The biggest Michigan sporting event of the year is approaching, and college hockey may never be the same again.
On Saturday, the Wolverines will battle their fiercest rivals on the road in front of a record-setting capacity crowd.
Over 70,000 fans are expected to pack Spartan Stadium in East Lansing for the “Cold War” game between Michigan and Michigan State.
“I think this is a golden opportunity that you don”t get that often,” CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos said. “This is kind of the Woodstock of hockey and gives us a great platform that we can promote college hockey on.”
Just a few months ago, before the logistics were worked out, before the media blitz and before the tickets sold out in just nine days the “Cold War” was far from a reality.
“The whole thing started out as a joke, but then it turned into reality,” Mason said. “We never believed in our wildest dreams that it would happen.”
Members of this year”s freshman class were not really expecting to start their collegiate careers in such grand fashion either.
“I can”t even tell you how I feel,” freshman forward Eric Nystrom said. “When I first heard about it I said “there is no way that is going to happen,” but they kept talking about it and it went through. I”m just thinking my first real game here is going to be in front of 70,000 people wow.”
But the energy and anticipation generated by this event is felt by every member of each team.
“Everyone is excited about this game,” senior defenseman Jay Vancik said. “Any time you play Michigan State it”s a huge game, and this makes it even bigger. It”s the first game of the season, it”s a CCHA game. We need to go up there and get two points.”
Despite the initial excitement that the game carried, Michigan coach Red Berenson needed to be convinced of one thing before the idea could move forward.
“For the players” sake and for the spirit of the competition, this has to be a legitimate playing surface,” Berenson said. “That was my first concern and (Michigan State coach Ron Mason) has reassured me at length that this won”t be a problem.”
After Mason talked Berenson into the event, one of college hockey”s all-time greats reflected on what this game will mean to the sport which he has been so close with for so very long.
“I think that as you get older and you”ve been around for a long time, you see a lot of things and you think that you”ve seen everything,” Berenson said. “This could be a breakthrough game for the sport of hockey.
“It may or may not be. But I am open-minded enough to say let”s try it..”
But getting two premier hockey programs to battle for in-state supremacy outdoors in a football stadium was no small undertaking.
The staging for the rink will be laid down on top of the football field by first placing a thin surface cover directly over the artificial turf and then a layer of plywood. This will be followed by a staging platform on the playing field with another level of plywood on top of that.
The ice rink will be centered on midfield of the stadium, extending beyond the 20-yard lines. The ice surface is to be supplied by the same company that provided an outdoor rink for the motion picture “Mystery Alaska” and an NHL game hosted in Tokyo, Japan.
The ice, frozen by a 281-ton refrigeration unit and a series of aluminum plates, is capable of handling most any type of weather conditions.
If rain or other inclement weather does prevent the game from being played, the make-up date would be Sunday.
The game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Net Detroit at 7 p.m. and tape delayed coverage will air on the other Fox Sports affiliates.