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A Nostalgia about Nostalgia – Remembering the Heritage Classic

I have spent much of this week writing about the decennial of the Heritage Classic –  a pair of outdoor ice hockey games, played between both the regular and alumni Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadians hockey teams, at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on November 22, 2003. If you are not familiar with the event  this should help get a feel of what it was like:

Much of my interest in reflecting on this event has largely to do with my research – and, in particular, the fact an analysis of the Heritage Classic was my first major published research project.  I remain very proud of this paper, and I think it holds up very well.  You could also say that with the passage of time, now that I am comfortably ensconced at a research university, remembering this event has made me a bit nostalgic for my days as a doctoral student.  Certainly an unexpected nostalgia, but one that certainly happened for me while thinking about the ol’ HC this week.

In any case, I have been writing a research note about the impact and legacy of the Heritage Classic ten years on.  To summarize – I think it was a very successful event, in large part because it came about at the right time.  However, there has been little long-term local impact and that the template it created for the many, many, many outdoor events since have largely eliminated any of the broader cultural or emotional impacts.  In short, good event that’s been emulated far too often and, as such, its legacy is a bit tarnished.

However, I have – in some ways – separated the Heritage Classic into professional and personal reflections.  The professional, as mentioned above, has to do with my time as a student, the beginnings of my subsequent research in sport heritage, and what the event means now.  However, the personal has to do with many nights watching Gretzky et al at Northlands Coliseum with my dad, my brother and I fighting over who was going to get to see the Cup victory this year, my mother taking me to get autographs of the Oiler goaltending duo of Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog, and skating at the outdoor rink at Mayfield Community Hall until we had to go home. This was my childhood in Edmonton and, of course, it is a great source of nostalgia.  And, it was only fitting that I went to the Heritage Classic with two long-time friends – one who I have known nearly all of my life, the other a friend from early adulthood but who, also, knew what it was to grow up in Edmonton in the 1980s:

Terry Heritage Classic

The thing I will remember most about that day is not the cold, not the games, not even Gretzky skating out onto the quintessential Canadian landscape wearing his beautiful blue Oilers jersey.  Rather, I will remember my first glimpse of the rink – taken just before this photo – and my friend Terry saying to me, “Tomorrow, you are a researcher.  Today, you are 12 years-old.” And for that day, I absolutely felt like a kid again.


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