Chris Brown didn’t have the best experience the first time he skated outside, on a pond. The 11-year-old Texas native was up north for a hockey tournament when he and a few friends made their way to an outdoor rink.
With his friends, Brown, now a freshman forward at Michigan, chose an unsafe neighborhood to go skating in — and inadvertently upset the local kids. So, as Brown recalls, a peace offering of a hockey stick was exchanged as they left.
“It was really different,” Brown said. “It’s not as smooth as skating on regular ice. But it was fun. You get a whole bunch of kids from Texas, 10 to 11 years old, not really knowing what’s going on.”
Growing up in the Southwest, he didn’t get many chances to play on outdoor rinks. But next season, Michigan hockey fans, players and coaches alike are in for a memorable outdoor hockey experience of their own.
On Thursday, Michigan and Michigan State announced finalized plans of an outdoor game to be played Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010 in Michigan Stadium. The two teams started the recent trend of outdoor hockey with the “Cold War” in 2001 — a 3-3 tie at Spartan Stadium.
The event has already been officially dubbed “The Big Chill at the Big House,” and with about 30,000 more seats than Spartan Stadium, it could potentially break the world record for attendance for a hockey game, set at 74,544 in the original “Cold War.”
“It’s going to be so much fun,” Brown said. “Hopefully that place will sell out. I have no doubts that it probably will. It’s going to be fun. To play a team like Michigan State outdoors, not only will it be a great game, but a great rivalry.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson grew up playing on outdoor rinks, and he knows how exciting outdoor hockey can be.
“This will be an unforgettable event whether it is Chris Brown or a kid that grew up in Canada living in Ontario that played some outdoor hockey,” Berenson said. “They’ll never forget this. And they’ll like the hockey. The puck will move quick. You’ll feel quicker on your feet if we have a cold day. … You move quick. And things happen quick. And the game is played quick, and if it’s cold out, it’s even better.”
Michigan will play in an outdoor game this season against Wisconsin in the Camp Randall Hockey Classic on Feb. 6. But the added factor of the rivalry with Michigan State and the location has both teams already buzzing about the game.
“Michigan State-Michigan is one of college hockey’s great rivalries, and this will be a grand stage on which to showcase it,” Michigan State coach Rick Comley said in a press release from the Athletic Department. “This is an exciting event for the student-athletes, coaches and staff, and the fanbases of both schools. When these teams face off, it is a game that people pay attention to nationally — and having one of our games outdoors in Michigan Stadium will create even more excitement and energy.”
According to the press release, the playing surface will be placed at the center of Michigan Stadium on the 50-yard line and the end boards will extend to the 17-yard lines at each end.
With the plans set, the big question now is whether Berenson will be coaching the Wolverines in the Big House. He is currently on a one-year rolling contract and is expected to sit down with the administration sometime in May to decide whether he will return.
“I’d love to be either coaching that game or be part of it,” Berenson said. “I’ll be at the game even if I’m not coaching it. But I’m hoping to be coaching it.”
Since the “Cold War,” the NHL and other college hockey teams have taken the game back to its roots. There will be a total of ten outdoor games played at the end of this winter.
“The game was always an outdoor game and now it’s played indoors,” Berenson said. “It seems special. There’s something throwback (about it). The players love it. Because a lot of them, especially the older ones, played a little bit outside. And a lot of the fans remember hockey being outside. But still, it’s amazing its embraced as much as it is. And I think everyone who has gone to these games and these events have come away really glad they went.”