OTTAWA – As the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators battle for supremacy in Atlantic Division standings this weekend, the two NHL teams announced Friday they’re taking their long-standing rivalry outside.
“It’s the ultimate reality show,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters in Ottawa after announcing an outdoor game between the Sens and Canadiens on Dec. 16 to mark the league’s Centennial.
Ottawa will host the game at TD Place, home of the CFL Ottawa Redblacks, after plans fell through to hold the classic on Parliament Hill.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk wanted the game on the Hill, but government officials rejected the proposal over the cost and logistics involved in building an ice surface big enough, not to mention temporary seating for up to 40,000 fans.
Instead, an outdoor rink will be frozen onto the football field just three weeks after the CFL’s Grey Cup is played at TD Place, which will be expanded to 34,000 seats. The extra stands will be left up so that the Senators and Habs can use the venue.
The game will take place almost 100 years after Ottawa and Montreal met on the NHL’s opening night of Dec. 19, 1917.
It will also be the final event to celebrate the modern-day Senators’ 25th anniversary in the league, as well as Canadaâ€™s 150th birthday.
The fact the outdoor clash was announced Friday will only heat up the rivalry between the two teams as they prepare to go head to head in coming days, said Melnyk.
“This coming weekend you’ll see it,” he said. “I think it’s a very healthy rivalry.”
The Senators and Habs will meet this weekend starting Saturday night at the Canadian Tire Centre and Sunday at the Bell Centre, with the Senators heading back to Montreal next Saturday night to end the series.
The December game will mark the fourth time the Canadiens have played on an outdoor surface, all of them away games.
But it’s only the second for the Senators since the inaugural Heritage Classic was hosted by Edmonton at Commonwealth Stadium in 2003, and team captain Erik Karlsson couldn’t contain his excitement.
“We’re a smaller community, but we have a lot of passion,” Karlsson said.
“I think it’s going to be a great hockey game â€¦ we’re extremely excited as a team.”
In their first game in 1917, Montreal defeated the original Ottawa Senators 7-4.
– Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press