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Heritage Classic

Gretzky to play for Oilers at alumni game

Selanne, Hawerchuk to represent Jets

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets will host the Edmonton Oilers in the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic next season at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg on Sunday, Oct. 23.

The NHL, Jets and Oilers announced the event Sunday at MTS Centre. The outdoor event at the home of the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers will include a game between Oilers and Jets alumni Saturday, Oct. 22. Ticket and broadcast information will be announced at a later date.

Wayne Gretzky will captain an Oilers alumni team that will feature Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey. Dale Hawerchuk, who played for the original Jets franchise from 1981-90, will serve as Winnipeg's alumni captain. Teemu Selanne will join the Jets alumni team.

"I don't really play in a lot of alumni games," Gretzky said via video from Los Angeles. "Every now and then you get a special event, and this event is going to be really unique, really special."

Jets owner and executive chairman Mark Chipman said the Jets will wear vintage jerseys.

It will be the fourth Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic, joining Vancouver (2014), Calgary (2011) and Edmonton (2003). The Jets have never participated in an outdoor game, and the Oilers have not done so since the 2003 game. Winnipeg will become the 22nd NHL team to play an outdoor game.

Edmonton and Winnipeg share a long hockey history that dates to the days of the World Hockey Association in the 1970s before the Oilers and the original Jets each entered the NHL in 1979. Winnipeg won three championships in the WHA's seven seasons. The Oilers and Jets played the last game in league history May 20, 1979, when Winnipeg defeated a Gretzky-led Edmonton team 7-3 to win the WHA championship.

"The 2016 matchup between Winnipeg and Edmonton pays tribute to the rich history shared between the two cities and two franchises," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.

From there the rivalry moved to the NHL, where the Oilers won six Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Jets from 1983-90.

"It was great because it was such a challenge, and we looked forward to it," Hawerchuk said of the former Smythe Division rivals. "We were competitors, we loved to compete. They had a great hockey [team], and we couldn't wait to play them, and we can't wait to play them again in October."

Video: Heritage Classic Press Conference: Hawerchuk - Mar. 5

Oilers executive Kevin Lowe experienced the other side of the rivalry as a star defenseman with Edmonton's 1980s dynasty that won five Stanley Cup championships in seven seasons.

"People don't recognize how close the Jets were," Lowe said. "I can speak from experience because I played in those series. Although many people talk about the Battle of Alberta, the competitiveness of the Jets, the bruises we experienced in those series and how close the Jets were, people have never recognized [that]."

Edmonton coach Todd McLellan looks forward to exposing his players to the rivalry's history.

"I'm not sure how well the young player really knows hockey history, how much they follow it," McLellan said. "It will be really good for young players to see [alumni], rub shoulders with them, to hear some of their stories and just to visit with them."

"I think that's really important. The torch has to be passed down from one generation to the next."

One of those young players is rookie center Connor McDavid.

"To be a part of one, especially in a city like Winnipeg, is going to be special," McDavid, 19, said.

Video: Heritage Classic Press Conference: Mark Chipman

Jets defenseman Tyler Myers plans to indulge in some of the rivalry's history.

"I don't really know what to expect," Myers said. "I've never experienced anything like that before, so when the time comes, we'll just look to soak everything in. It's always cool for a guy from this generation to hear stories from back in the day."

Given that history, selecting Edmonton as an opponent was a clear choice, Chipman said.

"It became obvious that inviting the Edmonton Oilers to join in our celebration of NHL hockey made perfect sense, so that's what we've done, and we could not be more excited," Chipman said.

The event is the latest major hockey event in Winnipeg since the NHL returned in 2011; last season, the city experienced the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 1996 when the original Jets franchise left for Phoenix.

"Mark (Chipman) always had a passion for hockey, but more importantly he had a passion for Winnipeg," Daly said. "He had a vision that many in the hockey community doubted and thought was far-fetched, and the vision was to bring the NHL back to Winnipeg.

"Mark worked doggedly to make that vision a reality. He positioned the city, the franchise and the ownership group in the best possible way. When the first opportunity presented itself, he and [owner] David Thompson seized it on behalf of this community and on behalf of all of Canada. His vision for this team and this city has not only become a reality, but a model success that is admired across the NHL."

Hawerchuk recounted his days in Winnipeg in the 1980s when he joined teammates in one of the many outdoor rinks around the city.

"One thing that I love about this is that it's such a celebration for Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba," Hawerchuk said. "Hockey is a huge part of our nation, and this city and this province is a big part of it."

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