Can hockey go back to its roots here?
It seems like such a natural fit, yet it is a massive undertaking. The sightlines aren't great, and you cannot feel your toes by the end of the game. And yet everyone wants in on the phenomenon that has become outdoor hockey.
Ever since Michigan State University came up with the kooky idea of building a rink in the middle of Spartan Stadium back in 2001 and staging a game there, both football and baseball venues all over North America followed suit. As was the case in East Lansing (where 74,544 fans crammed into the place) it has been like that everywhere. Fans have flocked to outdoor hockey games and are only asking for more.
Two years after the "Cold War" (as it was called between Michigan State and their arch rivals from Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan Wolverines), the NHL jumped on board by staging their first game in a football stadium. The Heritage Classic between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens drew more than 55,000 to Commonwealth Stadium, and the struggling league had truly stumbled upon something.
Four years after the Heritage Classic in Edmonton, the NHL began staging once-per year matchups between American teams on New Year's Day in outdoor stadiums to help stimulate fans in this country about the game. In just five years, the Winter Classic has been the singular highlight of the NHL's schedule, with cities and teams vying to be the next host.
Already, historical baseball venues like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park have played host. Next year, Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor is said to be the favorite to hold the game between the Detroit Red Wings and an opponent to be determined.
Two years ago, the minor league AHL, of which the Milwaukee Admirals are a member, began their own outdoor series. The first game drew just over 21,000 at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. That attendance figure may not seem like a lot, but it set a new league record at the time.
Earlier this month, piggybacking off the rink that the NHL's Flyers and Rangers used at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, the Adirondack Phantoms and Hershey Bears more than doubled the record set two years ago when 45,653 came to watch them play.
"We would love to be a part of an outdoor game," Admirals owner Harris Turer says. But the question of what venue and how to maximize the economic benefits are the questions that have to be answered in terms of Milwaukee hosting a game. After all, it costs roughly $1 million just to install a temporary rink suitable for the rigors of competitive hockey.
Further complicating matters, as for the Brewers playing host, let's just say that it's not something that is on their radar screen.
"Since Miller Park is not winterized, it would be difficult for us to host a hockey game," Brewers Chief Operating Officer Rick Schlesinger says. "The water to the concession stands and restrooms is shut off during the winter."
"We have explored the idea of Miller Park," Turer says. "The Brewers have to shut off the water in most of the park and must leave it off all winter. There may be a way to do it, but I assume it would be very expensive to coordinate all the logistics."
In February 2006, Lambeau Field hosted the "Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic" featuring the University of Wisconsin and Ohio State University hockey teams. More than 40,000 fans flocked to the hallowed football stadium to watch the Badgers beat the Buckeyes, 4-2. At the time, the crowd was the fourth-largest to ever attend a hockey game.
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Detroit Red Wings are playing the Toronto Maple Leafs for the next Winter Classic. http://www.mlive.com/redwings/index.ssf/2012/01/source_winter_classic_at_michi.html
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