February 24, 2011 at 1:37 am

Ted Kulfan: NHL Insider

Canada outdoor game proves to be a success

Rene Bourque (17) scored twice for the Flames in their 4-0 victory over the Canadiens in the Heritage Classic. (Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

Sure, the Winter Classic was fine with two marquee teams — Pittsburgh and Washington — kicking off the new year,In fact, there hasn't been a bad experience with the Jan. 1 showcases.

But let's give some praise to last weekend's Heritage Classic, the outdoor game held in Calgary matching the Flames and Canadiens.

Now, thatwas hockey at its grass roots.

The temperature was below zero (celsius), and winds were gusting. But the smaller-scale football stadium in Calgary (about 40,000 fans) made it more intimate.

"It's right up there (with) playing your first game, scoring your first goal, things like that," said Calgary forward Rene Bourque, who scored twice in the 4-0 Flames victory. "It's just fun to be part of this and playing in front of these people, especially when you're sitting on the bench and you're looking out and seeing 40,000 people, cold outside. But they're cheering loud and having a good time."

So, where does the NHL go from here?

"Some of the preliminary research we've seen says our fans want more of these," commissioner Gary Bettman said. "They don't care how many as long as they get one.

"Obviously you can't do an unlimited number and we don't want to dilute it. We thought it was important to go to a second game this year and have one in Canada. But you've asked the question which we haven't yet answered."

It's a good bet, though, we'll continue to see one outdoor game in Canada every season.

And we should.

The ringer

This is a great story from Flames forward Alex Tanguay , about his family coming to Denver in 2000 during the Christmas holidays.

Alex's brother Maxime , 12 at the time, wanted to play outdoor hockey with Alex, who was playing with the Avalanche.

Alex obliged by finding a frozen mountain lake in the Denver suburb of Evergreen.

"When you're a young kid and your brother is in the NHL, it's always nice to go out and skate with your brother," Alex said. "So we go out and we get to the pond, and there's four guys playing hockey."

One of the players asked Alex if they wanted to split the teams.

"No, we'll take us two against you four," Alex said.

Sure enough, Alex Tanguay skated rings around the foursome until they figured out he's an NHL player.

"I was getting my brother to score every goal," Alex Tanguay said. "That was quite an experience for me."

Winnipeg Thrashers?

For the few remaining hockey fans in Atlanta, the possibility of their beloved Thrashers moving is increasing by the week.

Michael Gearon , one of the team's co-owners, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution there is a "sense of urgency" to find a buyer or investor to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta.

If no one steps forward, the possibility of an outsider buyer relocating the team (Winnipeg?) becomes a possibility.

"If we are faced with that as the only alternative, that's what's going to happen," Gearon said. "I don't think there is an ability to stomach another $20 million in losses. We just can't do it.

"We need fans showing up and we need investors."

By the numbers

6 -- Consecutive road victories for the Blue Jackets

9 -- Points the Devils are out of eighth place in the East (27 back Jan. 8)

16 -- Victories for Devils in last 19 games (16-1-2)

Helping hands

The longest assists streaks:

PlayerTeamStreak
Keith YandlePHX9 games (Jan. 11-26)
Loui ErikssonDAL9 (Dec. 28-Jan. 15)
John-Michael LilesCOL9 (Oct. 7-26)
Daniel SedinVAN8 (Jan. 18-Feb. 4)
R.J. UmbergerCLB8 (Nov. 10-26)

Young guns

The top rookies in goals:

PlayerTeamGoals
Michael GrabnerNYI25
Logan CoutureSJ24
Jeff SkinnerCAR22
Taylor HallEDM20
Brad MarchandBOS19
Derek StepanNYR16
Bryan BickellCHI14

Quotable

"I'd rather not look like a mutant when I'm done playing."

-- Brenden Morrow, Stars forward, who is wearing a visor after taking a puck to the face in mid-December

ted.kulfan@detnews.com

(313) 223-4606