronts as the NHL, Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames arrived in Saskatchewan's capital city ahead of the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic.
The NHL held a Heritage Classic Legacy Luncheon at Evraz Place just a short walk away from Mosaic Stadium.
For the Jets, they have found their way on the league's big stage three out of the last four seasons. The 2016 Heritage Classic, the 2018 Global Series in Helsinki and Saturday - the outdoor game once again.
"It's wonderful and humbling. It's so flattering," said Jets executive chairman Mark Chipman.
"We've had wonderful experiences along the way in our nine years now but today was just extraordinary and we're just getting started."
To add to the afternoon, Jets alumni Thomas Steen, Shane Doan and Dave Ellett joined Flames alumni Jamie Macoun and Lanny McDonald to share stories of the historic rivalry from the Smythe Division days.
"Memories do come back and it usually ends up in a discussion "Oh do you remember this game and remember the time you did that?'," said former Jets defenceman Dave Ellett.
"Always fun. It's not only former teammates but here today Jamie Macoun, who I actually played with in Toronto and Lanny. Some of the stories, it's just a lot of fun."
If there's anyone who understands how tough it was to go on the Alberta road trip back in the 80's, it's Ellett. His first two NHL games back in 1984 were against Edmonton and Calgary.
"A 20-year-old first NHL game. They're (the Oilers) raising the Stanley Cup banner in Edmonton and I don't know what the score was maybe 6-1 we lost. I don't know if we got out of our end too often," said Ellett.
"Then we jumped on a bus and take the bus ride to Calgary and next night we have Calgary's home opener. They had got knocked out the year before and same sort of thing, 6-1, 6-0. I was kind of like after the game 'Wow, I don't think I got out of my end two full games' and I was like 'This is the NHL.'"
Chipman remembers those battles and because of the history and the intensity of the games against the Flames and Oilers in the 80's and 90's. Because of those memories, he's thrilled that both of the 2.0 edition of the Jets will play both outdoor games against those Alberta rivals."It was a thrill to play against the Oilers (in 2016) because of that rivalry but a lot of people don't realize how intense the rivalry was with the Flames," said Chipman.
"The Jets had some success against the Flames. All three of those teams were really, really good and the Jets were able to get past the Flames in the playoffs - could never get past the Oilers. But my only memory of those games (with Calgary) having gone to most of them was just how brutally intense they were. When Jamie (Macoun) talked about how they disliked each other that was tangible. You could feel it, not just in playoff games but in regular season games. Middle of the year, walk in and it could be a Tuesday and they were playing the Oilers or the Flames it was just intense."
Even with the story telling and looking back a few decades there was a moment that stole the show that had nothing to do with anything on the ice. Edmund Bellegrade, the Tribal Chief and Chairman from File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council presented Chipman, Flames President and COO John Bean and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman with ceremonial blankets.
It is considered a high honour and represents warmth, protection and a big 'thank you'. The tribe among the many people from the province that are thankful to have the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic in Regina.
Chipman had no idea that the presentation was going to happen and it left an impact.
"It was profound. We play in Treaty One territory and we acknowledge that every game and we have a deep and meaningful relationship with the Indigenous community in our province and it's something we're very proud of," said Chipman.
"It was just really cool. It was such a wonderful welcoming and to be a part of it with the league and the Flames, it was just something unexpected and really moving frankly."