The NHL’s outdoor game in Regina doesn’t have a player from the province of Saskatchewan in it, or even a Western Hockey League Regina Pats alumnus.
So the player with perhaps the strongest emotional tie to Saturday’s Heritage Classic between the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets at Mosaic Stadium is Flames defenceman Travis Hamonic. The 29-year-old from St. Malo, Man., played his major junior hockey for the Moose Jaw Warriors — less than an hour’s drive west of the provincial capital on the Trans-Canada and thus the traditional rival of the Pats.
A concussion kept Hamonic out of the 2014 Stadium Series at Yankee Stadium when he was a New York Islander, so he’ll play his first outdoor games on the Prairies.
“Unfortunately I had to watch that one from the side, but I’ve got a chance now to do it in Western Canada at home,” Hamonic said.
“The Prairie provinces are certainly close to my heart, so I think it’s going to be better this time around.”
While there is a dearth of home-province representation Saturday, about 22 current NHL players hail from Saskatchewan, including 2019 Stanley Cup winners Tyler Bozak (Regina), Jaden Schwartz (Wilcox) and Brayden Schenn (Saskatoon) of the St. Louis Blues.
The province punches above its weight in per-capita representation, with 516 players from Saskatchewan winning a combined 171 Stanley Cups in NHL history.
Hamonic played for Canada in the 2010 world junior hockey championship in Saskatoon and Regina.
Given his roots, Hamonic can’t help but be aware of the Canadian Football League rivalry between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders.
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Since Mosaic is the home of the Roughriders, he expects to see green football jerseys mingling with Calgary red and Winnipeg blue.
“I would imagine. Probably some watermelons on the heads too I think,” he said.
The Jets (5-6-0) are the “home” team, while the Flames (6-5-1) are the road team in the NHL’s 28th outdoor game since 2003 and ninth in the last three years.
‘Great hockey fans’
“I would imagine the crowd will be pretty split,” Hamonic said. “Great hockey fans in Saskatchewan as a whole. They support their junior teams tremendously and obviously support their football teams.
“They love their sports in Saskatchewan. I know that first hand.”
The actual games often take a back seat to the spectacle of the NHL’s outdoor events.
Both teams will wear vintage jerseys — the Jets their World Hockey Association uniforms of the 1970s and the Flames a mashup commemorating 40 years in the NHL and their 1989 Stanley Cup victory.
There have been rumours of Calgary’s coaching staff sporting cowboy hats, but head coach Bill Peters said earlier this week he didn’t know what headgear he’ll adopt.
Juno Award winners The Sheepdogs from Saskatoon will perform after the first period.
Fred Sasakamoose, one of the first Indigenous players in the NHL, as well as Manitoba’s Brigette Lacquette, the first First Nations woman to play for Canada in the Olympic Games, will participate in the ceremonial puck drop.
Calgary’s CFL stadium was the site of the 2011 Heritage Classic, in which the Flames shut out the Montreal Canadiens 4-0 at McMahon on Feb. 20.
‘It’s a little bit different’
Captain Mark Giordano and centre Mikael Backlund are the two players on the current Flames roster who participated in the second Heritage Classic seven years after the first in Edmonton.
“It’s a little bit different playing in an outdoor rink,” Giordano said. “Your depth perception is different because the stands are further away. You’ve got adjust to little things like glare on the ice.
“It’s an easy game to get up for. There’s a huge crowd out there and I’m sure this one is going to be great.”
Windchill of minus-17 at McMahon forced ice crews to hand spray the ice instead of running heavy resurfacing machines over it to avoid cracking.
Heaters behind the team benches kept players toasty, but not the spectators.
Regina’s forecast for the 8 p.m. local time puck drop is minus-2 with scattered flurries and a windchill of minus-9.
The Jets were shut out 3-0 by the visiting Edmonton Oilers at Winnipeg’s IG Field on Oct. 23, 2016, when the temperature was a relatively balmy 10 degrees.
But ice glare from sunlight delayed puck drop by two hours.
Adam Lowry, who played for the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos, and defenceman Josh Morrissey, a Prince Albert Raiders alum, are among 10 Jets who participated in 2016.
Overall, the Jets have 11 players with outdoor experience including Mark Letestu, who scored for the Oilers at IG Field.
The Flames have four including former Oilers Milan Lucic and goaltender Cam Talbot, who earned the 31-save shutout against the Jets in Winnipeg.
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