June 25th, 2024

Oilers forward McDavid practises outdoors ahead of Sunday’s Heritage Classic

By Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press on October 28, 2023.

EDMONTON – Sunday’s Heritage Classic will feature a lot of star power. Canadian Music Hall of Fame members Nickelback will play during the second intermission, and alternative-rock stars Beaches will headline the pre-game show.

But the biggest star will be NHL MVP Connor McDavid – if he plays.

McDavid has missed the Oilers last two games with an upper-body injury, but was a full participant in practice at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday evening, as the Oilers (1-5-1) prepared to host the Calgary Flames (2-5-1) in a game that commemorates the 20th anniversary of the NHL’s first outdoor game in 2003.

“It’s feeling good, I’m making a lot of progress,” McDavid said. “It felt really good today in practice, a lot of good signs.”

“I thought it was a good sign that he practised,” said Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft. “We’ll see, but he looked pretty good to me.”

The conditions for Saturday night’s Flames and Oilers practices were around the 0 C mark. That’s a far cry from the first Heritage Classic held 20 years ago at Commonwealth Stadium.

Montreal beat Edmonton 4-3, but what people most remember is how cold it was. The temperature was -18 C with wind chills that made it feel like -30 C.

“I think there’s no better spot to do this,” said Oiler centre Leon Draisaitl. “The temperature out there today was cold but not freezing, where it’s unbearable. It’s cold, it’s perfect for the ice, it wasn’t snowy, It seemed like it was the perfect day, hopefully it will be the same (Sunday).”

Environment Canada is calling for “near freezing” conditions at puck drop.

Craig Tkachuk is looking forward to the game. He was the Oilers’ director of operations for the first Heritage Classic, and the team invited him to attend Sunday’s game.

A little more than 20 years ago, Tkachuk stood on the green turf of Commonwealth Stadium alongside then-Oilers president Patrick LaForge. The two men were taking a lay of the land.

“I said to Patrick, this is going to be something special,” said Tkachuk

Sunday’s game will be the NHL’s 38th regular-season outdoor game.

“It’s amazing to be part of something that has grown like it has,” said Tkachuk, “It gives me a real sense of pride.”

Thinking back to 2003, Tkachuk admitted a lot of the planning the Oilers had done went out the window when the temperature plummeted,

“The game took on a different spirit,” he said. “We got to game day, and cables were freezing and stuff wasn’t working. It was hard on the soul, because it was hard to breathe. But I was outside for that entire game, I didn’t sleep for a week before it, and yet it all still flew by.”

Will the Oilers and Flames get close to the attendance figure of 57,167 set in 2003?

As of Saturday night, Ticketmaster still had hundreds of unsold seats, with prices ranging from $541 for seats underneath the press box in the first level to $151 for seats in the top corner of the stadium.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2023.

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