EAST LANSING With a hockey rink fully in place, Spartan Stadium has been transformed from a midsized college football stadium to the largest hockey arena in the world.
Most college hockey arenas provide intimacy with only the glass serving as separation between fans. Sound in these barns, field houses and arenas reverberates between small walls magnifying the noise, producing an atmosphere unique to college hockey.
Spartan Stadium, on the other hand, is expansive and open with the closest fans being 20 yards away from the ice and on the 50-yard line rather than the red line.
Luckily, there will be more than 70,000 fans on hand for this game to make up for the escaping noise.
For fans going to the game, it will take on a football atmosphere, with the main attraction not being the game inside the stadium, but rather the celebration inside and outside.
Another factor unique to this game will be the weather. Saturday”s forecast calls for a chance of showers and highs in the upper 40s.
While most fans see the game more as an event, the players are not so lucky. Michigan State players must focus on preparing for it as they would any other game with Michigan. This is particularly important for the Spartans, who have seven freshmen to familiarize with the team”s disciplined defensive systems.
Furthermore, Michigan State must also handle the duties that accompany hosting a world record-breaking event. The Wolverines, on the other hand, must simply get off the bus and play.
“We are just trying to do the same thing that we normally do,” Michigan State senior defenseman Andrew Hutchinson said. “Running our normal systems, trying to work the kinks out at the beginning of the year, getting onto the ice a couple times a day.”
Also important to Michigan State is the preparation of Hobey Baker winning goaltender Ryan Miller. In his sophomore year, Miller became only the second goaltender to win college hockey”s most valuable player award. He had a 1.32 goals against average with 30 wins and a .950 save percentage an NCAA record.
As a goalie, Miller has to adjust to the ice surface, the boards and the open area around him.
“The boards here at Munn (Ice Arena) are pretty consistent, you know what you”re going to get,” said Miller. “But there you are getting new boards and there is definitely going to be a bounce factor. I will definitely be out there as early as possible getting guys to rip shots off the boards at me and see how rebounds go up and how they are going to come back.”
As one of the team leaders, Miller is trying to go through his life as he ordinarily would and maintain focus, in an attempt to allow the team to focus at the task at hand playing hockey. But even Miller admits that as Saturday is getting closer, he is starting to get more anxious about the game with each approaching day.
“Three months ago you are being asked the same questions and you are relaxed about it,” Miller said. “But as it gets closer your real emotions start coming out and you get more nervous about it. We have to make sure to bring the hockey game and let the fans bring the event.”
The Spartans may get their first look at the ice tonight if it is ready. This will be the first chance that either team will have to get a feel to the ice on the field.
“I think it will be important to feel out the ice, the boards and how the puck is going to bounce off it,” Hutchinson said. “It is also a different size ice then we are used to here. It is just about getting used to the surface and the atmosphere, how it could be and preparing for foul whether conditions.”
With Michigan getting only one practice on the ice before the Saturday”s game, an additional practice for Michigan State could give them a sizeable advantage.