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Heritage Classic: Oilers Ground Jets in Road Victory

For the 14th time over the last 13 years, the road team prevailed yet again in an NHL outdoor regular season game. The league leading 5-1 Edmonton Oilers forced a split at the weekend Heritage Classic in Winnipeg by blanking the Jets 3-0 on Sunday afternoon. 24 hours earlier the home alumni team, led buy Teemu Selanne with five points (2-3), defeated Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and the Northern Alberta alumni 6-5.
 
After the alumni game on Saturday, the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation presented the Oilers with a check for $100,000 to help at risk and underprivileged youth in their community. Edmonton returned no charity efforts on Sunday with a three-goal 2nd period sandwiched between two uneventful frames of pro hockey.
 
“It’s easier to be the road team. I’m convinced of that now in these events” Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. “(At) San Jose we were the home team. There’s way more distractions. It feels like it’s a bit of a circus at times when you’re a home team. We were able to just focus. We had a good practice yesterday. Our penalty kill was exceptional. This team lit us up in the exhibition season, and there were some things we had to fix, and we did that. Goaltending was fine, a good team effort.”
 
It was a picture perfect late October day in southern Manitoba for the earliest outdoor game that has ever been scheduled in season. But an unexpected sun delay push the game back almost two hours from its 2 p.m. Central start time, sending fans patiently to the beer tubs and hot dog stands. Guy Ash, a local meteorologist from Precision Weather Solutions told me pre-game after meeting with commissioner Gary Bettman that the sun glare was too intense reflecting off the white ice and the rays needed time to drop behind the stadium’s west side. A local Winnipegger, Ash also does contract weather watching services for the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers at the same stadium.
 
The game delay allowed for a sellout crowd of 33,240 to all be accounted for inside Investors Group Field for the Canadian anthem by Canadian Country artists Brett Kissel with Doc Walker and the ceremonial puck drop by Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Dale Hawerchuk. Unlike the last Heritage Classic game I attended in 2011, with Thompson Square performing the US national anthem in Calgary, no anthem for the States was slated (probably due to a little uproar 5 years ago).
 
Although the opening pace of play seemed rather slow, the hometown Jets tested the Oilers with 10 good shots on goal in the 1st period. Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice talked about his team’s start out of the gate:
 
“The home teams have a tendency to want to put on a show a little bit, and it was the best outdoor ice I’ve ever skated on in my life, still not quite NHL normal rinks, and we did some things with the puck that the home team wants to do to make a play…We came out of the gate…we played our best hockey in the first 20, all fired up for them, and couldn’t get it to go.”
 
After Canadian “folk pop-grass” band The Strumbellas performed during the first intermission, the action on the ice picked up quite a bit. Edmonton’s second penalty of the game nine minutes into the 2nd by Darnell Nurse (1-0 +1) turned into a short-handed breakaway game-winning goal. Mark “The Test Tube” Letestu (1-0 +1) stole the puck from Dustin Byfuglien (-2 30:18 TOI) near center ice and finished on a single deke beating Connor Hellebuyck low glove side.
 
“The ice felt a little bit smaller” Connor said. “We were raised up too and that was a little different.”
 
Eight seconds after jumping from the penalty box, Nurse took a great feed from first-year captain Connor McDavid (0-1 +1) and scored the Oilers second goal in less than two minutes. Just over six minutes later, Zack Kassian (1-1 +2) was the recipient of a sweet backhanded spin pass from Benoit Pouliot (0-1 +1) and snapped it high glove side for the final goal of the night.
 
“I think playing for the Oilers” McDavid stated about the past and present, “I certainly feel that it’s such a family, along with the alumni, we kind of came together, and get to know each other a little bit. We had a good dinner…on Friday night when everyone was kind of mixed in and mingling, which was good. I think that’s something that’s a little bit unique to this team or this organization is they include in the alumni in just about everything.”
 
Winnipeg native and sportscaster Scott Oake help Jets fans relive great moments in team history during the second intermission. Besides frustration penalties from Winnipeg’s Mathieu Perreault (-1 20:20 TOI) and Tyler Myers (19:06 TOI), not much happened in the 3rd period besides Edmonton’s Cam Talbot becoming only the third goalie to record an outdoor game shutout with 31 saves.
 
“They came out flying like we expected they would” Cam explained. “We weathered the storm a little bit and got out of that first period, came out pretty hard in the second there, and Test got a big shorthanded goal and got us started…we probably could have come out a little harder.”
 
And that’s a wrap from the littlest big city north of the border. Edmonton (5-1) is atop the NHL standings while Winnipeg (2-3) at the bottom of the Central Division is looking for answers. Maybe Jacob Trouba can help?
 
Sportsology 3 Stars of the Game
#1 EDM G Cam Talbot…31 save shutout
#2 EDM Mark Letestu…GWG shorthanded
#3 EDM Zack Kassian…2 pts & 2 hits
 
What city would you like to see host the next NHL #HeritageClassic…Montreal? Quebec City? Vote in our Twitter Poll @Sportsology & follow Chicago-based reporter Jonathan West @JonathanSWest

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