Sports

NHL: Canadian hockey fans take it outside to celebrate end of COVID restrictions


NHL Heritage Classic

March 13, 2022; Hamilton, Ontario, CAN; Fireworks explode during pre-game ceremonies before the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Buffalo Sabers in the 2022 Heritage Classic ice hockey game at Tim Hortons Field. Dan Hamilton-USA Sports TODAY

HAMILTON, Ontario – Canadian hockey fans celebrated the end of most COVID-19 restrictions in a predictable way Sunday, focusing on one soccer stadium during a game blizzard to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabers go head-to-head in the Heritage Classic.

It’s hard to imagine anything more than the 26,119 Canadians, most of them Leafs supporters, who gathered at a stadium in duffel robes on the windy shores of Lake Ontario for a party. starting with ‘The Great’ Wayne Gretzky made headlines during the puck-dropping ceremony.

Located halfway between Toronto and Buffalo, Hammer, as the locals call it Hamilton, provides the ideal neutral band for a contest featuring Maple Leaf, battling for the top spot in the Conference standings. East and Saber teams fight to stay out of the basement.

Buffalo with two goals, each from Peyton Krebs and Vinnie Hinostroza and a short one from Tage Thompson shocked the Leafs 5-2 but for the most part this nostalgia sinks into the sport’s outdoor past. hockey, the outcome is not as important as the event itself.

With Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, set to eliminate virtually all COVID-19-related public health measures for eight days, including the requirement to wear a mask, the date also reopened. memory of pre-pandemic standards.

The game is played at Tim Horton Stadium, named after Hall of Fame guard Tim Horton, who played for both Toronto and Buffalo and died in a car crash in 1974, a decade century after opening a donut and coffee shop in Hamilton. a Canadian organization with more than 4,000 locations spanning 14 countries.

If Gretzky and Tim Horton weren’t enough fans of the Canadian passion for hockey, the Maple Leafs won over the locals by coming to the game in construction suits to pay their respects to the man. the steelworkers of the city.

The NHL played its first regular outdoor game in 2003 and despite rave reviews resisted the temptation to franchise the show.

But what began as a one-off tribute to hockey’s past has turned into significant dates on the NHL calendar.

“We are always trying to create a unique experience for the market,” Laurie Kepron, NHL senior vice president, partner marketing, told Reuters. “We capitalize on the taste of the local market and then through our partnership and game presentation amplify it.”

Games have been held at iconic ballparks like Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park.

They played in the numbing cold of Edmonton and the warmth of Los Angeles.

Nostalgia and charisma being part of something unique drew huge crowds, including an NHL record of 105,000 at Michigan Stadium in 2014 while last year there were no spectators for two match in Lake Tahoe due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The 35 outdoor games generated a total of more than 1.7 million attendees.

“We are driven by changing what we offer,” says Kepron. “Every time we ask our partners to be thoughtful about building unique experiences.

“How can we offer something different for the fans?”

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