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Warm memories of cold Heritage Classic

by Shawn P. Roarke

Former Montreal Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore takes a breather during the Heritage Classic in 2003.
Four years! It can’t be that long ago, can it?

It’s hard to believe, but true. It’s been more than four years since the last NHL outdoor game.

It still seems like the Heritage Classic was yesterday in Edmonton. The game, played on Nov. 22, 2003, may be more than four years old, but the memories of that magical night are far fresher.

With the AMP NHL Winter Classic, set for Jan. 1, 2008 in Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium, fast approaching, thought it would be both fun, and informative, to revisit’s coverage of the groundbreaking Heritage Classic.

The image of Montreal Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore standing in his crease with a toque perched atop his goalie helmet is the dominant memory shared by anybody who experienced the game. But my memories run so much deeper after spending close to a week in the City of Champions, documenting the game for

I remember my note-taking pen freezing in the first five minutes of the actual game when I was foolhardy enough to consider watching the contest from the stands.

I remember Richard Zednik scoring the game-winning goal and then admitting afterward that his hands were so cold he was unsure if he had shot the puck properly.

Entering Commonwealth Stadium several hours before the start of the MegaStars Game and finding some hearty souls already in their seats was another unforgettable experience. They were there despite the fact that the temperature, approaching minus-20 Fahrenheit, was brisk enough that it actually hurt to breath at times.

The military flyover that preceded the start of the MegaStars Game still gives me chills. As does the fact that I was witness to the last organized game in which Wayne Gretzky played.

The old-timers cleaning off the ice with shovels during intermission of their game was a sight to behold, reminding me of the boyhood chore any hockey player worth his slat has had to endure too many times.

The good-natured laughter that filled the cramped dressing rooms of both the Montreal and Edmonton Legends remains with me to this day, providing the soundtrack that accompanies the reunion of teammates and friends wherever they might happen.

I remember being overwhelmed by the undeniable greatness of the players brought in to compete in the alumni game. But later, I would be relieved to find out that Jacques Demers felt the same way after coaching the Montreal old-timers.

“The thing that I will remember most is that I was surrounded by a bunch of winners, Hall of Famers, and guys that played the game the way it was supposed to be played,” Demers said at the time. “I’ll never forget it.”

Most of all, I remember just how lucky I was to be a part of hockey history in the making.

Now, you can revisit all the wonderful moments, and reawaken your own memories, with a look back at’s Heritage Classic coverage.

Enjoy the trip down memory lane. God knows I did.

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