December 15, 2017

Inmates, Grasshoppers and Attendance records – A Look Back at Outdoor Hockey Games

Outdoor Game announcement Ottawa 67's vs Olympiques on the field at TD Place

This weekend at TD Place promises to be an exciting one for hockey fans. You start off on Saturday with the NHL 100 Classic and the fun continues on Sunday with the Ottawa 67’s Outdoor Game. This weekend also marks many firsts – the first outdoor game for the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa, the first-ever outdoor game played by the Ottawa 67’s, the first outdoor junior hockey game in Ontario and the first time hockey players could get into a snowball fight during the game (OK, maybe not).

Outdoor games and NHL teams go a long way back. The first game on record was more than 60 years ago when the Detroit Red Wings played an exhibition game against the Marquette Pirates in 1954. Something special about the Pirates? They were a team of inmates from the Marquette Branch Prison in Michigan. The Longest Yard anyone?

The first time two NHL teams faced each other in an outdoor game was more recent. In 1991, Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas hosted a pre-season game between the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers. The game was watched by around 14,000 spectators with The Kings winning it 5-2. Anything else of note? During the game, grasshoppers made the ice their playground and ended up getting frozen on it, resulting in a bug-littered playing arena.

In junior hockey, this Sunday’s game between the Ottawa 67’s and Gatineau Olympiques will be the first time that teams from the OHL and the QMJHL have faced each other in an outdoor game. The first CHL junior hockey outdoor game took place just six years ago. On February 21, 2011, WHL teams Calgary Hitmen took on the Regina Pats at the McMahon Stadium. This game was played as part of NHL’s 2011 Winter Classic. The Hitmen, the defending WHL champions that year, lost the game 3-2. Any grasshoppers? No. But this game set a junior league attendance record with 20,888 spectators.

In 2013, as part of the Hockeytown Winter Festival in Michigan, OHL teams played two games at Comerica Park, home of MLB’s Detroit Tigers. In the first game on December 29, 2013, the Windsor Spitfires defeated the Saginaw Spirit 6-5. In the second game, the Plymouth Whalers defeated the London Knights 2-1 in the shootout. Any grasshoppers here maybe? No such luck. But these games set the OHL and CHL attendance record. The first game set the record with 25,749 spectators only for the second game to break that record with an attendance figure of 26,384.

In 2015 it was the turn of the QMJHL teams to play in an outdoor game. The 2015 QMJHL Winter Classic was held in Saint-Tite, Quebec and two-day event saw two games being played, both involving the local team – the Shawinigan Cataractes. In the first game, the local boys defeated the Victoriaville Tigres 4-2 but lost the second contest 3-2 to Quebec Remparts. Around 13,000 fans watched both the games. Tidbits? The games were held at the Grandes Estrades Coors Banquet, the same venue where the Festival Western de Saint-Tite has been held every year since 1967. Outdoor rodeo to outdoor hockey…

From inmates, grasshoppers to attendance figures, outdoor games have always created history. And another chapter will be written this Sunday. Not to mention, the excitement on the ice…