Ontario Hockey League Classic: How an Outdoor Game Will Work for the OHL
The outdoor game is all the rage in hockey these days.
This year, the largest outdoor hockey game in history took place with the Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans facing off in the "Big Chill at the Big House." Heinz Field in Pittsburgh played host to hockey's megastars in Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin for this year's Winter Classic. McMahon Stadium did a laudable job this past weekend by bringing us the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames in a classic remake of the Flames' Stanley Cup victory.
The NCAA and NHL have been at this game for a while.
The CHL just got into it this year, hosting two outdoor games in the WHL. After the Flames and Habs kicked off the festivities at McMahon this weekend, the game was followed up by a WHL matchup between the Regina Pats and Calgary Hitmen, bringing two of the WHL's biggest markets together for a huge game.
So, why hasn't the OHL gotten into the mix yet?
There are some logistical problems with the O. There isn't an O team in a market with a McMahon Stadium. The three largest outdoor venues in Ontario for this kind event would be Rogers Centre, BMO Field and Ivor Wynne Stadium. The next possible venue would be Ottawa's Frank Clair Stadium, a CIS venue where the Ottawa Gee-Gees football team plays.
Who Should Host the First OHL Outdoor Game?
Frank Clair has a capacity of 25,000+ and could provide a suitable venue for an outdoor game hosted by the Ottawa 67's organization. While the 67's are one of the most historic organizations in the League, their division has failed in recent years to field a rival that would fit the kind of billing necessary to sell it as an outdoor game absent the presence of a larger NHL-presented Ottawa Senators outdoor game.
A similar problem would occur with Kingston's Richardson Memorial Stadium, home of the Queen's University Golden Gaels. Richardson's 10,000-person capacity is larger than the Frontenacs' current K-Rock home, but Kingston has rather regularly failed to support big OHL events, including a dismal effort for last year's All-Star festivities. While Kingston has a standing rivalry with nearby Belleville, neither franchise has fielded a team worthy of national media attention the last two seasons.
There is one possibility for an OHL outdoor game.
London's TD Waterhouse Stadium, home of the University of Western Ontario Mustangs, can be expanded to a capacity of 16,000 if necessary. The Knights are a first-class organization capable of hosting major events, as shown in the past with the Memorial Cup and World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. The Knights are always competitive and have a long history of producing top-flight NHL talent from Rick Nash to Patrick Kane.
The Knights also have a heated rivalry in another major OHL market in the Kitchener Rangers.
The Rangers fanbase has supported a Memorial Cup, a Top Prospects game and a Russian Super Series game in the last decade. The organization has spawned NHLers like Derek Roy, Mike Richards, David Clarkson and most recently Jeff Skinner. It's rabid fans would have no trouble moving the blue, white and red mob an hour down the 401.
Both these teams regularly play nationally televised games on Sportsnet and one would have to figure they could carry this as a national event with two rabid fanbases capable of filling those 16,000 seats.
If the OHL gets into the outdoor craze, it's got a recipe for success already.
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