While the 2014 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic in Vancouver was an NHL event, it was rich in IIHF connections.
The March 2 game between the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators, attended by 54,194 spectators, was held at BC Place Stadium, the venue for the 2010 Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. That’s right across the street from Rogers Arena, known as Canada Hockey Place during those Winter Games, where Sidney Crosby scored at 7:40 of overtime to give the host nation a golden 3-2 victory over the United States on February 28, 2010.
In a 4-2 comeback victory for the Senators, Cody Ceci scored the winning goal halfway through the second period. Olympians hitting the scoresheet included Karlsson with a goal and Michalek and Hamhuis with an assist apiece. The atmosphere was festive but also relatively sedate, given the outcome for the struggling home team in the last of six outdoor or stadium-based games the NHL has played this season.
“The disappointment is that we didn't win the game,” said Vancouver defenceman Jason Garrison. “You saw the support out there. It's packed. It's pretty cool. I think the league's done a good job of putting these games together and creating a lot of good spirits and good energy. Obviously the fans really appreciate it.”
There were an impressive nine participants fresh off the Olympic men’s tournament in Sochi. They included Canadian gold medalists Dan Hamhuis and Roberto Luongo (backing up Eddie Lack) of the Canucks, and Swedish silver medalists Daniel Sedin and Alexander Edler of the Canucks and Erik Karlsson of the Senators. Sedin, unfortunately, had to leave the game in the second period with an injury.
The fourth-place American squad was represented by Canucks forward Ryan Kesler, while Senators forward Milan Michalek was there for the sixth-place Czechs, and Canucks defencemen Yannick Weber and Raphael Diaz took part from ninth-place Switzerland.
The BC Place field was carpeted with more snow than you’d typically see in Vancouver in March, and it certainly contrasted with the snow-free Coastal Cluster, the site of the Bolshoy Ice Dome and Shayba Arena in Sochi. However, this was strictly fake snow.
Although it was actually snowing in parts of Metro Vancouver on game day, that translated to rain downtown. Accordingly, the stadium’s retractable roof, which debuted in 2011, was kept closed.
“When you’re in Vancouver, you expect it might rain,” said Senators captain Jason Spezza, a two-time IIHF World Championship silver medalist. “I’m glad they had the option they had the option to close it, because it probably would have ruined the game if it was raining out.”
It was a massive enterprise to build the temporary rink in a venue that normally houses the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League and the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer. It took 20,000 gallons of water and 3,000 gallons of coolant to create the ice surface. Construction started on Wednesday morning for the Sunday afternoon game.
“It was different,” said Spezza. “With the fans away from the boards, it’s a little tricky on the eye for us on the ice. It changes the sightlines. But the atmosphere was really good. To see all the people there, it’s different from what we're used to playing in. The brightness of the stadium roof was cool too.”
Before puck drop, members of the 1994 Vancouver team that went to the Stanley Cup final were introduced to a rousing ovation. Receiving an equally warm welcome were representatives of the Canadian Olympic women’s team that won gold in Sochi: team captain Caroline Ouellette, Hayley Wickenheiser, Meghan Agosta, Laura Fortino, Rebecca Johnston, Meaghan Mikkelson, Lauriane Rougeau, Natalie Spooner, and Shannon Szabados.
The Canucks wore retro maroon-and-cream colours as a tribute to the 1915 Vancouver Millionaires, the lone club from Canada’s leading West Coast city ever to capture the Stanley Cup. The Senators represented their namesake from that century-old confrontation.
Beyond the 2010 Olympics, Vancouver has been blessed with a slew of major hockey events in the new millennium. In 2006, it hosted the World Juniors, where a Brent Sutter-coached Canadian squad blanked Yevgeni Malkin’s Russians 5-0 in the gold medal game. The following year, the Memorial Cup, the battle for Canadian major junior hockey supremacy, came to town, and the Vancouver Giants, guided by 1995 World Junior-winning coach Don Hay, beat the Medicine Hat Tigers 3-1 in the final.
The success of the Heritage Classic means there’ll likely be more big-time hockey coming to Vancouver. For instance, Canada has been allocated the 2019 and 2021 World Juniors, but the host cities have not yet been chosen. Vancouver, should it choose to bid, would undoubtedly receive serious consideration.
The highest attendance ever at an IIHF game also came in a stadium setting. To kick off the 2010 World Championship, a then-world record crowd of 77,803 watched host Germany defeat the United States at the Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen.