Hell freezes over in the capital clash between Ottawa and Montreal

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I know we don't usually cover hockey or sports on these pages at National Observer. But sometimes there are events that we just can't miss.

Last weekend's outdoor game between the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Canadiens, marking the 100th anniversary of the first ever game in the National Hockey League, was one of those nights. It made for great visuals, and well, hockey in bone-chilling temperatures IS​ national affairs in Canada, eh?

Photo essay by Alex Tétreault

The festivities were hosted at Lansdowne Park, near the core of downtown Ottawa. The usual Senators home is actually a 30-minute drive away at the Canadian Tire Centre, which is in the western suburb of Kanata.

The game came exactly 100 years after the very first NHL game, between the same two teams, on December 19, 1917. It was also branded as part of Ottawa's festivities for Canada's 150th anniversary.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a longtime Habs fan, was among more than 34,000 spectators along with his son Xavier. They greeted both teams as they headed onto the ice.

Justin Trudeau, Xavier, Habs, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his son Xavier greet the Montreal Canadiens as they head onto the ice for the Centennial game against the Ottawa Senators at Landsdowne Park on Dec. 17, 2017. Photo courtesy of the prime minister's Instagram account

It was so cold that spilled beer would freeze within seconds, with hand and feet warmers in short supply. You could almost say that hell was freezing over.

But fans from both teams braved temperatures of -11 degrees Celsius, dropping below -20 with the windchill, to watch the Senators beat the Canadiens 3-0.

This victory came exactly 100 years after the Habs defeated the Senators 7-4, backed by the goaltending of the legendary Georges Vézina and five goals by Joe Malone in the league's first ever game.

The Trudeau government set aside millions of dollars to build a controversial rink on Parliament's front lawn, to coincide with the Centennial Classic. The Parliament Hill rink was used for many activities leading up to the game and is open for public skating, but it was not used for the NHL game itself.

On Saturday, the fans were treated to fireworks and a passing CF-18 flyby, as well as a halftime show (well, two-thirds show, really) by an aging Canadian rock star and some special appearances from NHL legends of the past.

Here is the story in images.

Nearly 34 000 fans braved the cold temperatures at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa. The rink was built at the centre of the field usually used for CFL football, and the temperature dropped below -11 degree, with a windchill below -20. Photo by Alex Tétreault
Chapter 1

Festivities leading up to the game

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The Stanley Cup, the iconic trophy named after a former Canadian governor general, was on Parliament Hill last Friday for a couple of hours. They had it inside in a display trailer. But this photojournalist managed to get a sneak peak after convincing NHL officials to bring it outside for a quick, worthwhile photo-op.

As part of festivities for the NHL Centennial game and Canada's 150th anniversary, a 5.6 million dollar rink was built on Parliament Hill's front lawn.

Throughout the week, some activities have been held with varying degrees of relation to the NHL100 game, such as the Red-White Alumni game on Friday evening.

A few hours before the centennial game on Saturday, the Little Sens had a practice skate on the Hill, in front of Parliament, under the tutelage of two former Sens players, Pascal Leclaire and Chris Phillips.

They were followed right after by tryouts for the girls Team Ontario held by the Aboriginal Sport and Wellness Council of Ontario.

Indigenous girls do some warm up stretches prior to the tryout sessions. This session is to select members of Team Ontario to represent the province in Nova Scotia for the national tournament. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Some classic goalie warmup shots at the start of the tryout session. The Aboriginal Sport and Wellness Council of Ontario is selecting its team to compete at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championship with a very special background this year. Photo by Alex Tétreault
Chapter 2

Pre Game Events

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Ottawa is a city that appears to have healthy amounts of fans of Montreal and Ottawa, and perhaps even Toronto. So wasn't unusual to see the colours of both Montreal and Ottawa jerseys at game time.

Although some of the Senator fans may have been in a bad mood since their team's owner, Eugene Melnyk, had just made headlines for musing about moving his team to another city, due to low attendance.

Fans of both teams were congregating around the Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park. The NHL had setup a pregame zone with vendors and activities to entertain fans in the afternoon before the game, for those who wanted to brave the cold early. Photo by Alex Tétreault

As the sun went down, the wind picked up, the temperatures dropped and the game drew close, thousands of fans were lining up in the cold to go through security and get to their seats in the temporary outdoor arena. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Chapter 3

Pre-Game Show

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Fireworks and celebrity guests were a key part of the pregame and intermission shows.

Canadian pop singer Serena Ryder sang the national anthem along with 'vintage teams' stand-ins, and members of the Canadian Forces with flags and colours. The anthem was followed by a CF-18 fighter jet fly-by. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also in attendance with his son, Xavier. He gave a couple of interviews before the game, as this one with Ron MacLean of Hockey Night in Canada. Photo by Alex Tétreault
Chapter 4

Game Action

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Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price stops a shot from the Ottawa Senators. It was not enough, however, as the Habs still lost the game, 3-0. Price stood on his head for most of the game (not literally) and was still named the 3rd star of the game.

The puck drops in the Habs zone, with Plekanec and Duchene facing off. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson moves the puck away from the net in the last seconds of the game after his team scored an empty-netter. He recorded the fourth shutout of an NHL outdoor game. Photo by Alex Tétreault
Chapter 5


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Montreal Canadiens, old and new, with pyrotechnics getting ready for the national anthem.

As part of celebrating 100 years of NHL history, Mario Lemieux was awarded a plaque to commemorate what was voted the Greatest NHL Moment of all time. Lemieux was handed the award by his own childhood idol and former Habs great Guy Lafleur. The moment was for scoring five goals in five different ways in the same game on Dec. 31, 1988. Photo by Alex Tétreault
Chapter 6

All about the fans

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34 000 happy, cold, fans at Lansdowne Park, but the atmosphere was getting warmer as the game went on.

The cold weather did not dampen the atmosphere at Lansdowne Park. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Except perhaps for some Habs' fans. Photo by Alex Tétreault
With the beer liberally flowing, it seemed only a question of time until someone drunkenly figured he'd try to b-line it to the rink. He didn't make it too far and was swiftly escorted away by security. Photo by Alex Tétreault
Chapter 7

Halftime show with Brian Adams

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Well, two-thirds show, really, (during the second intermission) and more fireworks to warm up the place.

Bryan Adams sang a few songs between the second and third period. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Bryan Adams waves at the crowd after he walks on stage. He doesn't look too heavily dressed because the stage was equipped with heaters. Photo by Alex Tétreault
Chapter 8

End Game

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The Ottawa Senators' have a quick celebration after the empty net goal by Nate Thompson, sealing the game.

A team staffer is highfiving all players of the Senators as they're getting off the ice after their win. Photo by Alex Tétreault