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Sports

Buffalo Sabres become 1st U.S.-based team to play in NHL Heritage Classic

The Canadiens and Flames face off at the 2011 Heritage Classic in Calgary.
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The Canadiens and Flames face off at the 2011 Heritage Classic in Calgary.

The Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs will play the National Hockey League's 2022 Heritage Classic on March 13 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. Buffalo will become the first U.S.-based team to play in the Heritage Classic, which has previously included only Canadian teams.

This will be considered a home game for the Sabres, who were also the designated home team for an outdoor Winter Classic game versus the New York Rangers at Citi Field in New York City on New Year's Day 2018.

The temperature in Hamilton this past March 13 was a balmy 42 degrees, or five degrees Celsius.

This will be the league's 35th outdoor game following the Winter Classic on New Year's Day, which began Jan. 1, 2008 at what was then Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park between the Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins. Also outdoors this coming season, the late February Stadium Series game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators.

The game will be played under a mandate from the National Hockey League, which said it expects 98% of its players to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the start of the season. The league says that would mean only 10-15 players will not be vaccinated by the time the season begins Oct. 12.

The league and the Players' Association did not impose a vaccine mandate on players, but coaches and staff must be vaccinated as a condition of employment. Columbus recently replaced an assistant coach because he declined to be vaccinated.

Teams will be able to suspend unvaccinated players without pay if they cannot participate in hockey activities as part of the protocols, which could include games in Canada.

Fully vaccinated players will have any COVID-19 positives treated as hockey injuries and still be paid. Unvaccinated players also will have their movements restricted when on the road and there will still be regular coronavirus testing for vaccinated players.