The Critical 'I'

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Saturday, November 22, 2003

pond hockey
Tonight the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens will make NHL history when they play before some 70,000 spectators at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium in a unique outdoors game. (Check out the behind-the-scenes actions in building the outdoor rink.) I wish I could see it; obviously I'm not going to Edmonton, and it's not going to be on TV for me until next week.

I've seen this game being hyped as the first outdoor game in NHL history. I'm not sure if the league has confirmed that... I could swear that in the NHL's formative years, one of the teams (the Montreal Maroons, perhaps?) played their home games on an outdoor rink. I'm not in the mood to research it right now; if anyone knows, chime in.

Naturally, this being a record-setting event, there has to be a record that's being broken. That record belongs to--ta da!--the local NHL franchise, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts set the regular-season single-game attendance record ten years ago on Oct. 9, 1993, with 27,227 watching Tampa Bay lose to the first-year Florida Panthers 2-0 at St. Petersburg's ThunderDome (now known as Tropicana Field, or, as us locals call it, The Trop). I hate to see the home team lose out here, especially since I was part of that record-setting crowd. I was in the middle tier, and was astounded to see so many people fill up that huge cavern of a hockey arena. My clearest memory of the night was seeing the game in progress (great sightlines, truly was no bad seat, which was a miracle for such a non-hockey facility), and catching two Lightning players collide into one another in the middle of the ice. The charming early days of an expansion team, I tell ya...

Oh well. The team will have to take down the banner the proclaims it has the regular-season record. But, it can keep the banner that signifies the playoff single-game attendance record of 28,183, set April 23, 1996 versus Philadelphia. I wasn't at that game, but I did watch it on television, at a playoff party.

Update: It seems that 70,000 was a bit high. The final attendance tally was 57,167 who braved the subzero temperature to watch the hometown Oilers fall to the Habs 4-3. Not to mention the Oilers-Canadiens alumni game featuring Wayne Gretzky, where the Oilers old-timers won 2-0.