CLEVELAND — Michigan coach Red Berenson stands on the ice, instructing his players as he has done countless times over his years as a player and coach.
This time he has a grin, and that tell-tale Berenson twinkle in his eye. That’s how you know the veteran coach is happy — his eyes don’t lie.
Those eyes run over the features of the rink he is in — a giant ice slide and skating rink to the right, then murals of Bob Feller, Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore to the left.
Then, for the first time in his storied career, the 72-year old coach walks off of the ice and into a dugout, as the snow falls down and settles on the converted infield. Some things don’t get old.
Berenson and the Michigan hockey team are at Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, playing an outdoor hockey game in the same spot where Sizemore beats out grounders and Hafner admires his home runs.
After sophomore defenseman Jon Merrill skated onto the ice, he looked around and muttered, “This is so cool.”
The team practiced on the ice for the first time this afternoon in preparation for the Frozen Diamond Faceoff, pitting No. 15 Michigan against No. 2 Ohio State in the second game of the weekend.
This is the Wolverines third outdoor game in three years, but this is the first game the team has played in a baseball park.
“It’s not overwhelming,” Berenson said. “But it’s pretty spectacular when you see it for the first time.”
Michigan took the first game of the series on Friday night, 4-0, behind a career-high 46 saves from fifth-year senior goalie Shawn Hunwick. The goaltender left a game last weekend against Lake Superior State with an apparent head injury, but bounced back to play one of his best games of the year.
“It’s huge to get three points,” Hunwick said. “It was a good team victory, and it gives us good confidence going into tomorrow. I felt pretty good about it.”
The teams are familiar with each other, but players have to worry about different things when they play outside. The wind becomes a factor, and staying warm is paramount. Players skated around in masks that would be helpful for robbing a bank, and had to stretch a little more than usual.
But nobody was complaining. At 22 degrees, the conditions were as close to perfect as you can get in an outdoor environment. Nobody concentrated on the cold, especially not Berenson. Back in the day, all of his games were played outside, and playing indoors was a treat.
Now, his players are the ones outside, with kids flying down the ice luge in the background. Hockey, on a baseball diamond.
“Hockey on a baseball field?” said junior forward Chris Brown. “You don’t dream about those things. They just come to you.”