This week, CC announced that they would play Denver University at Coors Field, the Colorado Rockies home field in Denver, on Feb. 20, 2016. The first of hopefully many outdoor hockey games for CC and DU is a major step for the programs towards returning to the roots of the game for many players and much of the audience: pond hockey.
Colleges such as Michigan State, Harvard, Boston College, and West Point have hosted outdoor hockey games before. The first one, on October 6, 2001 between Michigan University and Michigan State at Spartan Stadium, set a record for the most number of audience members at an outdoor hockey game ever, with 74,544 fans in the stands. No NCAA team hosted an outdoor game between 2001 and 2006, and 2006 and 2010, but on December 11, 2010, the Michigan rivalry surpassed their previous world record, reeling in 113,411 audience members in the Michigan Stadium seats. In total, fifteen outdoor NCAA hockey games have been played from 2001-2014.
The National Hockey League hosts three series of outdoor games throughout the season: the Heritage Classic, the Winter Classic, and the Outdoor Stadium Series. The Heritage Classic, which finished its fourth year this past season, features two Canadian hockey teams, whereas the Winter Classic, in its sixth year, features two of the six original NHL teams and the Outdoor Stadium Series is open to any NHL team. The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leaves set the current NHL record for the number of fans in 2014 when the event drew in 105,491 fans.
Outdoor hockey reminds players and fans of the numb fingers and toes during weekends and afternoon pick up games on town ponds frozen over by the winter chill. It reminds them of the friendly, nonchalant dekes and dangles rather than bitter rivalries. And it reminds them that even before we could freeze a circle of ice around a set of plastic in the middle of summer, hockey still existed.
As a former figure skater (surprising, I know), hockey existed for me only because of a pond.
I’d chase my brother out to the pond and stick handle awkwardly against boys four years older than me. They’d laugh but in the community spirit of pond hockey. It was infectious and fostered the love of the NHL I have today.
For NCAA teams, in which school pride and recruiting opportunities sometimes reign supreme, outdoor games are essential in maintaining the integrity of the game.
So CC, mark your calendars for Feb. 20. Let’s head out to Coors Field to participate in the game’s finest moment.