Saturday, 5 March 2016

Winnipeg Goes Outside

It sounds as though the Winnipeg Jets will get something every other western Canadian city already can boast: an outdoor game. Tomorrow, the Jets and the NHL will announce that an October Heritage Classic will be played at Investors Group Field on the University of Manitoba campus in Winnipeg that will feature the hometown Jets playing against the Edmonton Oilers. I have been critical about outdoor games before, but I think this one could be fun if the NHL will let some WHA history rise to the top. Both Edmonton and Winnipeg made their way to the NHL via the WHA, so this one will have some good hockey history behind it if the NHL can swallow its pride for once.

Dale Hawerchuk is reportedly in Winnipeg for the announcement and there's a rumor that a rather recognizable captain living in Los Angeles will also be teleconferenced in for the announcement. No, it's not Kelly Buchberger, but rather a Mr. Wayne Gretzky.

As an aside, Kelly Buchberger may have to decide which team he's going to play on since he was a member of the Atlanta Thrashers. Does that make things complicated? Do the Jets welcome back Ilya Kovalchuk for the game? Keith Tkachuk was both a Jet and a Thrasher, so he's in, but what about Shane Doan? He might still be a Coyote.

Of course, all of these answers will be revealed in the build-up to the event, but I'd like to see the old Jets and Oilers back on the ice. Names like Hawerchuk, Selanne, Housley, Essensa, Ellett, Carlyle, and Domi would be a fantastic mix of Jets from various eras while the Oilers can get names like Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Joseph, Weight, Guerin, and Pronger into the game.

Of course, I'd love to see the league honour the men from the WHA who made these two teams into what they are with a proper ceremony. I'd invite Hull, Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, Kent Nilsson, Morris Lukowich, Joe Daley, and Terry Ruskowski among the many great Jets that skated in this city. On the Oilers' side, I'd certainly have Dave Dryden, Glen Sather, Blair MacDonald, Paul Shmyr, and Dave Langevin for that squad. There are so many great personalities that deserve recognition from the WHA era that you could literally spend all day debating the who's-who of these two teams.

Further to the NHL ceremonies, I'd really like to see the NHL allow the Manitoba Bisons to hold something special on the Friday evening before the weekend. Mike Ridley has been honoured already, but ask him to drop the ceremonial puck for the game. The Bisons could add another banner to their celebrated players by inviting Stu Grimson to the weekend as he suited up for the Bisons before finding work in the NHL. Have that ceremony prior to an outdoor game between the current Bisons roster and another Canada West team, and allow the Bisons to join the fun.

Sometime before or after, I'd imagine the Manitoba Moose might get an outdoor AHL game at the rink as well. It would be awesome if they used the throwback jerseys they wore this year and played against a throwback IHL team like the Milwaukee Admirals or Grand Rapids Griffins. With Randy Carlyle and Mike Ridley in town, they can be honoured for their work with the Moose and names like Randy Gilhen, Ken Wregget, Johan Hedberg, Bill Bowler, Mike Keane, and Brett Hauer can have some fun back in a city where they were idolized.

I'd imagine Hockey Manitoba will want a few fun games on the ice, and it would be great of the Winnipeg High School Hockey League got a game or two on the ice as well. There are men's, women's, boys', and girls' leagues all over this city that could use a week's worth of ice in October to make an infinite amount of memories. This is what the Heritage Classic should embrace, and it would be exceptional if the NHL would acquiesce to these wishes.

Unfortunately, I don't get to make that call, but maybe someone at the NHL Office will see this plea and recognize that Winnipeg's hockey history runs deep and is a part of the fabric of this community. The vast majority of players in Winnipeg learned to skate on outdoor ice, and there's no reason why the outdoor rink at Investors Group Field can't stand for a week for as many players in Winnipeg to experience as possible.

Unless, of course, it's +30C.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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