Thursday, February 09, 2006

Frozen Tundra Hockey

I just love this trend we've seen starting to develope over the last couple of years of having outdoor hockey games being played in stadiums. The latest one being put on will take place this weekend fittingly enough on the "Frozen Tundra" of Lambeau field in Green Bay Wisconcin.

Snow, cold, wind, shadows, a rock-solid ice surface, a crowd of potentially 40,000. Those are factors that many of the players participating in the Lambeau Field Frozen Tundra Classic on Saturday have never experienced.

University of Wisconsin captain Adam Burish doesn't care what the weather or the playing conditions are going to be like when his Badgers take on Ohio State at 3 p.m. He just can't wait to play at the historic stadium.

"You could make the puck white, and we'd still have fun playing out there," said Burish, a former Green Bay Gambler. "So, whatever the situations are, we're going to have fun with it, and it's going to be a special, special game."

Sure, the players will remember the game no matter what the conditions are like. But a big reason they will remember it will be because of the playing conditions and atmosphere. However, with Saturday's game being just the third major outdoor hockey game in recent memory, there's not much the players have to go on to learn how to play in an outdoor game.

.... "I hope it's snowing," Burish said. "I think that will be cool for some reason. If there was some crazy snowstorm, it would make the story that much greater that we played a game out there at Lambeau Field with it snowing. It would be like a Packer game then."

The wind could play a factor, too. A puck that's flipped in the air could get knocked down quicker or sail farther. Or, depending on which way the wind is blowing, players could be skating with or against the wind. It was a problem, Fast said, when Michigan State held a practice the day before its outdoor game.

"It was pretty windy," he said. "You would flip it up in the air, and it would slowly make itself back to you. It was kind of odd, kind of funny. … It was a little bit different to be skating against the wind or skating with the wind. You're not used to that."

Another factor the players will not be used to is the lighting. In an arena, players' shadows are cast in one direction. In an outdoor stadium, shadows will be cast in four directions on the ice, which could cause problems finding the puck. Also, there will be a glare on the ice from the lights.

Fast said the goalies at the Spartans-Wolverines outdoor game wore eye black to help reduce the glare and give them a better chance to see the puck, a problem he said was the worst when the puck was flipped high in the air. Fast said the shadows also were more of a factor for goalies.

"For the players, (the shadows) weren't a big deal, because you were closer to the play and closer to the puck," Fast said. "I don't remember that being a factor. It was more of a factor for a goalie when the puck was dumped in or flipped high in the air."

Two factors the players should enjoy are the ice surface and the huge crowd.

If snow or rain doesn't affect the ice surface, it could be the best surface the players play on in their careers. The colder it is, the harder the ice. The harder the ice, the faster it is.

"The ice was unbelievable," Fast said. "The ice was probably the best ice we played on all year. It was so smooth and so fast. … Because the ice was so fast, it made everybody look that much better."
There's even talk now of a hockey game being played at Fenway Park in Boston.

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