Century of the NHL

Outdoor Habs-Sens game caps off party in Ottawa

17.12.2017
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The Ottawa Senators defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 in the outdoor Scotiabank NHL100 Classic at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa to mark the NHL's centennial. Photo: Sabrina Pirillo

OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens celebrated the NHL’s centennial in style on Saturday with an outdoor game in the Canadian capital that was as chilly as it was spectacular. The Senators won the Scotiabank NHL100 Classic 3-0, providing a little belated revenge after Montreal beat Ottawa 7-4 on 19 December 1917 on the opening night in NHL history.

Jean Gabriel-Pageau broke a scoreless tie at 14:55 of the second period, tipping captain Erik Karlsson’s point shot past Montreal goalie Carey Price. Bobby Ryan made it 2-0 with 2:58 left, stripping Jonathan Drouin inside the Montreal blue line and beating Price high, and Nate Thompson added an empty-netter. Goalie Craig Anderson got the shutout with 28 saves.

A sell-out crowd of 33,959 at TD Place Stadium, home of the Canadian Football League’s Ottawa Redblacks, witnessed the home team’s victory. The temperature was -10.8 Celsius, and everyone there – from the players to the fans to iconic Canadian rocker Bryan Adams, who played a second-intermission show – felt the sting of northern winter.

“This embodies a true Canadian experience,” said Ryan, a 2010 American Olympic silver medallist who learned his hockey in California. “For me, it was fingers and hands. I heard some guys complain about ears and feet, but everybody’s different. My hands were cold! I was as close to the heater as I could be between shifts.”

Regardless, there is something undeniable about the romance of playing hockey outdoors. It’s the same mystique that the Canadian and American U20 teams will experience when they play the first IIHF World Junior Championship stadium game ever on 29 December at Buffalo’s New Era Field, home of the NFL Bills.

Even though 2017 World Junior MVP Thomas Chabot has graduated to the Senators, he has fond memories of playing outdoors.

“I think literally 30 seconds from my house back home I have an outdoor rink,” said the 20-year-old Canadian defenceman, who also got Best Defenceman and all-star honours in addition to a silver medal in Montreal. “The hours I spent there, I couldn’t even tell you. I’d get out of school and go right there until 9 or 9:30 at night. To actually have the chance to play a game during the NHL season on an outdoor rink, it’s special.”

The IIHF also has a history with outdoor games. On 7 May 2010, a then-world record attendance figure (77,803) was set at Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen when IIHF World Championship host Germany topped the U.S. 2-1 in overtime in its opener.

Ottawa winger Alexandre Burrows has competed on many big stages, from playing for the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup final against the Boston Bruins to representing Canada at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Belarus. “I don’t think this game compares to the magnitude of the Stanley Cup final or the World Championship,” Burrows said. “But it makes you think back to playing outdoors as a kid and to your personal path that you took to get here.”

The NHL100 Classic had plenty of celebrity power, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in attendance and Habs legends Guy Lafleur and long-time Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson performing the ceremonial opening faceoff.

The festivities extended beyond TD Place Stadium. A rink to mark Canada’s 150th birthday was built for public skating on Parliament Hill, and the Senators alumni staged a game there on Friday night, welcoming back both beloved icons and prodigal sons. As a light snow fell, Alfredsson’s team crushed the Chris Phillips-led opposition 12-3 with four goals from Alexandre Daigle, the number one overall draft pick in the 1993 NHL Draft. Both Chris Neil, the 15-season Senators veteran who just retired as the NHL’s active PIM leader (2,522), and Alexei Yashin, the Russian national team star who feuded with Ottawa about his contract, received warm pre-game ovations.

The mobile NHL Centennial Fan Arena displayed colourful memorabilia from Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame, including revolutionary Habs goalie Jacques Plante’s 1950s practice mask, Wayne Gretzky’s flimsy 1990s Jofa helmet from his Los Angeles days, and a game-used puck from a 3 October 1997 game between Anaheim and Vancouver at Tokyo’s Yoyogi Arena, the first regular-season NHL game ever outside North America. The Stanley Cup, naturally, was the main attraction.

Showing how hockey permeates Ottawa’s culture, fans could also pose for photos with Lord Stanley’s Gift, a chalice-like, 28 October-unveiled monument commemorating the Cup at the intersection of Sparks and Elgin Streets. Or they could visit the Canada Science and Technology Museum, which recently underwent an $80-million renovation. It has displays featuring miniature wireless helmet sensors to help reduce concussions, carbon-fibre hockey sticks that belonged to Karlsson and Alfredsson, and motion-capture technology used for the EA Sports NHL video games.

Even in the lobby of the historic Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel, a “Trees of Hope” Christmas tree showcased the Senators’ long-time support of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Getting a win at the NHL100 Classic was a boost for Ottawa fans, who have fretted about the team’s precarious playoff position, Karlsson’s next mega-contract, and the theoretical possibility of relocation. The city that hosted the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship and the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championship has just added another cool moment to its legacy.

“They did a great job of making sure that we had it as good as we possibly could,” said Karlsson. “I think that the fan turn-out was unbelievable. The atmosphere out there was great. The pre-game show, the national anthem, everything. Leading up to this, it’s been just spectacular. It’s something that, even though we were playing an important game, everybody really took a step back and soaked it in as much as we could. We’re extremely happy we got the opportunity to do this.”

LUCAS AYKROYD

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