The Heritage Classic, as well as most other outdoor hockey games, is one of the highlights of the season for fans and players alike. It’s a return to hockey’s roots, it’s a spectacle, and it’s an important moment in history for both teams involved.
For the first outdoor Battle of Alberta, expectations were very high. For the most part for those watching live, those expectations were met and the game represents an experience most won’t forget.
I, unfortunately, would have to say that the NHL missed the mark and improvements need to come for future outdoor games. Let me explain.
What went well with the Heritage Classic
Now to be clear, before expressing some opinions on the matter there is a disclaimer that I think needs to be made. First off, yes I am a Flames fan and yes the Flames did not win so naturally a link can be made that had the Flames won, the experience would have been better. That is just sports. Additionally, I completely acknowledge my privilege of being able to attend this game while many others were not. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and some were not able to get that chance that I was able to have.
For the most part, an outdoor Battle of Alberta alone is a hockey history moment. From the throwback outfit to the underlying stories for both teams, there was so much baked into the game that it felt far more important than just one of the first games of the year for the Albertan teams.
What I didn’t know about the game was that the viewing experience was quite good. I expected to be so far removed from the ice that binoculars were needed, but as you can see in the image on this post it was similar to being in the upper deck of Saddledome. You could see all of the action, and with the addition of the on-ice sounds being broadcasted into the stadium speakers, it felt like any other game. Which is a good thing!
Additionally, the sold out crowd was deafening upon every goal unlike most hockey games. That you cannot beat.
Finally, for most fans in the Stadium, Nickleback was just what was needed during a cold second intermission. The cameras cut away before the final song, but it was truly a Canadian experience to be singing Rockstar outside at a hockey game.
What did not go well for the Heritage Classic
Unfortunately, there was so much going on off the ice that I know impacted a lot of fans’ experiences.
First off, Commonwealth Stadium was not prepared to handle a Battle of Alberta Heritage Classic. Plain and simple.
Our group showed up at 3:45 p.m. and didn’t get into the stadium until around 4:15 p.m. Fans who showed up later were lined up outside for a lot longer and lines were still wrapped around the building near the end of the first period.
Security was a main reason for this, sending hoards of people out of line due a wide variety of reasons that angered many in line. They even started confiscating hand and feet warmers from people who brought them to stay warm. Some people were let in with duffle bags, while others were turned away with fanny packs. The inconsistency led to groups being split up and unable to re-exit security.
Once you got in, the sheer volume of people in the stadium made it impossible to walk around and enjoy festivities. Herding like cattle was an understatement. The time taken to get from your seats to the bathroom was an excursion.
Food and drink availability was a struggle for many as well, with only certain vendors being able to sell certain things and not making it clear what they did or didn’t have until after a 30-minute wait in line. The normal drink vendors who walked around the stands with trays around their necks couldn’t even make it a few feet from their origin point before being sold out.
A running joke in our section was that some fans left midway through the first period and returned in the second period, and some fans around offered hundreds of dollars for others’ food and drink. Many returned after missing most of the game empty handed saying they were unable to find anything. Add in the cold weather and it made for a tough combination.
Overall, the stadium could have planned and supported the fans better.
Planning for the future
As a whole, my group’s personal experience may not be the overwhelming majority, but almost every interaction I had with both Oilers and Flames fans was the same. Many expressed the same displeasure with the items noted above, even Oilers fans who saw their team earn two massive points.
With all of the lead time heading into the event, there could have been more planning to improve the overall experience.