Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A breath of fresh air.

The title of the post is appropriate given the amount of time between posts, I apologize. Hope you all enjoyed the NHL All-Star weekend, time to gear up for the stretch run!

Saturday January 15th, 2010 was a day that will go down in Western Hockey League history as the Chiefs & Ice played the league's first ever outdoor game. Following in the line of the NHL's success with the Winter Classic, the WHL decided to host a game of their own.

Scanned from the Outdoor Classic program

However the Winter Classic was the topper of three chances that fans got with the outdoor rink. Thursday the 13th the Chiefs got the only practice that either teams would get on the outdoor surface. It was an open practice that fans were invited to attend. The Chiefs had fun with various team members wearing one of the three jerseys the Chiefs had sported this year. Following in the footsteps of the Washington Capitals outdoor practice, the team had fun with eye black. Which fans could see from the team picture taken post practice that was on the back of the cover of the special edition program that fans could purchase.

As was a concern every day up to the game was the warm temperatures and the possibility of rain. The Chiefs however told the Spokesman Review that the ice wasn't too bad. (source)

Watching the live broadcast of the practice, SWX reported that officials said that the game could be played in temperatures of up to 55 degrees and that rain was more of a concern. The funny thing was that at the beginning of the week about 3 or so inches of snow but the weather had warmed up so much that it had turned into slush all over the city.

The next event that was held at the temporary ice surface was a real treat for fans. Friday fans had the opportunity to skate on the ice that the game would take place on the next night. There were two half-hour sessions that fans were invited ice skate during for a fee of $3 for children under the age of 12 and $5 for anyone else.

The later session that I attended which was from 6-7:30 had a good amount of people. While it made for less than desirable ice conditions (especially for me someone who only ice skates once a year, if that) it was pretty awesome. It was surreal to think that the next day the very ice you were skating on and the benches you sat on, were where the Outdoor Classic was taking place.

My friends & my skates on the center ice dot.

I'm in a glass case of emotion! 
A close up view of one of the goal judge's spot for the game.

Saturday of course was the main event. Festivities started early as gates opened at 10:30 so that fans could have access to the field and welcome both teams to the stadium. I unfortunately didn't arrive until an hour before the scheduled 1 pm start time.

I did get to walk around however and see all the various things that were set up around the concourse of the stadium.

When you walked in the first thing you saw were the ice sculptures.

Wonder if Blackhawks fans are familiar with this one from last season...

There was also a silent auction to benefit the Rypien foundation featuring a lot of hockey memorabilia, including many a signed hockey jersey. Also in the tent housing the silent auction were some of the most important trophies in all of junior hockey.

The Ed Chynoweth Cup awarded to the WHL Champions formerly known as the President's Trophy. 
Essentially the Stanley Cup of the WHL

The famous Memorial Cup trophy awarded to the winner of the CHL (which is made up of the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League & Quebec Major Junior Hockey League).
Currently the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL are defending champions, they won both in 2009 & 2010.

The Chiefs infamously broke the trophy after winning it in 2008.

There were also two cardboard cutouts that fans could place their faces into to pretend they were a member of the 2008 Memorial Cup winning team or Tyler Johnson.

Who wouldn't want to pretend to be Spokane's local hockey hero?

Souvenirs seemed to be flying off the shelves seeing as line was extremely long to the main stand, though thankfully there was a smaller cash only stand that was selling as well. There were t-shirts, pucks, patches, scarves and more. Also for sale were special edition programs while typically at Chiefs games the programs are free Outdoor Classic programs were $5. The program featured pictures and stories from the Chiefs' players various experiences playing hockey outdoors ranging childhood to recent times which was a nice touch along with the typical lineups and game notes.

My seat was in the left field bleachers of Avista Stadium. The above pictures was my view. I really didn't have too many issues seeing any of the play.

During warm ups the weather was extremely nice, it was warm out and the sun was high in the sky which did seem to cause a decent amount of glare off the ice which was concerning. It was warm enough out that I had to remove the winter jacket I was wearing.

Since an actual Zamboni didn't or couldn't make it's way to Avista Stadium so mini-Zambonis were used. There were actually three at the stadium but only two were used.

A cannon was fired each time the Chiefs scored. Before I knew that I was confused as to what the blue tent beneath the scoreboard was. Needless to say I jumped when it was fired the first time.

WHL Comissioner Rob Robison (on the ice below) and Bobby Brett, the owner of the Chiefs both spoke during the pregame ceremonies to thank fans and everyone that helped put the game together.

Both the Chiefs and the Ice walked from their respective dugouts to the ice surface. The Chiefs' Tyler Johnson carried in an American flag and the Ice's Brayden McNabb carried in an Canadian flag.

 The goal judge had a prime seat and his own nice personal clear plastic box.

Opening faceoff! By that time the sun was behind the clouds and it started to get chilly which in my opinion only made the atmosphere that much better, it felt a bit weird to be warm at a hockey game when we arrived.

The Chiefs' Darren Kramer & the Ice's Max Reinhart engaged in the games first fisticuffs. The two teams had played the night before, a game which the Ice won 6-2 in Kootenay. The game the night before had 8 fights. Neither teams had a short term memory as by the end of the game 4 fights took place.

I took a picture of the score after two thinking it was pretty ridiculous, it was only a sign of things to come. The cannon was getting a good workout. Even better for fans at the game as per usual, Chiefs fans get a free Chalupa coupon for Taco Bell when the Chiefs score 5 or more games. Chalupas were secured well before the game was over on Blake Gal's second goal of the game not even two minutes into the 2nd period.

While the attendance isn't mind blowing and the Chiefs' home rink actually holds more fans, it was a sellout of the stadium.

The final score was an ugly one for the Ice but one that had Chiefs' fans leaving as happy campers. Good thing the Chiefs didn't score more than 11 goals, the National Guard only brought 11 shells I learned when watching the rebroadcast on TV. I doubt they had planned to be using them all.

The traditional handshake. It may not have been the greatest game by the Ice but both teams kept it classy by shaking hands after playing two emotionally charged blowouts in two days against each other. The two teams also took a photo together to commemorate the game.

Fans didn't leave the game empty handed either. Commemorative tickets, posters featuring a picture of the ceremonial faceoff and of course free Chalupa coupons because the Chiefs scored 5+ goals were all given to fans at the game. There was also a fireworks display for fans following the game but I was unable to stay for it.

The commemorative ticket featuring a nice sketch of the outdoor setup.

Overall, the Outdoor Classic was a fantastic experience. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of WHL history. It was a great atmosphere even with the blowout. I can only imagine the experience of going to a NHL outdoor game. With all the questions about the weather and the game, it turned out great. I have no major complaints about my experience.

I think it was a great event for the WHL, the Ice and the Chiefs. If I had a chance to do it all again I'd do it in a heartbeat. 

This is a great sign for when the Regina Pats and Calgary Hitmen play another game outdoors February 21, 2011 at McMahon Stadium. It'll be the the first WHL outdoor game in Canada following the NHL's Heritage Classic with the Calgary Flames hosting the Montreal Canadiens.

I'm sure it'll be nothing less than another great event for the WHL.


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