You would think the most storied club in hockey history would have taken part in an NHL Winter Classic by now. But they haven’t.
The NHL Winter Classic is the pinnacle of the NHL regular season. When are the Canadiens finally going to get to take to the ice outdoors at a famous football field or baseball park?
The Tricolore played against the Edmonton Oilers in the 2003 Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium. The game was the first regular season game of its kind. Jose Theodore was our goalie at that time — it was the year after he won the Vezina.
Then the Canadiens went out into the blistering cold of the west to play against the Calgary Flames in the 2011 Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium. Funnily enough, Rene Bourque scored 2 goals in a Flames 4-0 win, including the game-winner.
But when are the Canadiens going to get the call to play on the biggest stage?
I, along with hopefully most of eastern Canada, was supremely disappointed when the Maple Leafs were selected to face-off against the Red Wings in the 2013 NHL Winter Classic, which was moved to 2014 after the lock-out. I understood the two teams are in close proximity to each other. And yes, I understood that they both happened to be Original Six teams. But there is no bitter rivalry Leafs and Wings as in the other outdoor games. So it made the selection of the Maple Leafs difficult to swallow. Obviously, it was also hard for me to swallow because I’m a Montrealer. But either way, it rubbed me wrong. Plus, they got to play at The Big House in front of a crowd of 105,491 and be on HBO 24/7.
The NHL introduced the Winter Classic in 2008, in a game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres. Colloquially known as the Ice Bowl, the game was played on the field of the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The game was a massive hit and Sidney Crosby scored the memorable game-winning shootout goal. After that, the phenomenon that has become the Winter Classic exploded in popularity. Its biggest year was the last, during which the NHL put on a record, six outdoor games. There was the Winter Classic between the Leafs and Wings, the Heritage Classic between the Senators and Canucks, and in between those two, was the NHL Stadium Series.
The NHL brought the ice and boards to three of the most famous and iconic stadiums in the USA. Game 1 was held at Dodger Stadium between the Ducks and Kings; game 2 was at Yankee Stadium between the Rangers and Devils; game 3 was also at Yankee Stadium between the Rangers and Islanders; and game 4 was at Soldier Field between the Penguins and Blackhawks. LA, NY and CHI. The three most populated cities in the country and three of the most popular cities in the country. It was a huge success. And while some people feel that having a handful of games lessens the spectacle, I think it was great to see. After all, there are 2,460 games in an NHL season; the jump from two outdoor games to six is still but a sliver of the season.
All these great venues for highlight games, from Michigan, to Chi-Town, to Dodger and Yankee Stadiums, and the only Canadian team selected — the Maple Leafs.
I’ll come right out and say it: The Leafs are a boring team. Now I am speaking more of HBO 24/7. Aesthetically, they offer very little. Their coach, Randy Carlyle, isn’t dynamic such as past featured coaches, Dan Bylsma, Bruce Boudreau, John Tortorella and Peter Laviolette. Their flashiest player on the show was Dion Phaneuf, and half so because he is married to Elisha Cuthbert. It just seemed dull. Sure it was cool that you could see Detroit and Windsor from across the Detroit River. But again, there is no rivalry between the two teams today. Until last season, it had been sixteen years since the two played in the same conference. Now, I realize the Canadiens haven’t played in the same conference as the Red Wings in an even longer time, but at least throw in a more exciting team — if not against Detroit, against someone else. I want to see the Habs represent hockey north of the border in a famous American venue, in a game that will be carried on NBC, on a primetime Sunday afternoon. I want to see the Habs and the great historical city of Montreal on HBO 24/7.
Whether this is a Leafs bashing, or an NHL bashing for getting it wrong is up to you.
At the very least, I want to see the Canadiens finally host a Heritage Classic. There have been three NHL outdoor games in Canada, but none of them have been held in hockey’s capital, Montreal. Perplexed just isn’t enough. We have a little something called, The Big O. Montreal has an Olympic Stadium and there has yet to be a Classic game played here. The stadium is a more-than suitable stage for a high-profile event. It has a (football) capacity of 65,255 people and would be sold out before you can say “unretractable roof”. (Not the best marketing point.)
Next year’s Winter Classic will be held in our neighbours’ capital, featuring the Blackhawks and Capitals. There are plans for another Stadium Series in 2015 — also consisting of four games.
It’s been six years of Winter Classics now. When will the Canadiens get to play?