‘Hey, what about an outdoor game?’: How the NHL Heritage Classic came to Regina

Click to play video '‘Hey, what about an outdoor game?’: How a marquee NHL event came to Regina' ‘Hey, what about an outdoor game?’: How a marquee NHL event came to Regina
WATCH: The Heritage Classic was a Dustin Byfuglien-sized hit in the the Queen City. But not too long ago, the big game was just a big idea – Oct 27, 2019

The Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic was a big hit in the Queen City this weekend.

It saw thousands of fans and tourists pack a virtually sold-out Mosaic Stadium to watch the Winnipeg Jets top the Calgary Flames in overtime under a picture-perfect light snowfall.

But not too long ago, the big event was just a big idea.

The Winnipeg Jets celebrate their win over the Calgary Flames in overtime of the NHL Heritage Classic outdoor hockey game in Regina on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. The Jets defeated the Flames 2-1. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards

READ MORE: Little lifts Jets past Flames 2-1 in OT in Heritage Classic

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“One of the first calls I made was to the NHL when I started transitioning to this new role at Evraz Place (which includes Mosaic Stadium). It was, ‘Hey, what about doing an outdoor game?'” said Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL) CEO Tim Reid.

Reid joined the REAL team in early 2018 with a career in wealth management under his belt. He arrived following a stint leading Edmonton-based non-profit Northlands, which managed the facility home to the Edmonton Oilers before they moved to Rogers Place.

“We had great contacts at the time with the Jets, Flames and also the Oilers, so we reached out to everyone about doing a game,” recalled Reid.

Mosaic Stadium was almost unrecognizable by the time the big game arrived. File / Global News

But bringing the idea to life wasn’t without its challenges. Reid and the REAL team found themselves trying to stand out against major markets like Dallas and Colorado, which had also expressed interest in the event. Both locations are home to massive open-air stadiums.

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“Though we’re a big CFL stadium, we’re not necessarily a big outdoor football stadium,” said Reid.

That wasn’t enough to stop Reid and his team, though. With the help of grants from the City of Regina, the province, and the Regina Hotel Association — grants motivated in part by REAL’s estimation that the event could have a $15-million local economic impact — Reid and his team were able to put forward a competitive bid to the NHL, which ended up seeing an opportunity in what might logically be the Queen City’s weakness when it comes to high-profile hockey.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to Global News ahead of puck drop. Jon Guignard / Global News

READ MORE: Heritage Classic events a major boost to Regina’s economy

“For us, this was a chance to bring a neutral-site game to Canada for the first time, to a place where we know there are great sports fans, where hockey really matters and this is a great stadium,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “It might be the best one in Canada.”

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The NHL’s Heritage Classic has previously been held in Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg. Regina is the smallest Heritage Classic market yet. T

he NHL also puts on outdoor games under the Winter Classic and Stadium Series monikers.

“This is our 28th outdoor game. My team said everybody here, the organization, was outstanding.”

Fans young and old dove into a week’s worth of hockey-related festivities ahead of Saturday night’s game. Dave Parsons / Global News

READ MORE: Hockey fans unite on neutral ground at Heritage Classic in Regina

Reid, who has also helped bring such live-entertainment giants as the Eagles and Garth Brooks to Regina, says all the hard work was more than worth it to see the jerseys, fanfare and overall excitement envelop the Queen City.

Regina Tourism declared the week leading up to the game Hockey Week in Regina and offered free skating at the Brandt Centre, a hockey film festival and more during the leadup to the game to get people in the mood.

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Even after the Jets’ Bryan Little beat Flames goalie David Rittich in overtime, the hockey furor continued — the Regina Pats and Calgary Hitmen took to the outdoor ice Sunday in what was billed as the WHL Prairie Classic.

“As a citizen and as a CEO it makes me really proud that this is about more than just hockey — it’s about community-building and a passion for sport, which I think is so healthy in our community,” said Reid.

“This, I think, is a statement not only to the rest of Canada but also the rest of North America, that if you’re looking for a great place to bring an event, Regina should be one of your first calls.”