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Hockey fans shrugging off the cold at the Heritage Classic in Calgary

Hockey fans cheer the Montreal Canadiens and the Calgary Flames during the first period of the NHL Heritage Classic in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

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Hockey fans cheer the Montreal Canadiens and the Calgary Flames during the first period of the NHL Heritage Classic in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY - Crazy for hockey or just plain crazy?

More than 40,000 fans showed up for Sunday's Heritage Classic between the hometown Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens, seemingly undeterred by cold temperatures and a bitter -20 C windchill despite bright sunshine an hour before the game was to begin.

Add to that the distance from the upper deck down to the ice surface and you have to wonder why it is the hottest ticket in town.

"Honestly it's for the experience," said Brock Anibbs of Bow Island, Alta. "I don't think it will happen again, at least in Calgary. It's just the pride. The people here, the camaraderie, everything. It's amazing."

Anibbs, who wore a Canadiens jersey, said the distant view was not a problem.

"I don't really care. It's the experience," he said. "There are 40,000 people outdoors, and it's supposed to be minus eight.

"Who cares? It's going to be a party and a half."

Courtney Stensrud, dressed up in her Calgary Flames jersey, was quick to point out her friend was actually an Edmonton Oilers fan and was wearing Montreal colours in an 'Anyone but Calgary' approach to the game.

She said it was to fun to be on hand to watch the game in an outdoor setting.

"It doesn't matter how cold it is we would come to this game," she said.

"Hockey started outdoors before it was indoors so it's just taking it back to its (roots). It's a Canadian sport. It's nice to experience how it was."

The view from the upper deck of McMahon Stadium was refreshing to say the least. A brisk wind seemed to find all areas of the stadium.

Many fans dressed in layers to stay warm.

"You gotta have warm socks, boots, tuques and lots of clothing and you need to move around a lot. When you sit in the stands and you don't move around you get cold pretty quick," said Habs fan Petros Bourodemos of Ladysmith, B.C., who was joined by his son Georgios.

"We love the Habs and it's close to home here and Calgary's a great place and the weather's awesome. We like cold weather so we're having a good time here."

Lifetime Montreal fan Gerry Nieuwesteeg is wondering where he went wrong. The resident of Fernie, B.C. was with his son Carter, 14, who is a diehard Flames fan.

"I was successful in many ways but I failed in one way. This is the end result of the final prodigy," he said with a chuckle. "The Habs are exciting to watch and if you've ever been to a Montreal game in Montreal you'll understand why I'm a Habs fan."

"I know that I've got good taste in a hockey team," his son replied.

NHL merchandise was flying off the shelves with long lineups at all the booths. The biggest sellers were a crimson and cream-striped Flames tuque with a mohawk fringe down the middle and the vintage Calgary jersey.

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