Battles on Ice: Continuing the outdoor hockey trend

Outdoor hockey at TD Ameritrade Park

(Nati Harnik/Associated Press) TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., the site of an outdoor hockey doubleheader on February 9, 2013

TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, will host the Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice, an outdoor hockey doubleheader later today. First on the schedule, the Omaha Lancers take on their USHL rival, the Lincoln Stars, at 12:35 p.m. After that, the University of Nebraska-Omaha hosts the University of North Dakota in a critical WCHA matchup at 4:07 p.m.

UPDATE 3:00 p.m. 2/9/13: Due to poor ice conditions, the UNO-UND game has been postponed until 6:07 p.m.

With outdoor hockey games becoming a trend in various levels of hockey, now is a good time to look at their past, present, and future.

The Past

With the trend toward more outdoor games, hockey is returning to its roots:

In the early history of hockey, games were played outdoors on rivers, lakes, and other naturally occurring ice surfaces. In fact, the first indoor game, held in 1875, was a novelty at the time, yet after that the game moved inside. While the first Olympic hockey tournament, held in 1920, was played indoors, games at the first Winter Olympics in 1924 were the first of several such tournaments to be played outdoors.

When I think about the ideal location for hockey to be played outdoors, an item on my bucket list comes to mind: skate on Lake Louise in Alberta. To me, it just looks like hockey was meant to be played there.

Hockey on Lake Louise, Alberta

(daveybobby/Flickr) The rink on Lake Louise in Alberta

When I think of ideal locations, I don’t exactly think of Las Vegas; however, on September 27, 1991, in 85-degree weather, the Los Angeles Kings faced the New York Rangers in an exhibition game.

The Cold War is credited with popularizing the idea of outdoor hockey games in modern times. No, I don’t mean the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union; I mean the game played between college hockey rivals Michigan State University and the University of Michigan on October 6, 2001. The two teams skated to a 3-3 tie at Spartan Stadium in front of 74,544 fans, which at the time set the world record for the largest crowd at an ice hockey game.

Here’s a list of some milestones in outdoor hockey games since then:

  • November 22, 2003, the first regular season outdoor game in NHL history – the Montreal Canadiens beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 in the Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta.
  • January 1, 2008, the first NHL Winter Classic and the attendance record for the NHL – the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout at Ralph Wilson Stadium in New York in front of 71,217 fans.
  • December 11, 2010, the highest attended hockey game on record – in “The Big Chill at the Big House,” the Michigan Wolverines beat the Michigan State Spartans 5-0 in front of 113,411 fans.
  • September 14, 2012, the first hockey game held in an amphitheatre – Olimpija Ljubljana defeated Medveščak Zagreb 3-2 in Pula Arena, a Roman amphitheatre in Pula, Croatia. For photos, see the Flickr slideshow below.

Wikipedia has a detailed list of outdoor hockey games played throughout the world since the “Cold War” game, if you are interested in learning more.

Focusing back on college hockey, today’s game will mark the 12th time since 1991 that an outdoor game has been played in Division I men’s hockey. The last D1 game played outdoors was a 4-1 Michigan win over Ohio State at Progressive Field in Cleveland on January 15, 2012.

The Present

Lancers vs. Stars

As mentioned earlier, the first game of the “Battles on Ice” will be a USHL matchup of the Omaha Lancers and the Lincoln Stars. The game will mark the first time the USHL has played outdoors, and it has the potential of breaking the USHL attendance record.

The game holds great significance besides the milestones, as a heated rivalry and conference standings also come into play:

The matchup… marks the 117th all-time regular season meeting between the USHL rivals that are based only 60 miles apart.  Omaha has won 68 of the previous contests, including five of six this season, while Lincoln has earned 48 victories in the series.  Currently, they are separated by a single point in the USHL Western Conference standings as Omaha holds fourth place with a 25-17-0 record (50 points) and Lincoln is in the fifth position with a 23-14-3 mark (49 points).

UND and UNO fans attending the first game will want to keep an eye on the game, as the Stars and Lancers feature recruits for both college programs. A pair of cousins on the Stars, Paul LaDue and Luke Johnson, will return to their hometown of Grand Forks to play for UND. From the Lancers, Jake Randolph will attend UNO, while East Grand Forks native Tucker Poolman will attend UND.

UND vs. UNO

In the second game of the doubleheader, UNO looks to avenge a 2-1 loss yesterday night at UNO’s usual home arena, CenturyLink Center. Ryan Walters put UNO on the board first, but Rocco Grimaldi and Danny Kristo answered in the first and second periods, respectively.

The game is important for both teams, as UNO and UND are tied with Minnesota for second place in the WCHA with 26 points; Minnesota, however, has played two fewer games. With the WCHA playoffs starting on March 15, every point is crucial.

WCHA Standings

WCHA standings through February 8th games

The Future

There won’t be much of a break before the next outdoor games in college hockey. On February 17, Soldier Field in Chicago will host the Office Max Hockey City Classic. In the first game of the doubleheader, Notre Dame takes on Miami (OH). In the second game, WCHA rivals Wisconsin and Minnesota do battle.

For the NHL, the next outdoor game will take place on New Year’s Day 2014, when the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs will play at Michigan Stadium. The 2013 NHL Winter Classic was supposed to happen with the same teams and location, but it was cancelled due to the lockout. The 2014 Winter Classic will be the sixth Winter Classic.

4 thoughts on “Battles on Ice: Continuing the outdoor hockey trend

  1. I love your blog post. Passion is definitely one of the main words to describe Sioux hockey, and you described it well.

    I didn’t go to Omaha for the games, but reading about them when they happened and now reading about the outdoor game in your blog reminds me so much of my experience in Frisco for the Bison championship game. The stands were 3/4 Bison (and bear in mind that the other team was even from Texas, haha), and the fans are so into the whole gameday experience. I think it’s safe to say that fans in North Dakota (NDSU and UND) are top notch.

    By the way, if you even read this comment, how’d you become a Sioux fan since you’re in Denver of all places? I hope you get to see a game at the Ralph one day. No offense to Bison football and the Thunderdome, which is a close second for me, but a Sioux hockey game at the Ralph is like nothing else.

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