TORONTO - The first-ever UUHA Winter Classic is in the books, and while the Wheatfield Souldiers did manage to pot two more goals than the Parkdale Lads, the final score was secondary to the warm glow inherent to playing two hours of hockey with friends under the stars.
Despite some choppy ice along the players' benches, conditions at High Park rink were close to ideal on the evening of Sunday, Feb. 19 with the temperature hovering around -2 degrees Celsius and no wind to speak of. Referee Peter Palermo dropped the puck on the inaugural UUHA Winter Classic at approximately 6:45 pm as the Lads (adorned in their familiar white, target-emblazoned sweaters) and Souldiers (donning their dark-green "W" jerseys for the occasion) settled in for two 45-minute periods of old-style, chicken-wire hockey. A full-gear affair, the game was played under standard UUHA rules, save for a few occasions where defensive-zone faceoffs were foregone in favour of ceded possession. All minor penalties were commuted to penalty shots, as well.
Forward Wes Gerbrandt put the Souldiers ahead first and made history in the process, scoring the first-ever UUHA Winter Classic goal approximately ten minutes into the 1st period. Kelly McCaig assisted on the tally, which bulged the twine just as goaltender John Sutton slid across to meet the rubber. Though a veteran of the Souldiers' roster, Sutton played the entire game as the Lads stopper, going up against Winnipeg counterpart Sheldon Shurland at the far end of the ice sheet. Next to light the figurative lamp was Souldiers' hyphenate Derek Domingos, whose successful penalty shot put the green side up by a pair. Mike Harkness would convert a passing play from Brad Sveistrup and visiting Winnipeg call-up Mike Case for the third and final goal of the opening frame.
But just as the Souldiers had dominated 1st period scoring, the 2nd saw the Lads' sticks come alive, starting with that of Tommy Gough, who found a familiar collaborator in linemate Kyle Welton to patiently push the puck past Shurland and just over the goal line for the white side's first marker. Welton followed shortly thereafter with one of his own, assisted by Rodney Merchant, whom the Lads had claimed off waivers from the Souldiers in order to balance the benches. Sveistrup struck next for the Souldiers, making good on a Case dish from behind the goal line (defenceman Mike Wilk also picked up an assist on the play). Then it was McCaig's turn to score, assisted by Eric Toth and Mike Harkness, putting his side up 5-2 in the process. The final goal of the game would put the Lads within two as talented spare Josh Smart finessed his dangle on the tricky outdoor ice to bury a feed from Mike Ryan and register the Lads' third goal of the period.
With the 2012 UUHA Winter Classic now in the annals as a successful exhibition contest, all who participated heartily agreed the league would be remiss not to incorporate a series of outdoor games in next year's regular season schedule. Stay tuned.