The weather co-operated, the home team won and it was standing room only at Canada’s first junior hockey game played outdoors Friday.
The host Fort McMurray Oil Barons downed the Drayton Valley Thunder 4-2 on a rink constructed on a soccer pitch near downtown.
The Northern Classic broke the previous Alberta Junior Hockey League’s attendance record of 4,400, drawing 5,726.
The NHL already stages annual outdoor games and the Western Hockey League will be the first of the three major junior leagues to take it outside later this winter with a pair of games.
The Junior ‘A’ Oil Barons, consisting of players between 16- and 20-years-old, wanted to be the first to have an outdoor game this season and were rewarded with near-perfect conditions.
There was no wind or snow and the frigid temperatures that had gripped northern Alberta earlier in the week loosened in time for the game.
It was about 10 C when the puck dropped. That was chilly enough as lines became longer and longer at heated concession tents, where supplies of hot chocolate ran low.
The game had a festival feel as live bands performed, children wrestled in the snow and spectators did the wave to keep warm.
Fort McMurray, known for its oilsands industry, is about 400 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, which is hosting the Grey Cup on Sunday.
Alberta has cornered the market so far on outdoor hockey games played in Canada. The NHL’s Edmonton Oilers hosted the 2003 Heritage Classic. Calgary will host the 2010 edition on Feb. 20 with an WHL game the following day.
The Canadian Press