By Curtis Wolff
Move on out Mark Giordano. Mikael Backlund, pack your bags. On Thursday, Feb. 6 the Calgary Flames will be vacating the premises, as the University of Calgary Dinos and Mount Royal University Cougars are set to take to the ice at the Saddledome in the second annual Crowchild Classic.
Last year’s inaugural event was a huge success, drawing 4,275 fans from both universities, good enough for a Canada West hockey attendance record. This year, they are taking aim at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport hockey record of 5,346.
“The momentum from last year is certainly carrying over. The idea of this whole crosstown rivalry has taken a lot more root in both schools,” said Dinos assistant athletic director Ben Matchett. “At last count more than 10,000 tickets had been distributed. Hopefully every one of those people shows up.”
The event is free for students and includes two games — the women play at 5 p.m. while the men drop the puck at 7:45 p.m. The Crowchild Classic will be the best opportunity to check out the men’s team in particular, who are the top-ranked team in the nation and have yet to lose in regulation time.
“From a hockey perspective it will be fantastic, especially the men’s game which will give them momentum going into the playoffs,” said Matchett.
“But it’s just a fun event. Budgets are an issue for students, we understand that. So it’s a free event that they get to go and experience the NHL vibe at the Saddledome with their PA announcer and their DJ, and their video content and all that kind of stuff, and it doesn’t cost you anything to go.”
The Dinos hockey program is largely overshadowed by the Flames and the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen, who both play to large crowds at the Saddledome. However the Dinos players see the Crowchild Classic as an opportunity to showcase their entertaining brand of hockey to students.
“I think a lot of people don’t really realize where we came from,” said third-year Dinos forward Max Ross. “Pretty much all of us played in the Western Hockey League and are getting better as players, so for the most part people don’t really understand the level of hockey that we’re playing. I think the recognition is getting better, but there’s a lot of work left to do.”
The Dinos hope the event is yet another building block in a solid year for the program marketing-wise. Last year’s rebrand was considered a success — merchandise sales are up and it’s hard to wander through MacHall without seeing a few red Dinos hoodies worn by student athletes and regular joes alike. The Dinos football team’s incredible Vanier Cup run was the highlight of the fall semester, and the Dinos hope to drum up support for the hockey team in the last half of the year.
“We have very few opportunities in a year to showcase our student athletes on a big scale like this. You can certainly count them on one hand,” said Matchett. “We treat it kind of like our second half Kickoff. It will be the biggest crowd of the year, across the board in any sport.”
Equally important for the Dinos is the experience that the event offers for their student athletes, who toil year round for relatively little recognition from the student body.
“I’ll never forget watching our women’s team going onto the ice last year, and just the awe factor for them to be going out and being on the Flames’s bench, and they are out there skating with the full NHL experience,” said Matchett. “We just hope we can pack it to make it an even more impressive atmosphere for them this year.”