What a week is was to be an autograph collector, here in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Last weekend, Winnipeg hosted the 2016 Tim Horton's NHL Heritage Classic. The NHL Heritage Classic is played outdoors in football stadiums across Canada. The last Heritage Classic was held in Vancouver at B.C. Place, back in 2014. This year's Heritage Classic was full of festivities including an alumni game, which included some of the biggest names the hockey world has ever seen.
The celebration for the event kicked-off well before the actual game, which was played last Sunday, October 23, 2016. The Winnipeg Jets organization honored WHA legends: Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, before their October 19th game vs. Toronto Maple Leafs. By this time, a few autograph collectors from various parts of North America, had arrived in the city to graph the game. A few of these collectors were lucky enough to meet 2016 1st Overall Draft Pick, Auston Matthews. Matthews signed autographs and posed for pictures before heading to the MTS Centre to play.
The majority of Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers alumni began to arrive in the city as of last Thursday. With many social functions, appearances, and fan parties, I was fortunate enough to obtain autographs from hockey greats like Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Curtis Joseph, Dave Semenko, Doug Smail, Darrin Shannon, and Kelly Buchberger. Each of these players were kind and gracious with fans and autograph seekers alike.
Unfortunately, I was unable to see Wayne Gretzky, Teemu Selanne, and Mark Messier. Although these three hockey icons seemed to be elusive throughout the weekend, other collectors told me that they were able to get them. A friend of mine approached 'The Great One' on three separate occasions before he agreed to sign a puck and pose for a picture. The 'Finnish Flash' signed autographs throughout the weekend, I just happened to be elsewhere when he was doing so.
The Heritage Classic festivities also included free and paid autograph signings all over the city. The most notable free signing occurred last Saturday morning with NHL Hall of Famer, Mark Messier. The six-time Stanley Cup Champion signed promotional postcards at the Rogers store in the Polo Park Shopping Mall. Surprisingly, the line-up to meet the player with the second most total career points in NHL history only consisted of approximately 50 people. Messier was instructed to only sign the promo cards, but some were lucky to get outside items signed as he exited the building.
Other notable autograph signings in and around the city included Patrik Laine, Dale Hawerchuk, Mark Scheifele, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mike Krushelnyski, Craig Muni, and Dave Babych.
Current NHL Superstars: Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Milan Lucic did not shy away from signing autographs either. Many collectors reported getting multiple items signed by everyone.
All in all, the 2016 Heritage Classic was a great experience for fans and autograph collectors. Personally, I had a great time seeing old friends and meeting new ones. Last weekend was a testament to the fact that in-person autograph seeking is more than just trying to acquire signatures, it's also about getting out and socializing with people who share the same passion for the hobby.