They say you can never have too much of a good thing. What about too much of a below-average-outdoor-sporting-event thing?
The annual outdoor hockey game was a huge spectacle when it was first introduced in the NHL full-time in 2008. It was something for hockey fans to look forward to every year, regardless of if your team was playing in it or not. However, recently, the NHL has elected to go with quantity over quality, pumping out approximately four outdoor games per season. While still popular with fans of the teams annually involved (I’m looking at you, Chicago Blackhawks), the over saturation of the event has caused the outdoor spectacle to lose some allure in the eyes of fans around the league.
Now that the league has announced an outdoor game to be played between the Senators and Canadiens at TD Place in Ottawa, which will take place on December 16th, 2017 and commemorate the first ever NHL game played. I take a look at some things the team and the league can do to get this one right.
Incorporate the Canal
How can you not do this in Ottawa? This is an absolute no-brainer, as the storied Rideau Canal is quintessentially Ottawa. But this may be easier said than done. The weather conditions can be finicky in December, and the canal being frozen over is far from guaranteed; in fact, it’s downright unlikely. What they could do is set up a patch of ice using cooling pads and other ice-making technology, even if it was just a small patch on the canal adjacent to TD Place. It could be used to play pick-up games, host a pre-game ceremony, or used for some other events before the game. It would be a shame to exclude this Canadian staple from the Heritage Classic, no matter the weather.
Yes, December is too early for Winterlude, which traditionally happens in February. But that doesn’t mean that the city can’t incorporate some of the same elements into the Heritage Classic weekend. This could include, but is not limited to, snow sculptures, light shows, games for children, snow slides or tubing, and of course, Beavertails. The events could run all weekend long and be set up around Lansdowne, but on the Great Lawn in particular. While this would likely only attract the local crowds, it would be a nice way to bring the city together to the great venue and raises awareness of the weekend with families in the area. It could also be a send-off to the whole Ottawa 2017 campaign, which celebrated the 150th anniversary of Canada.
Parliament Hill Hockey Lightshow
For anyone that’s ever come out to Parliament Hill in the winter to see Mosaika and the Northern Lights show, it’s pretty spectacular. The projection and light show draws crowds both internationally and from across Canada (here’s a preview for those who haven’t seen it).
Now picture that, but with more hockey.
It would be amazing if the team behind the projection show could come up with a show centred around the NHL and its storied history. This would no doubt incorporate the histories of all 30 (soon to be 31) NHL teams, as well as those no longer in the league. It would prove be a tourism draw, and bring people out to Parliament Hill, rather than just TD Place. It would connect the downtown core to the events and promote tourism and tourist revenue. Fans of other teams would likely be excited to see it, either in person or online, and it would generate buzz and excitement for the Heritage Classic weekend.
Play Inside Aberdeen Pavilion
The Ottawa Senators (then known as the Ottawa Hockey Club) played their 1904 season at Aberdeen Pavilion. The stunning venue has hosted Stanley Cup challenges in years gone by, and is the oldest remaining venue to do so. For those who have been inside, it’s not an overly large space, and it would no doubt be difficult to fit people in, even in temporary bleachers. But it would so cool, and so Ottawa, if they could pull it off. I think maybe something like a staged “Stanley Cup Challenge”, like the Ottawa Hockey Club competed in and won in 1904 against Winnipeg, would work well, with the teams playing in a best of three series. The teams could maybe be comprised of NHL alumni players, saving the Senators and Canadiens alumni match-up for the TD Place ice surface. Or it could be a charity event, with famous Ottawans playing alongside some NHL faces, similar to what L.A. did prior to the All-Star game this year.
There’s no doubt that the Senators’ and Canadiens’ alumni players will see some action before the main event. But what if other NHL teams (specifically the Canadian ones) had alumni playing in their own game that weekend? Having big names like Gretzky, Messier, Linden, and even Domi, among others, playing in a game celebrating the NHL’s centennial season would do something few recent outdoor games have done: draw league-wide interest. The game could be played on the TD Place ice surface, inside the arena at TD Place (where the Ottawa 67s currently play), or in the smaller Aberdeen Pavilion, immediately prior to the NHL match-up.
Belleville Senators, Ottawa 67s, and Ottawa RedBlacks
It would be neat to see the Belleville Senators get an outdoor game in Ottawa as well, maybe the day before the big club takes the ice. This would give families and fans a chance to see some of the top Ottawa prospects in action, particurlay families that can’t afford to pay the inevitably high price tag for the Sens/Habs game. It would make sense to play it against the Habs’ affiliate, but I suppose any opponent would suffice, as there is no real history with the Belleville squad yet. The Ottawa 67s as well are celebrating their 50th season, and OSEG may want to host an outdoor game for their team as well, seeing as the ice is already in place. This would again mostly target families who regularly attend the games, and would have a significantly lower draw than its NHL counterpart.
It would be nice to have the other OSEG teams, like the RedBlacks and Fury, on hand during the weekend to interact with fans. Even the Ottawa Champions baseball team could come out and support its fellow Ottawa franchise and be a part of the weekend.
There’s many more ideas that I’ve left off this list, but this is just a taste of what the Senators and OSEG could do to create a magical weekend for fans in Ottawa. What would you like to see as a part of the Heritage Classic weekend in Ottawa? Let us know on Twitter @TheSystemOttawa, or in the comments below!