CALGARY – Will the Stampeders’ touchdown horse gallop from one end of McMahon Stadium to the other in celebration of a Flames goal in February?
“I think that’s a perfect question to put on a long list of questions,” Flames president Ken King said with a laugh after the NHL’s announcement Friday that Calgary will host one of the next two outdoor games.
Subject to approval by the NHL’s competition committee in June, the Flames and the Montreal Canadiens will play the Heritage Classic on Feb. 20, 2011, at McMahon, which is the home of the CFL’s Stampeders.
The Pittsburgh Penguins host the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field on Jan. 1 in the Winter Classic.
Not since the 1988 Winter Olympics has 35,650-seat McMahon Stadium held a February event. That was also the last time an ice surface was installed on the field.
McMahon was the site of the frigid opening ceremonies Feb. 13 and the closing Feb. 28, when the mercury hit a high of plus-9.
What the weather will be for the game could add considerable drama to it. The city of one million people at the foot of the Rocky Mountains is notorious for wild winter climate swings when snowstorms and warm chinook winds blow in from the west, sometimes on the same day.
“I was in McMahon in 1988 for the opening ceremonies, which were so cold I held my then-young daughter underneath the hot-air blower in the bathroom to warm her up,” King recalled. “The closing ceremonies were held with great fear that the ice would melt. There are your book ends.”
Average temperatures in Calgary on Feb. 20 over the last decade have ranged from minus-17 to plus-1, according to The Weather Network.
NHL icemaker Daniel Craig declined an interview request, saying planning for the outdoor games will commence after the Stanley Cup final which begins Saturday in Chicago.
Calgary will be the first Canadian franchise to hold an outdoor game since the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal met Nov. 22, 2003, at Commonwealth Stadium in the first Heritage Classic.
“As an organization with a strong fan base throughout Canada, we welcome this opportunity to do honour to our great game,”Habs president Pierre Boivin said Friday in a statement.
The outdoor game in Edmonton was played in minus-23 conditions, which prompted Habs goaltender Jose Theodore to pull a tuque over his helmet.
The event attracted 57,196 spectators to Commonwealth Stadium and drew record TV ratings of 2.747 million viewers on CBC.
The NHL didn’t make outdoor games an annual affair, however, until 2008 when the Buffalo Sabres hosted Pittsburgh in Orchard Park, N.Y. Outdoor games followed at Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park.
The NHL hasn’t committed to making the Canadian outdoor game an annual event similar to the Winter Classic it has hosted in the U.S. the last three years.
“That’s not something we’ve decided yet,” league commissioner Gary Bettman said in Chicago.
The Flames pushed to hold an outdoor game this year, but King says that plan didn’t come together “for several reasons.”
“I think the league understands this will be a success in Calgary as it was in Edmonton,” King said. “They did a superb job and set the bar high. The only thing we want different from their game is maybe a little bit warmer weather.”
The Boston Chamber of Commerce estimated the Winter Classic last Jan. 1 had an economic impact of $36 million.
“The event is somewhat larger in Boston and in the U.S. given they have a greater capacity, but this will have superb impact economically because of the weekend that’s been chosen,” said King, pointing out the game falls on the Sunday of a long weekend in Alberta.
“There will be some travel here, both rubber-tire and otherwise.”
McMahon expanded to 46,020 seats for last year’s Grey Cup on Nov. 23.
The temporary seats were removed following the game and Haverstock says he needs five to six weeks to install that number again, if the NHL asks him to do so for the Heritage Classic.
“The concept of temporary seating is being discussed,” Haverstock said.
If it snows heavily, which it did two days before the CFL championship game, Haverstock’s job will be to clear the stands of snow, while the NHL tends to the ice.
“Our responsibility is making sure the venue is safe and prepared for all the spectators,” Haverstock said. “We’ve run a lot of events here in November, a lot of playoff games and Grey Cups in winterconditions.
“In terms of the rink installation and all that stuff, that’s entirely the NHL’s ball of wax. They have a kit, with the artificial ice plant, the rink, the boards and the players’ boxes and they’ve used that several times in the past. They’re pretty adept at putting that up and down.”
The game will be broadcast in Canada on CBC and RDS, and on Versus in the United States.
—With files from Canadian Press reporter Chris Johnston in Chicago