The 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic on Sunday wrapped up in memorable style an impressive slate of big-event games by the NHL this season.
The Heritage Classic, in which the Ottawa Senators used an impressive comeback to beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2, was the final of a six-game slate of special-event games which begin with the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium on Jan. 1. The 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series was crammed in the middle. Featuring a game at Dodger Stadium, a pair of contests at Yankee Stadium and an unforgettable night at Soldier Field, the four-game series was a hit in every possible way.
The two-month extravaganza of gala regular-season games entertained more 375,000 fans in person and countless others watching on television, providing a variety of memorable moments and an experience fans and players alike will cherish.
Here's a look at a dozen moments, in no particular order, from the six special-event games this season:
1. Sea of (red and) blue
Ever wondered what an NHL game would like with 105,000 friends? Michigan Stadium proved to be an incredible setting for the Winter Classic, with quality sightlines and an amazingly intimate atmosphere despite easily the most patrons ever to watch an NHL game. The fan bases of the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs did their part, packing the stadium and proudly displaying their favorite team's colors, which made for incredible visuals.
2. California, here we come
Playing a game at Dodger Stadium always was considered the biggest experiment among these outdoor games, and Chavez Ravine provided an amazing backdrop for a wonderfully Southern California experience. The area on the field inside the stadium that wasn't covered by ice had beach volleyball, street hockey, yoga, Frisbees and the kings of spectacle, KISS. Legendary broadcasters Vin Scully of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Bob Miller of the Los Angeles Kings welcomed the players to the field, and Scully narrated a spine-tingling segment at the start of the television broadcast. This game didn't need snow to provide stunning aerial images and a poignant party atmosphere.
3. Hall of Fame connection?
On a day where New Jersey Devils forward Jaromir Jagr passed former teammate Mario Lemieux on the League's all-time assist leaderboard, he provided the engine for one of the prettiest goals scored in any of the NHL's outdoor games. Jagr collected a pass on the left wing and swooped past four New York Rangers defenders before splitting them with a perfect pass to a trailing Patrik Elias for a goal at the edge of the crease to give the Devils a 2-1 lead.
4. Big day for JVR
James van Riemsdyk had a New Year's Day he won't soon forget when the Maple Leafs defeated the Red Wings on Jan. 1. Not only did van Riemsdyk learn he will represent the United States at the Winter Olympics for the first time during a postgame announcement on the ice at Michigan Stadium, but he also scored the goal of the game. Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard denied his first two attempts but van Riemsdyk swatted the second rebound out of the air and into the net.
5. Bravest and Finest
The walk from the dressing rooms to the ice has become a staple of the outdoor-game pageantry, and it will be tough to top how the Rangers and Devils were welcomed to the playing surface at Yankee Stadium. Members of the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums and the NYPD Pipes and Drums played as the players walked past en route to the ice and a crowd of more than 50,000 serenaded both clubs with a mixture of cheers and boos befitting a passionate, New York-based rivalry.
6. Hiller stones Kopitar … twice
The most memorable part of Jonas Hiller's night at Dodger Stadium might be the bright orange pads he wore to match his team's uniform, but the Anaheim Ducks goalie also wowed with his performance. Hiller stopped all 36 shots by the Kings, and the two most impressive were 1-on-1 saves against Anze Kopitar. The Slovenian star had a penalty shot and a clear breakaway, but Hiller turned aside both to further frustrate the struggling Kings offense.
7. Fight on and palm trees
Speaking of player entrances, it was another part of the pregame spectacle at Dodger Stadium that was perfect. The Ducks and Kings walked from center field through two rows of palm trees before splitting off to their respective ends of the ice. The instructions were something like, "turn when you reach the band," because the University of Southern California marching band was playing as the players walked toward the ice.
8. Winter wonderland
The first NHL Winter Classic in Buffalo provided indelible images because of the snowfall during the game. "Snow globe effect" became an accepted phrase when discussing hockey games played outdoors after that day at Ralph Wilson Stadium. A steady snow fell during the 2014 NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium and kept members of the NHL's ice crew busy during stoppages of play. It was even snowier at Soldier Field for the Stadium Series game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins, forcing the ice crew to perform a Herculean job with the snow removal.
9. Rangers hit a "grand slam"
The first period between the Devils and Rangers at Yankee Stadium was wide open and saw the teams combine for five goals. It was all Rangers in the second as New York put four goals past New Jersey's Martin Brodeur to take control of the contest en route to a 7-3 victory. The Rangers scored the most goals by any team in an NHL outdoor game.
10. Signature move
Outdoor games aren't remembered too often for highlight-reel goals, but that all changed during a raging snowstorm on March 1 at Soldier Field. Despite a coating of snow on the ice, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews collected a pass in the neutral zone and stickhandled his way into the attacking zone before deking Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik with a dazzling inside-out move. Toews finished the play by tucking the puck through the legs of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for the first of his two goals on the night.
11. Rock and Roll All Night
"You drive us wild, we'll drive you crazy!" the members of KISS screamed into their microphones during a performance at the Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium, issuing a challenge the fans on hand were only too happy to meet. Walking the red carpet before the start of the game, band member Gene Simmons was asked what could be expected from KISS during their appearances before the game and during the first intermission. "Look up more in the dictionary and there will be a picture of KISS next to it," he growled. "That is who we are and what we do." The rock and roll legends, who go into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, delivered on Simmons' bombastic promise.
12. Target practice
After falling into a two-goal hole against the Canucks at the Heritage Classic, the Senators found their range with some serious sharp-shooting from their biggest stars. Defenseman Erik Karlsson used a fake slap shot, followed by a perfectly placed shot along the ice to catch the inside of the far post to beat Eddie Lack for the tying goal. Later, Jason Spezza finished off a transition rush by snapping a wrister off the far post and in for the winning goal.