WINNIPEG -- For Dale Hawerchuk and the 22 members of the Winnipeg Jets roster who will be playing in the 2016 Rogers NHL Heritage Classic Alumni Game on Saturday (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports), the chance to play together may never come again.
The first pick in the 1981 NHL Draft, who went on to captain the Jets for six seasons, said the outdoor game at Investors Group Field against the Edmonton Oilers alumni is a "once-in-a-lifetime event."
"That's a way a lot of our guys looked at it," Hawerchuk said Friday after the Jets alumni practiced indoors at MTS Centre. "Even if they weren't in great shape, when they got the call, they thought they had to trim a few pounds to do it because they'll never get a chance to do this again. It's a once-in-a-lifetime event for the fans, too. This might be the last time you see Wayne Gretzky play an outdoor game. One of the greatest ever and you get a chance to see him outdoors in Winnipeg."
For the fans who filled the lower bowl of the Jets arena, it was the first time in years -- 30 or more in some cases -- to see former Winnipeg players on home ice.
For the players, it was a chance to get ready to play against the Oilers alumni, including Hockey Hall of Fame members Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jarri Kurri.
"Hopefully, they are in as good of shape as we are… or worse," former Jets defenseman Dave Babych said. "They got a few young guys who can scoot pretty good. So do we. By young, I mean mid-30s, maybe 40. I think it will be good. They're just out here to have fun, just like we are. We're sure not going out there to fall at center ice or anything like that."
Former Jets center Ed Olczyk, who coached the Pittsburgh Penguins and currently serves as a color-commentator for the Chicago Blackhawks as well as the NHL on NBC, said he's a little nervous heading into the game.
"The pressure is on from my kids," Olczyk said. "I better do something constructive tomorrow. I don't know what that is."
Olczyk said his motto for Saturday will be 'short shifts,' but after covering numerous outdoor games as a media member, he's excited to play in one.
"To have that opportunity and to be on that ice, I think it will be one of those events I look at down the road and go, 'You know, it was one of those things I was lucky enough to be invited to and I'm glad I was able to be here.'," Olczyk said.