Shotgun Sports at the 2023 NHL Heritage Classic

   October 29th, 2023 will never be forgotten for many Canadian hockey fans. The memories for many will be of a home win that could turn a season around, a 5-2 win in the Battle of Alberta against the Calgary Flames at Commonwealth Stadium in front of 54000 fans. An event 20 years in the making was well worth the wait for the City of Edmonton.

   I woke up on Sunday feeling nothing but excitement, for I had made a Section X EE hockey jersey using an old 2010 Reebok jersey that Katherine had gifted me. We bought our tickets the first day they were available in Section X2, mostly because lower bowl prices started in the 400's for X. After catching an Edmonton Oilers post about the players doing a grand entrance to their locker rooms at Commonwealth, I rushed down to the Recreation Center facility to find some promotional flags and barricades dressed in Heritage Classic facades. After some false information from some NHL employees, myself and some fellow fans figured out where to line up for the best view of the players.
   After an hour-long wait, the Edmonton Oilers finally arrived in a bus that parked far away from us fans. Almost out-of-sight were multiple RTV's waiting for the players. Once the Oilers (dressed as Oilfield Workers) hopped in their 4-wheelers, they slowly drove past us and down the ramp, waving to all the fans that showed up to greet the home team. Once every Oilers member made their way to the locker room area, I scrambled back to Katherine's house to prepare for the game itself.

   After getting ready we jumped in our vehicle and proceeded to Commonwealth Stadium for a night to remember. What we forgot about, however, was how crazy the area around the stadium can get an hour before a major event, especially when 50000-plus fans are attending. Desperate for parking, we found a spot within walking distance and hoofed to the stadium with less than 30 minute until puck-drop. Gate 6 was lined up with fans trying to get in, so we went to Gate 2 but found no difference. After a solid 25 minutes of waiting, we made it inside and to our seats with minutes to spare. As the National Anthem wrapped up, we looked around and saw the massive attendance and beautiful stage with our own eyes. Boy, did we ever miss a full Commonwealth Stadium. After one Flyover and another, the 2023 NHL Heritage Classic commenced with roars from the crowd. The energy in the building was overflowing the upper bowl of the stadium, fans watching the puck as both teams shook off the nerves. The first goal came from an Edmonton rebound and with that, the building erupted with glee and cheers, fans high fiving and screaming. You couldn't hear the goal horn over the many Oilers fans in attendance, heavily outweighing the Calgary fans that traveled 3 hours north to support.
   Moments after Zach Hyman scored his first outdoor goal with the Oilers, an Evander Kane cross-ice pass proved to be goal number two for Hyman and with that, the building erupted further as the Oilers asserted their dominance early. Not for long though, because Calgary scored on a power play to stop the bleeding, effectively turning down the volume and excitement of the Oilers faithful.
   Before the end of the period, the Oilers managed to regain their 2-goal lead with an Evan Bouchard blue line shot that squeezed through multiple Calgary players, including the goalie. The building erupted again and Oilers fans couldn't have been happier.
   The rest of the game seemed like it was on cruise control. Between the electric environment, the fans around us and the game on the ice, the whole event seemed to fly by. We talked with some fellow fans, enjoyed some laughs and we definitely wanted to see Nickelback. Calgary scored in the second period, but Alberta's favourite rock artists managed to put on a fantastic show for just 3 songs, effectively keeping hopes and excitement at a high for fans of both teams.
   The third period saw two more Oilers goals, courtesy of Vincent Desharnais and then an Evander Kane empty-net goal, prompting many Calgary fans to hit the exits early to beat the rush of traffic leaving the stadium. Oilers fans cheered louder and harder, the wave finally justifiable after a failed attempt with a 3-2 score. Once the clock hit 0, every fan remaining stood up, cheered, applauded, took some final pictures and proceeded to the gates to relive the magic on the way home. At long last the Edmonton Oilers had finally won at home, albeit Commonwealth Stadium.
   The not-so-magical moments of the Heritage Classic took place in the concourses if you were waiting for the washroom, food, beer or even just trying to get to your seat. Without any real crowd control or barricades to allow for proper crowd flow, fans were squeezing past each other in multiple directions to get their needs met. Accessible seating areas were being used by fans to get to their seats faster which is a horrible look on the NHL, as well as the City as property owners and managers. Should Edmonton host another event with an attendance over the original 42500 capacity the concourses were designed for, the City will need to have upgraded security and crowd control measures to ensure these negatives don't happen at a future event. The NHL's poor planning is also a factor in some of the woes at Commonwealth, and with so many events previously held in outdoor settings, one has to wonder about what exactly went wrong on Sunday.

   Overall the 2023 Heritage Classic was a fantastic event that brought excitement to fans all over the World. Whether you watched the spectacle on TV or braved the elements to witness the second-ever NHL Outdoor Game in Edmonton, the biggest Battle of Alberta proved to be an event that many will talk about for the next 50 years. Maybe you didn't freeze in -20C and sure, it wasn't the Montreal Canadians playing the Oilers, but the 20th Anniversary of the Original lived up to the hype.

Highlights from Section X at the 2023 Heritage Classic

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *