by Marc Ciampa
Just over two years ago, the Edmonton Oilers took part in the NHL's only outdoor hockey game in the league's 90-year history in front of 57,167 spectators at Commonwealth Stadium.Jump down to view the photo gallery!
On Friday, the Oilers took their game outside once again, albeit on a much smaller scale.
As part of the 630 CHED Backyard Classic, a lucky fan had the fortune of the Oilers setting up a rink in his backyard complete with bleachers and a play-by-play team as the activities were broadcast live on the radio by Rod Phillips and Morley Scott.
"I entered a contest online through 630 CHED. I was drawn as a preliminary winner. A week later I was drawn as the winner," said Dan Gutscher who was overwhelmed by the entourage at his home in Ardrossan, Alberta. "I think this is just great, but I didn't expect all these people to show up."
Gutscher's daughters don't skate, but he had no problem rounding up enough skaters to take on Oilers coaches Charlie Huddy, Kelly Buchberger, Brian Ross and Craig Simpson. The players included his nephew as well as family friends and neighbours. Gutscher's wife coached the team, which ended up defeating the Oilers coaches in a shootout.
"I'm just amazed with the amount of people that came," Gutscher exclaimed as the attendees also included Oilers Georges Laraque and Ales Hemsky as well as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. "That was icing on the cake when they told me he was going to be in town."
Setting up the rink was no easy task, particularly with the unseasonably warm weather Edmonton has experienced.
Craig Tkachuk of the Edmonton Oilers who headed the project estimated it took "about 100 man hours" to complete.
"We've probably been here 20 nights in the last month," he added.
"Everything came together within the past couple of days. They set up the tents and worked day and night to get it done," said Gutscher.
The original plan was to hold the event on December 22 but that week temperatures soared above 10 degrees celcius, causing the postponement. There were some concerns that the weather might not be cold enough but overnight temperatures below zero were enough to make it happen.
"I believe it was about 4 a.m. this morning that last night's sheet started to freeze. Once it started to freeze we were good to go," stated Oilers manager of corporate communications Darren Krill who helped oversee the project.
The timing couldn't have worked out better with Commissioner Bettman in town for Hockey Day in Canada festivities.
"What we're all about is hockey. Everywhere and all ages. It shows hockey at its best, at the grassroots," Bettman said.
One of the players, Derek Krasowski, was surprised to see the most powerful man in hockey, as rated by The Hockey News this past week, dropping the ceremonial first puck.
"I had a feeling he was going to be here but I didn't know he was going to be dropping the puck. It's nice to see him here watching us kids play," he said.
Laraque and Hemsky were also impressed by the proceedings and took time to sign autographs for the numerous people in attendance.
"It's fun to be able to do some nice stuff for our fans. We have the best fans in the league," noted Laraque. "It's unreal to be a part of this.
"And it's not as cold as it was for the Heritage Classic."