The forerunner of the NHL's popular outdoor Winter Classic on New Year's Day was held on Nov. 22, 2003 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. It was a doubleheader."We originally planned to have the old timers game and the main game on separate days," former Oilers GM Kevin Lowe says. "But we were really fearful that the actual game wouldn't sell as well as the old timers game. [We thought] people would go to the old timers game because you've got Gretzky, Messier, Lafleur -- it doesn't get any better than that. So the likelihood was that we'd sell out for the old timers game and maybe get half a stadium for the actual game."
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Temperatures in Edmonton were a balmy -30 Celsius (-22 Farenheit) on the morning of the game, but the hardy fans didn't seem to mind.
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The old timers game between stellar Edmonton alumni such as Wayne Gretzky and former Montreal stars was played in two 15-minute halves.
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Former Oilers captain Mark Messier, the only active player (he needed permission from his current club, the New York Rangers, to participate) led his troops to a 2-0 win over the Canadiens alumni.
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A vision from the Glory Days of the Oilers dynasty: famed alumni Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Esa Tikkanen, Glenn Anderson, and Mark Messier.
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By the time the game between the current Oilers and Canadiens started, tk Stadium was filled with more than 57,000 fans. The CBC TV broadcast of the event attracted 2.7 million viewers.
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Canadiens netminder Jose Theodore warded off the bitter cold by wearing a toque, a fashion statement that later made an appearance in the first Winter Classic, at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008.
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Yanick Perreault (94) scored two goals for the Canadiens.
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Richard Zednik (20) opened and closed the scoring for Montreal.
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Mike Ribeiro (71), who had an assist on Yanic Perreault's first goal, and Craig Rivet (52), who assisted on the second, watched as Richard Zednik's winning tally got by Edmonton's Ty Conklin at 14:18 of the third period. Final score: 4-3, Canadiens. (Eric Brewer, Jarret Stoll and Steve Staios scored for the Oilers.)
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The Heritage Classic proved to be a rousing success and was fondly remembered -- so fondly that it later inspired the creation of the Winter Classic and was scheduled for a reprise on March 20, 2011 in Calgary where the Flames will battle the Canadiens.
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