WINNIPEG — There will be many more showdowns between Patrik Laine and Connor MacDavid, but this one could be the coolest of all time.
Probably literally and perhaps figuratively.
The two young guns and their teammates on the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers, respectively, wage battle in the Heritage Classic on Sunday afternoon on a spectacular outdoor rink in the middle of Investors Group Field, home to the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
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The forecast calls for a high of 45 degrees with a 70 percent of rain showers in the morning, but the precipitation is expected to end several hours before the 2 p.m. CT opening faceoff.
Laine is coming off a three-goal performance — his hat trick was scored in less than 23 minutes — including the tying and winning goals in a 5-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday. The Oilers, meanwhile, defeated the St. Louis Blues 3-1 the same night with McDavid picking up a goal and an assist.
The teams will wear throwback jerseys to pay homage to their days in the World Hockey Association, the so-called “Rebel League” which operated from 1972-79. The Jets and Oilers were two of the four teams to merge into the NHL — the Quebec Nordiques and Hartford Whalers were the others — for the 1979-80 season.
More than 33,000 people will be in the stands for the game. The Jets sport a 2-2-0 record while the Oilers are 4-1-0.
Jets captain Blake Wheeler said the non-stop events surrounding the Heritage Classic weekend have been a “circus.”
“We haven't really had a whole lot of time as a team to try to focus ourselves,” he told the Winnipeg Free Press. “But I think once we come into the rink (Sunday), it's going to be pretty clear what the objective is. The circumstances and the big stage aside, it is just another game and we need to be prepared to play a certain way if we're going to give ourselves a chance to win (Sunday).”
The teams are experimenting with tinted visors and eye black to counter any glare off the ice.
Laine said he didn't notice any difference between the ice at IGF and the Jets home rink, the MTS Centre. Both sheets are artificial.
“I feel slow on every ice,” he told the Free Press. “I think it's going to be just fine.”
McDavid, the newly minted Oilers captain, said he was looking forward to playing outside, although it didn't take him back to his childhood as it would with many other Canadian kids.
“We tried to have a rink one winter but we had a small backyard. We wanted a pool and my dad wanted a deck and a hot tub and that kind of put a dent in the whole backyard thing,” McDavid told the Edmonton Journal.
In the Heritage Classic's opening act, the Winnipeg Jets alumni defeated their Oilers counterparts 6-5 on Saturday afternoon thanks to a last-second penalty shot goal by 46-year-old Teemu Selanne. Known as The Finnish Flash, Selanne was clearly the most dangerous player on the ice, finishing with two goals and three assists. He retired following the 2013-14 season.