While the current members of the Calgary Flames
and Montreal Canadiens
will be living in the here and now when they take the ice at McMahon Stadium on Sunday for the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic, past members of the champion 1986 Canadiens and 1989 Flames get to renew old friendships and rekindle past memories when they get together for Saturday's Alumni Game.
, a 500-goal scorer and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame whose finale was the Flames' Stanley Cup-clinching Game 6 win over the Canadiens -- avenging a loss in the Final three years earlier -- appreciated the symmetry of the franchises meeting again this weekend.
"How fitting to have these two teams play in the outdoor game -- one team wins in '86, one wins in '89, and we get to kind of relive those memories all over again," McDonald said Thursday while taking part in a Canadian Tire NHL Skills Camp in Calgary. "It's great for the game. It's great for the kids because hopefully they'll see how much fun we're still having at our age."
Joining McDonald at the clinic were a pair of teammates from that Stanley Cup winner, defenseman Jamie Macoun and forward Perry Berezan
. The three are part of a large and tight-knit group of NHL alumni living in the Calgary area, and each is relishing the opportunity to be part of such a unique experience in hockey history here.
"How fitting to have these two teams play in the outdoor game -- one team wins in '86, one wins in '89, and we get to kind of relive those memories all over again. It's great for the game. It's great for the kids because hopefully they'll see how much fun we're still having at our age." -- Lanny McDonald
"I got asked if I would like to play -- and everybody jumped right at it," said Macoun, a 17-year veteran who also won a Cup in Detroit. "I don't think there's one person who said, ‘Well, I'd rather go to a movie or something.' Everybody wants to play hockey. Everybody wants to feel those competitive juices going again. And although we like to brag about how good a game it's going to be, it'll definitely be a slower pace than the NHL. But I can guarantee you the effort's going to be there."
Berezan, a key contributor on the Flames' championship team who went back to the Final in 1991 with the Minnesota North Stars, was looking forward not only to seeing the guys whose names are engraved along with his on the most revered trophy in professional sports, but the players from the other side who contested those hard-fought series over two decades ago.
"It's awesome, this kind of weekend," Berezan said. "To be around some of the guys, the Montreal alumni, same thing. It's a fraternity that you never get expelled from. You're a part of it forever and excited every single time you have an event, to just be hanging out with the guys."
When the Cup was on the line, players on the Flames and Canadiens battled each other for every inch of ice. This weekend figures to be more about fun, with the only jabs taking place verbal ones between ex-teammates looking to have a good time at one another's expense.
"I heard Perry or Jamie saying earlier, the most fun will be dressing and riding the bus from the arena over to McMahon and the trash-talking that will be going on all the way through it," McDonald said. "That'll be so good."
These days, McDonald works part-time for a gas and oil company, Baker Hughes, and spends a lot of his spare time remaining close to the game he loves in whatever ways possible, including working with youth as he did Thursday.
He estimated there are more than 100 former NHL players, including eight members of that championship Flames team, who live in the Calgary area and take part in regular alumni events.
How clear do the memories remain of that night at the Montreal Forum when McDonald simultaneously reached the pinnacle and end of his NHL career by lifting the Stanley Cup for the first time.
"Where did those 21 years go?" McDonald responded wistfully, indicating that in his mind, the celebration could have taken place yesterday. "I wouldn't change it for anything."
While fans of both sides will enjoy this chance to see their heroes of years past lace up the skates and take to the ice one more time, it's the behind-the-scenes moments players like McDonald will most treasure.
"It's renewal of old friendships, some guys that I haven't seen for a while," he said. "That's what you miss in the game -- not as much the game itself as the guys."