Ryan Kartje: Michigan fans shouldn't pass up their next shot at outdoor hockey

Max Collins/Daily
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Daily Sports Editor
Published February 8, 2010

MADISON — When I was 12 years old, my family and I began a long-lasting, simple tradition. With every first snow of the season, my extended family would gather at our house tucked deep in rural Michigan, for something so pure, so harmless, so fun, that we continued it for six more years until I graduated from high school.

The Kartje family snow football game.

The game ran its course, and it was never one filled with much athleticism, but something about being outdoors, running freely with the brisk wind against your face (and generally freezing your ass off for the sake of sport) that just felt unlike anything else.

It’s been three years since I’ve felt that same purity of sports. No field turf. No heated seats. And no way to plan for Mother Nature.

That is, until I sat down in the freezing cold bleachers of Camp Randall Stadium Saturday night for Michigan hockey’s second outdoor game in program history.

I hadn’t packed gloves or a winter hat. My layering was meager at best. And my teeth chattered for the better part of two periods.

But as I peered down at the ice rink, sitting squarely between both 17-yard lines, I felt the same kind of nostalgic purity that I hadn’t felt since quarterbacking my family to a snow football victory three years ago.

So much so that I pretty much had to be dragged back to the press box.

And that’s exactly what this campus needs to reenergize a Michigan fanbase that’s spiraling toward clinical depression: the pure, freezing-cold bliss of outdoor hockey.

At the Wolverines’ Friday practice, the Michigan players looked like kids in a candy store.

“I love it,” junior forward Louie Caporusso said. “I feel like I’m 10 years old again on the pond with my dad. It’s an unbelievable feeling, and I’m cherishing every minute of it.”

Senior captain Chris Summers called the whole event “surreal” and couldn’t stop smiling.

And judging by Michigan coach Red Berenson’s lack of a coat for the game’s first two periods, he was loving it just as much as the players.

(For the record, Berenson told us that “cold” meant -30 degrees Fahrenheit. So the 21 degrees at faceoff must’ve felt like Spring Break for the Saskatchewan native.)

But where the Wisconsin Athletic Department outdid themselves was that the nostalgic experience on the ice for the Classic’s 50,000 fans extended past the game.

For those who got to Camp Randall early to beat the lines, the Badgers’ practice football field was opened up into a hockey memorabilia/skills challenge/photo op extravaganza that any fun-loving human being could appreciate.

I mean, how else would I know that my slapshot needs work and my stickhandling skills would make Berenson keel over?

Now, as much as the experience made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, there were some logistical shortcomings to the Camp Randall Classic’s execution that the Michigan Athletic Department should note in planning “The Big Chill at the Big House” between Michigan and Michigan State next December.

For one, not breaking the hockey attendance record next year — which stands at 74, 544 after Michigan took on Michigan State in 2001 at Spartan Stadium — would be unacceptable.

In Madison, there were intermittent holes in the lower bowl and the upper deck wasn’t even shoveled off for fans. At the Big House, they can’t have that problem.

Michigan students have been clamoring for a football game under the lights for years now, so slap a rink between the 20’s, slash the temperature in half and add the most successful program in college hockey history, and the “Big Chill” practically markets itself to students desperate for something new and exciting on campus.

Just make sure to continue all the traditions that make Michigan hockey at Yost great. Throw in a full band. Use all the same chants. Simply make the environment just like a Football Saturday, just with more ice and “Sieve!” chants.

The fact of the matter is, with even just 90,000 or so fans at the Big House next December, the atmosphere should be unlike any other in the history of the sport.

And even more so, for one more shot at that sense of pure nostalgia, you can bet I’ll be in the stands next December.