By Derick Ramos
It wasn’t the ending that Winnipeg Jets fans had hoped for but the overall experience of the Tim Horton’s Heritage Classic will be a memorable one. The city of Winnipeg played host to the outdoor game at Investors Group Field and welcomed past legends of the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers. It was a chance for fans to see their past heroes lace up the skates once again and a chance to see their future ones as well.
The festivities started off with former Winnipeg Jet Teemu Selanne getting the key to the city from Mayor Brian Bowman. After fans crammed the MTS Centre to see the Jets and Oilers alumni practice, Bowman presented the “Finnish Flash” with the honour.
“Teemu captured Winnipegger’s hearts in 1992 when he exploded into the NHL with the greatest rookie season ever,” Bowman said honouring Selanne. “He always made time for fans, for autographs, and for charities, and really is a true ambassador for the game of hockey we all love.”
Selanne reminisced about how Winnipeg embraced him as a young player.
“The way how the people, the fans, lived the journey with me especially the first year it was just unbelievable,” Selanne told the media. “They made me feel so special and helped me so much in the years I played here. Winnipeg has a really important part— a big part— of my heart and who I am.”
Investors Group Field was transformed from a football field to a hockey rink for an October weekend in Winnipeg and for the most part, Mother Nature cooperated. Fans were treated to a spectator plaza that featured, food, games, picture taking, and live entertainment before both games. There was a chance to take photos in both Jets and Oilers jerseys, practice their shot in a target practice booth, and listen to the sounds of punk-pop group Sum 41. The best entertainment, however, was saved for the ice.
The alumni of the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers took hockey fans back to the 80s and 90s when the likes of Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, Mark Messier, and Wayne Gretzky dominated the hockey scene. The game went back and forth and nobody seemed to care for the absence of defensive play that was very reminiscent of the 80s matchups between the two clubs. In storybook fashion, it was Selanne playing the hero to the 31,317 fans winning the game on a penalty shot with 3 seconds left to play. Selanne who retired two seasons ago, clearly showed he was the best player on the ice scoring 2 goals and 3 assists. Even “The Great One” took notice.
“The game ended the way it should end with the best player on the ice on the home team scoring the big goal,” Wayne Gretzky praised Selanne. “Good for him, good for the franchise, and great for the city. Tomorrow is the real game, though, and tomorrow is what matters.”
Selanne talked about the experience of playing once again in Winnipeg.
“It was a great ending. The whole weekend has been unbelievable” Selanne said after the game. “Coming back here meeting all the old teammates and guys you haven’t seen in 20 years… we don’t get a chance to do this often and so far it’s been an unbelievable weekend.”
The Edmonton Oilers took some wind out of the city of Winnipeg’s sails the following day, downing the Winnipeg Jets 3-0. In a contest that was delayed for two hours due to sunshine, Cam Talbot shined brightest turning away all 31 shots. Mark Letetsu’s shorthanded goal proved to be the game winner with Darnell Nurse and Zack Kassian capping off the scoring. It wasn’t the ending of the weekend for most of the 33,240 in attendance wanted but it was an amazing experience for everyone that attended and involved.
The 2016 Heritage Classic gave fans the opportunity to see their heroes for one last time and to experience an outdoor professional hockey game. It’s a rare opportunity but the city seized it and showed why hockey is part of Winnipeg’s heritage.