NHL Heritage Classic comes full circle for the Oilers

EDMONTON - NOVEMBER 17: Wayne Gretzky #99 of the Edmonton Oilers alumni skates out to the rink , for the upcoming Heritage Classic hockey game November 21, 2003 in Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
EDMONTON - NOVEMBER 17: Wayne Gretzky #99 of the Edmonton Oilers alumni skates out to the rink , for the upcoming Heritage Classic hockey game November 21, 2003 in Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images) /

With this season representing the 20th anniversary of the first Heritage Classic, it’s fitting it returns to Commonwealth Stadium and features the Oilers.

The Heritage Classic is unlike the NHL’s other outdoor games, in that it isn’t played every season. Still, the Edmonton Oilers have a special connection with the event, dating back to when it was first held in 2003.

That’s because, as most Oilers fans know, their team was involved in the inaugural game, versus the Montreal Canadiens. In addition, it took place in Edmonton, at Commonwealth Stadium.

The game was a positive spectacle, even though the Oilers eventually lost 4-3. Helping with the atmosphere, 57,167 hardcore fans braved the elements to cheer on the Canadian rivals.

The Oilers had more success the next time they took part in the Heritage Classic, in 2016. They played the part of rude guests, as they beat the Jets 3-0 at Investors Group Field, in Winnipeg.

The outdoor Battle of Alberta

Now, the Classic is back in Edmonton and the Oilers wil host the Battle of Alberta versus the Calgary Flames. Once again, the game will be held at Commonwealth Stadium, for what should be an absorbing encounter.

The Oilers and Flames will be the first two teams to play in the Heritage Classic three times. Additionally, the Oilers know it’s a privilege to be hosting the event.

Stuart Ballantyne is certainly aware of this, as he told media at Commonwealth Stadium on Wednesday. The President and Chief Operating Officer for Rogers Place and ICE District said:

"“Boy of boy, 20 years since we had one of these in Edmonton and we’re so excited. And to make it a Battle of Alberta (is) even more exciting, as we take on the Calgary Flames. We’re ready to go. … We’ve been talking about having an outdoor game here in Edmonton for quite some time, and to have it on the 20th anniversary is just amazing. It’s a great way to recognize the hockey fans of Edmonton that drove the organization to think about this back in 2003. What a great way to celebrate hockey, that is being on outdoor ice.”"

With the game taking place between the Oilers and Flames, it’s fitting that Alberta’s own Nickelback will perform during the second intermission. The band from Hanna, Alberta was officially inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame back in June.

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An extensive process

As you can imagine, it’s quite a challenging task to change the Elks’ artificial turf into an ice rink for the Oilers. This includes utilizing a mobile refrigeration unit inside a 53-foot-long trailer.

NHL facility operations senior director Mike Craig expanded on what’s inside the trailer. As per Gerry Moddejonge of the Edmonton Journal, he said:

"“About 300 tonnes capacity there, we have two 75-variable-speed motors in the back. Everything that you would have similar to one of our NHL venues, everything fits within this truck. There are only two like it that we know of, we own both of them. If we have multiple events in a season, we are able to operate both.”"

This is only part of an advanced process, which also includes covering the field with protective panels. Once the piping and floor preparations are fitted, it takes 10 days for the ice surface to be ready.

Like Ballantyne, Craig appreciates the privilege of being involved in putting everything together for the Heritage Classic. He said:

"“A lot of memories, actually, coming back here. It was a great event at that time. … To be involved in the first one, do a number of events all the way through and then to come back is very special.”"

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The game is scheduled to take place on October 29, with puck drop at 5:00 pm MT. You can click here, to find out more information.