CLEVELAND — The industrial space heaters in the Cleveland Indians’ dugout radiated warmth onto Michigan coach Red Berenson as he talked to the media after the Michigan hockey team’s first skate on the outdoor ice at Progressive Field on Saturday.
The amenities — heaters, heated benches and the professional clubhouse — those have taken some getting used to in these past three years. When Berenson played outdoors as a kid, a rink-side shack with a wooden stove for heat was considered a luxury.
The stage is certainly different, but the game is the same for many who’ve grown up on ponds and outdoor rinks.
“Growing up, obviously, you’re skating on the pond and those kind of things,” said freshman forward Alex Guptill, a native of Ontario. “Around Toronto, actually, the town sets up arenas with boards and everything, so I’ve been on the outdoor arena quite a bit, so I’m pretty used to it. I play a lot when I go home for Christmas and that sort of thing.”
Michigan has five Canadian skaters on the roster, all from Ontario. Hockey, especially outdoor hockey, holds a special place in the hearts of many Canadians.
The back of the Canadian five-dollar bill shows a pond hockey game with the words, “The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places — school, the church and the skating rink — but our real life was on the skating rink.”
Ignore the Cleveland Indians miscellanea around the Progressive Field façade on Sunday and the scene may just feel the back of the bill. The forecast calls for temperatures below freezing throughout the day, complete with snow showers.
Outdoor hockey in the snow. There’s something right about that.
“They’ve been through it all,” said Berenson of his team, which will play its third outdoor game in as many years on Sunday. “It’s going to be the same for both teams. It’ll be fine. I don’t care if it’s a blizzard.”
NICE ICE, BABY: Goldilocks would love the ice at Progressive Field.
Sometimes, the temperature can be too warm. At the Big Chill last year, high temperatures made for ice that was slightly slushy.
Sometimes, it can be too low, like it was in Wisconsin for the Camp Randall Classic two years ago.
“In Wisconsin it was cold and the ice started to break off in chunks,” Berenson said. “They had all this brittle ice.”
Well, that must make the ice at the Frozen Diamond Faceoff just right. The high temperature for Sunday is 29 degrees.
“I’m impressed,” Berenson said. “They can probably turn off the refrigeration. Natural ice.”
Toward the end of the team’s skate on Saturday, though, the conditions deteriorated slightly due to the light snowfall. Guptill said the snow made the ice surface rough, but he expects the conditions to be better on Sunday.
FLYING CANUCK: That big ice slide in center field? Apparently it’s not only for little kids.
Some Wolverines took a ride early on Saturday.
“It was a lot of fun,” Guptill said. “It was pretty scary, it was a big slide, you don’t expect it to be that fast.”
Guptill joined junior forward Chris Brown, sophomore forward Luke Moffatt and freshman forward Travis Lynch in a race.
“Moffatt beat us so I was pretty mad about that,” Guptill said.