When members of the Michigan hockey team found out their conference schedule included an outdoor game, needless to say their excitement bubbled.
“Everyone was pretty fired up,” sophomore forward Mark Estapa told The Daily. “Got some chills, I’m ready.”
As part of the Big Ten schedule release, the Wolverines announced they will play in the “Faceoff on the Lake” against Ohio State on February 18. The game will take place at the Cleveland Browns’ FirstEnergy Stadium, an open-air venue right on the shores of Lake Erie.
Michigan is no stranger to the great outdoors. In eight outdoor games, the program boasts a 4-2-1-1 record in outdoor games, including a 1-0 record against the Buckeyes. That lone outdoor game between the bitter rivals was played in 2012 at Cleveland’s Progressive Field.
For many players, skating outside elicits plenty of memories from their youth. This season’s installment won’t be any different.
“My dad used to freeze a rink in our backyard,” Estapa said. “So I’d always have my buddies out over there. And I spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours out there doing that.”
That’s a common theme for many players on the team, including fellow sophomore forward Mackie Samoskevich, who grew up skating on a backyard rink with his sisters. Playing in Cleveland gives them the opportunity to live out their childhood games yet again — this time in front of thousands of fans.
For all but fifth-year senior forward Nolan Moyle, February’s game will be their first taste of an outdoor college hockey game. And in Moyle, they can turn to a knowledgeable source on just how meaningful an outdoor game can be. He scored the game-winning goal in Michigan’s last outdoor game, a 4-2 win over Notre Dame in 2019.
Of course, the infamous rivalry between the Wolverines and Buckeyes adds to the festivities. Considering the intensity of the rivalry last season — a series that included a 99-penalty minute grudge match in Columbus and a Michigan Senior Night skirmish after the final whistle — fireworks should ensue from both teams.
Rivalries of a more personal level will also play into the game. For sophomore forward Dylan Duke especially, family bragging rights will be on the line.
“Duker’s brother is on that team, so obviously, you have the rivalry between us and Ohio State and then you just add that to it,” Estapa said. “And it’s in Cleveland too, so that’s their hometown.”
That outdoor game is six months off, but it’s unsurprisingly standing out as one of the players’ favorites on the schedule. Memories of frozen fingers and ice-coated skates are already coming to mind.
When they take the ice for the game, their chills won’t just be from the likely bitter cold. They might be the echoes of the outdoor rinks and ponds their young hockey careers began on.