CHICAGO — Window by window, the skyscrapers north of Soldier Field grew darker as the game went on, blending into the night sky as Saturday night turned into Sunday morning.

On the ice, the puck could be seen bouncing over sticks and along the boards while players slipped and slid all over the rink. Saturday’s game between No. 14 Michigan and rival Michigan State began hours later than planned, and never fully was a clean game.

But as Drew Russell — the Vice President of Properties at InterSport in charge of operations at the Hockey City Classic — looked on at the play below, he knew that simply getting a game in meant mission accomplished.

At the tail end of one of Chicago’s more erratic weather weeks, Russell and his team came dangerously close to having to cancel the event.

“Everybody wanted to get the game in tonight,” Russell said. “Officials, coaches, players, fans, no one wanted to extend this process or put a contingency plan in place.”

With snow, negative temperatures and a sudden heat wave all coming just days apart, InterSport — the company in charge of running the event — had its work cut out for the event Saturday morning. When a compressor below the ice became faulty, the possibility of a game occurring was quite literally on thin ice.

“There was in my mind,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson on the possibility of a cancellation. “When we got a call that the game was being pushed back, we weren’t sure what was going to happen.”

Amazingly, the warm ice was the least of mother nature’s evils. The mild temperatures had melted the ice, giving Russell’s team an opportunity to reset a rink that had already been ravaged by the elements.

“Sometimes it’s too cold or there’s too much for the ice, so it gets brittle and hard to maintain,” Russell said Saturday. “The warm weather actually helped us get into good position for today. We brought the ice temperatures back up, we got it to where it was good, but we had to work with it and had to get everything back into a stable position and that just took a little longer than we anticipated.”

Added Michigan State coach Tom Anastos: “I will tell you, after last night, I didn’t think there was much chance or hope we would have this today. They really did a good job getting the ice into the condition that they were so we could play, it came a long way from last night.”

Before the ice regained strength, though, things looked rather bleak for the event. With teams cancelling morning skates and the beating sun continuing to melt the ice, Russell began looking into alternative options. With Disney on Ice and Monster Jam occupying nearby ice arenas, the United Center and Allstate Arena, respectively, Russell had one indoor locale identified: the 1,500-seat McFetridge Sports Center run by the Chicago Park District.

“In our business, we try to prepare for the worst and react when the worst occurs,” Russell said. “There were external forces we were up against here like the weather and the curfew we have here in Chicago, so that went into our thinking. The biggest thing was the ice, and fortunately, the ice kept getting better as the day wore on, and I think everybody’s going to go away pleased.”

With the hours ticking and an entire game to be played before the Spartans and Wolverines hit the ice, the two teams waited in limbo to see if they would play Saturday. With both teams playing under the same elements, the edge was going to have to come from elsewhere.

“We talked about it all week that when you go into this circumstance, you don’t know what to expect,” Anastos said. “It’s more than physical with just one game, it about being mentally ready to play for whatever comes; rain, snow, wind, cold, delays, cancellations, whatever.

“I wasn’t all that hopeful (we would play) after practice. I didn’t tell our team that, but we changed our routine knowing there might be delays”

By around 4:30 p.m., a setting sun and reactivated compressor brought hope of a game back to both teams. But by the time the puck was dropped at 8:41 p.m., it was clear the conditions were far from perfect.

“Not great,” said Michigan sophomore goaltender Zach Nagelvoort Saturday of the day’s conditions. “Today was a ton better compared to yesterday. Obviously looking at the ice, it’s the same ice for both teams, so say what you want about it, but everyone is going to have to play on it.”

Added Michigan State forward Mike Ferrantino: “Last night there were chips and holes, and tonight it was just more soft, and we liked tonight’s a lot more.”

As the rest of the city went to bed, the two rivals battled it out on the ice. Michigan used a flurry of short passes and long-range shots from defensemen to pull out the 4-1 win, but the mere occurrence of the event was enough to make everyone happy.

“Constant communication with the facilities here, constant communication with the ice crew, the official and the teams, we all knew we were going to do everything in our power to get it in,” said Russell, whose team has now executed three outdoor hockey events. “We feel that our product on the ice was really great, and everyone went home pleased.”

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