It’s official: the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers will be heading outdoors for the 2016 Heritage Classic.
At a press conference at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre Sunday afternoon, the outdoor contest was officially announced, as was an entire weekend’s worth of events. The Heritage Classic, which will take place Oct. 23, will be preceded by a Legends Game, which will be played Oct. 22 and feature some of the greatest players from the Oilers-Jets rivalry of the 1980s and 1990s.
“When we joined the NHL back in 2011, there was a lot to get done in a short period of time,” Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment, said. “We very much wanted to honor the history of the Jets back then, we were really more interested in doing so properly. As we began to think about how we could best do so, we realized that hosting a Heritage Classic and building a series of events around the game provided the most appropriate way to acknowledge the history of the Winnipeg Jets.”
The Heritage Classic game, as well as the alumni game, will be played at Investor’s Group Field. And while the main event of the weekend will be the regular season tilt between the Jets and Oilers, the contest featuring the stars of the past will arguably be what many fans look forward.
In a sense, the alumni game will take parts from both of 2016’s Stadium Series contests. Like the Stadium Series in Minnesota, the Jets alumni team will feature players who are a part of the city’s hockey history, even though it’s possible few will have any connection to the present-day Jets franchise. And like the Stadium Series contest in Colorado, it will be a rivalry from the past, not present, that is renewed.
The star power at the Legends Game will be considerable, too. It was announced Sunday the Oilers team will be captained by Wayne Gretzky, and he'll be joined by Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Kevin Lower, Dave Semenko and Jari Kurri. As for the Jets, Dale Hawerchuk will captain the Legends squad, and one of the most beloved players in Winnipeg sports history, Teemu Selanne, will make his return to the Jets, according to Hawerchuk.
“We’ll try and get a group of players — bring in some of the WHA, Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, that great line,” Hawerchuk added.
Gretzky, who joined the press conference from Los Angeles, said it’s great to be able to play against the Jets, recalling some of the past playoff meetings between the two teams. Gretzky also gave a nod to Winnipeg’s history with the game, including their time in the WHA. He added that he’s excited to take part in the Legends Game.
“I don’t really play in a lot of alumni games,” Gretzky said. “Every now and then you get a special event or special game, and this event is really unique, really special…We’re not as good as we used to be, but it will be a lot of fun.”
Full details for the games have yet to be released, but Chipman was asked about potential jerseys for the Jets’ teams — both present and alumni — for the outdoor games. The Winnipeg Free Press’ Ed Tait reported the Legends Game will feature jerseys “those players wore,” which could mean the Jets will be bringing back their original logo. As for the Heritage Classic itself, Tait added the plan is to pay tribute to the WHA days of both franchises.