Thursday, January 23, 2014

Tommy Gun's Outdoor Winter Classic - A True Hockey Celebration

The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks may be playing at the legendary hockey setting that is Dodger Stadium (nothing screams “Hockey” like palm trees). A true celebration of the game, however, takes place in Red Deer again this weekend.

The 4th annual Tommy Gun’s Outdoor Winter Classic [@TGWinterClassic] is on at the Bower Community Rink this weekend. Eight midget teams hit the outdoor ice for games starting Friday afternoon and running through Sunday afternoon.

This year, four Red Deer midget teams are joined this year by squads from Grande Prairie, Lloydminster, Claresholm and Kelowna.

“We just wanted to do a Midget ‘A’ tournament and there was never any ice to do it,” explains Tournament Organizer Al Sim. “We originally planned to do an indoor tournament but something got lost and we never got the indoor ice time. So we looked at the outdoor winter classic the NHL was doing and decided ‘Why don’t we do that too?’”

(more below)

One of the aspects of this tournament that truly show it is a celebration of the true spirit of the game is that it features teams at the Midget ‘A’ level as opposed to elite level teams. Sim says that’s no accident.

“The ‘AA’ and ‘AAA’ kids get to ride the buses and get the second sets of uniforms and all of the accolades that come with elite hockey. We wanted to make something that is a lasting memory for the recreational divisions. These are the kids who play hockey their whole lives and never get to see those kinds of benefits.” 

Photo from 2012
One of those benefits for the players will be getting a pretty cool jersey to take home. Each year, the tournament celebrates a theme when it comes to the jerseys each teams wears during games. In year one it was the Original Six plus the Flames and Oilers while in year two it was the 1967/68 Expansion Era. Last year honoured the 1920’s era NHL and this time around it is “Defunct NHL Teams” that are being honoured. Teams will be decked out in colours paying homage to the Atlanta Flames, Quebec Nordiques, Cleveland Barons, California Golden Seals, Colorado Rockies, Hartford Whalers and Winnipeg Jets (the classic 80’s version). The retro jerseys make for fantastic viewing for fans and great fun for the kids wearing them in action.
Twitter: @TGWinterClassic
In addition to the eight midget teams, a pair of novice teams will hit the ice in a tournament “rivalry” that was added last year. They too will be donning out in special silks honouring the 1987 Canada Cup.

“We’ve copied those Team Canada and Russian CCCP jerseys and put all of those names on the back of them,” explains Sim. “Names like Gretzky and Lemieux, Tocchet and Sutter for Canada, Kasatonov and Khomutov and those guys for the Russians. It’s funny to see these seven year old players skating up and down the ice in these Cold War era jerseys.”

The atmosphere for the Tommy Gun’s Outdoor Winter Classic is unmatched by any other hockey tournament in the city. “Festival-like” would be the best way to describe the setting which includes an on-site concession, great silent auction items and entertainment. Having attended in the past, I can tell you it truly is something to behold.

A huge kudos goes out to all of the volunteers and sponsors who come together for this event each year. Sim says it costs over $90,000 to put on so the fact that they are putting it on for a fourth straight year says a lot about their great efforts.

Game action at the 4th annual Tommy Gun’s Outdoor Winter Classic gets underway at 5pm Friday at the community rink in Bower (on Boyce Street).  Here’s hoping the weather isn’t so warm that it wreaks havoc on the ice conditions!


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