Thursday, December 9, 2010
Outdoor hockey game may break record
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- At the edge of a hockey rink surrounded by tens of thousands of empty seats, Michigan's Louie Caporusso paused to try to imagine the dazzling scene that awaits him.
"I keep thinking about it," said Caporusso, a senior on the Wolverines. "I'm like: 'Are they actually coming, or is this just a joke? Are they actually going to fill these stands? Because it's a lot of people.' "
That's true. On Saturday, Michigan and Michigan State will play a hockey game inside the cavernous confines of Michigan Stadium and the plan to set the sport's world attendance record seems like a certainty. The stadium's listed capacity is 109,901 and the event is a sellout.
Earlier this year, Germany hosted a game at the world championship in front of 77,803 in Veltins Arena.
"We've tried not to think too much about this game, but it has kind of dominated everything," Michigan State coach Rick Comley said. "I would think, if they really draw the people they say they're going to draw, that it will be a record that's going to be really, really hard for people to touch."
It's being called "The Big Chill at the Big House," and although this is hardly the first event of its kind, the huge fan turnout should make this outdoor hockey game unique. It's fitting that Michigan State will be the opponent. In 2001, the Spartans hosted Michigan in a hockey game at their football stadium in front of 74,544 people.
Since then, the idea has been copied both at the college level and by the NHL.
"When we did it, I kind of equated it to the Apollo," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. "It's a heck of a lot easier now, with the technology that they have in place. ... From our end, every time we see another one happen, we feel pretty good about it, that we started that at Michigan State."
Playing outdoors requires plenty of adjustments. With snow very much a possibility, the ice might not be in great shape.
And then there's the wind.
"You're skating into the wind sometimes, and you feel like you're going really slow," Caporusso said. "You've just got to tell yourself you haven't gotten any slower. It's just the wind."
For Michigan forward Luke Moffatt, the experience already seems a bit surreal. He grew up in Arizona.
"I didn't exactly play a lot of pond hockey," he said.
The game starts at 3 p.m., and the university recently approved a $1.8 million project to add permanent lights at the stadium, which will host its first night football game next year. The school has been using temporary lights for football games that ended after dusk.
The hockey game will give Ann Arbor a chance to enjoy one more big gameday before the end of the year.
"It's historic," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said. "It's the equivalent of another major football game."
Michigan is trying to make the game as much of a community event as possible, allowing high school and youth teams to play at the stadium. There's even an open skating session for the public Sunday.
Although the game has been in the works pretty much all year, there are still a lot of unknowns. The weather is always a wild card, and although the crowd will be huge, fans will be pushed back quite a bit from the rink, which is on a football field, after all. Nobody is quite sure how the roar of more than 100,000 fans might compare to a normal Michigan home game at Yost Ice Arena, which holds 6,637.
Moffatt is looking forward to finding out.
"I have no clue," Moffatt said. "Football games are loud and stuff, but now we're talking 10-degree weather out here, and people are going to be shivering the whole time.
"Who knows what it's going to be like? I'm sure there will be so much adrenaline, you won't even really notice it."