the first time
Not satisfied with winning its 12th Grey Cup, the
city of Edmonton is about to steal headlines once again.
A unique chapter in NHL history will be written on Saturday when
an expected crowd of 55,000 will watch the Edmonton Oilers host
the Montreal Canadiens at Commonwealth Stadium.
NHL hockey in the great outdoors? Believe it or not,
it's not such a far-fetched concept.
Saturday's game won't be the first time the NHL has
ventured outside. In 1991, the Los Angeles Kings played the New
York Rangers in an exhibition game outside Caesars Palace in Las
But the inspiration for Saturday's contest (CBC,
7 p.m. ET) was born out of a game between Michigan State (Anson
Carter's alma mater) and the University of Michigan (Mike Comrie's
A crowd of 74,554 spectators packed Spartan Stadium
(home of the MSU football team) on Oct. 6, 2001 to watch the two
bitter college rivals go at it, smashing the world attendance record
for hockey. The contest finished in a 3-3 tie.
The previous record was also set at an outdoor stadium.
On Mar. 5, 1957, an estimated crowd of 55,000 watched the Soviet
Union battle Sweden at Moscow's Lenin Stadium during the gold medal
game of the IIHF World Championship.
The idea for the MSU-Michigan outdoor game was the
brainchild of MSU assistant David McAuliffe who suggested it years
earlier to head coach Ron Mason.
"Ron laughed and said, 'When you're the head
coach, you put it together, and I'll come watch,"' McAuliffe said.
"Then I brought up the idea again (in 2000)
and Ron laughed again, but (associate athletic director) Mark Hollis
said, 'That's a heck of an idea.' Hollis looked into it and helped
to make it happen."
The $600,000 US cost to stage the event meant MSU
had to draw at least 50,000 fans in order to break even. Most critics
snickered, saying they'd be lucky to draw 30,000 - even in a college
hockey hotbed such as Michigan.
But it was the Spartans who had the last laugh, selling
their original allotment of 61,000 tickets in nine days. Demand
was so great that scalpers were selling tickets with face values
of $10 and $18 US for $100 the day of the game.
MSU sparred no expense in making the game a memorable
Gordie Howe, "Mr. Hockey" himself, dropped the ceremonial
opening faceoff after players from both teams walked through a smoke-filled
tunnel to the portable ice rink situated between the 20-yard lines.
Country singer Shannon Brown performed during the
first intermission and a laser-light show kept the crowd entertained
during the second, while MSU cheerleaders, clad in sweat suits and
toques, did their dance routines along the football sidelines.
While Saturday's game won't come close to equalling
the world-record mark, it will shatter the NHL attendance record.
The Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning played an Apr. 23,
1996 playoff game before 28, 183 fans at Tropicana Field.
And don't be surprised if more outdoor games are
scheduled in the future.
The Detroit Red Wings have already explored the possibility
of playing a game at the 40,120-seat Comerica Park - home of Major
League Baseball's Detroit Tigers - next season.
"We've looked into it," Jimmy Devellano, Red
Wings senior vice-president said. "It's something we've examined
with the NHL, but it's not happening this year."
with files from Associated Press