Montreal tops Oilers in subzero conditions

Posted: Sunday, November 23, 2003

EDMONTON, Alberta Sporting a ski cap over his goalie mask, Jose Theodore could see his own breath and recall his mother's advice.

''When I was 11 or 12 years old, I remember my mom always said, 'Put a tuque on, you'll catch a cold,'' Theodore said. ''I just wanted to make sure she's not going to say anything when I go back home, so I put a tuque on.''

Braving temperatures that hovered around zero, and a wind chill that reached 15 below Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 in the NHL's first outdoor game.

Theodore made 34 saves in the night game, and Yanic Perreault and Richard Zednik each scored two goals to lead the Canadiens to victory in front of a record crowd of 57,167 at Commonwealth Stadium a football arena.

And that was only the tip of the iceberg as the Oilers said they received requests for more than 700,000 tickets.

''If that's the last game that's played outside, we wanted to be part of history as being the team that won,'' Canadiens forward Joe Juneau said.

The all-day Heritage Classic followed an old-timers game that featuring former superstars such as Wayne Gretzky and Guy Lafleur and celebrated the role of outdoor hockey in Canadian culture.

The temperature was 1 below at the start, and players sat on heated benches wearing special long underwear and ski hoods beneath their helmets that covered their ears, heads and necks.

''It's like when we used to go outside as kids and play, then come in for a hot chocolate and go back out,'' Theodore said. ''That's what we did tonight.''

Theodore raced to the bench at the commercial breaks to warm his hardened catching glove and blocker. It worked, as he stopped 27 of 28 shots in the first two periods.

''I was throwing off my gloves and they were putting them on the heater,'' Theodore said. ''We got the two points, that's all I care.''

Richard Zednik, who had two goals for Montreal, said he enjoyed the experience, but not the extreme cold.

''At the bench I was warm,'' he said. ''I didn't like to be on the bench before, but now I was excited to come back and sit.''

Yanic Perreault also scored two goals for Montreal, and Steve Staios had a goal and two assists for Edmonton. Jarret Stoll and Eric Brewer got the other Oiler goals in what coach Craig MacTavish called a good effort ruined by bad bounces caused by chippy ice from the extreme cold.

''It was a great day with one exception,'' he said. ''They got the better of the bounces.''

The game started 20 minutes late as work crews tried to smooth the ice after complaints expressed by the old-timers. In the stands, the overflow crowd more than double the previous NHL record of 28,183 set April 23, 1996, for a playoff game at Tampa Bay sat bundled in parkas, fleeces, snowsuits and even sleeping bags. They jumped up for the wave perhaps a bit more than usual.

Perreault and Zednik each scored in the second and third periods for Montreal. Theodore was strong in the first two periods, allowing only a rebound jammed in by Eric Brewer for the defenseman's first of the season. Steve Staios had a goal and two assists, and Jarret Stoll added a goal and assist for Edmonton.

When Perreault scored his second early in the final period, some spectators headed home after six hours or more, despairing at the two-goal Oilers deficit. A late goal by Staios got the crowd cheering and dancing again, but Theodore held off Edmonton the rest of the way.

The game was played on a rink built in the middle of the stadium, complete with boards and protective glass and surrounded by ice and snow.

In the old-timers game, Gretzky was unable to revive the old magic but his Oilers alumni defeated the Canadiens 2-0. Ken Linesman had a goal and assist, and Grant Fuhr and Bill Ranford teamed to stop all 26 Montreal shots.

A poster at one end of the stadium featured a black-and-white photo of a boy skating with a stick on a frozen pond, with the slogan: ''In the heartland of hockey.''

''It's the biggest event in hockey. The Olympics were pretty big last year, but this beats it all,'' said Lee Hrycun, 21, who arrived two hours early wearing an Oilers Stanley Cup banner like a Superman cape. ''The whole hockey world is watching.''

Hrycun didn't mind the cold, wearing five shirts topped by an Oilers jersey and the banner, four pair of pants, a wool cap and a huge smile.

''I get to watch Gretzky play. I never got to watch him play live, and I get to do that now,'' he said. ''How could you miss it? I'm not surprised there's so many people here.''

For Gretzky, a Hall of Famer, the old-timers game was his chance to bid a final farewell to Oilers fans 15 years after he was traded from the team and city he made famous.

Saying it would be his last game, he joined former teammates Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Kevin Lowe and others from the glory days of the 1980s, when the Oilers won five Stanley Cups in seven years.

Messier, still a member of the New York Rangers, received permission to skate in the exhibition game against such Canadiens as Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Steve Shutt and Guy Lapointe.

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