'The Big Chill' Awaits Longtime Rivals Michigan, Michigan State
We've seen a few historic outdoor college hockey games over the years. It all started in 2001, when Michigan and Michigan State met in East Lansing. The game was dubbed the "Cold War," and was played in front of nearly 75,000 fans.
Since then, Wisconsin has staged two outdoor events, one at Lambeau Field in Green Bay that saw a more modest 40,000 fans attend, and another last year (against Michigan) at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. Over 55,000 fans showed up. Boston College and Boston University played in January 2010 at Fenway Park, one week after the NHL Winter Classic.
Now, we've come full circle in a sense. Michigan and Michigan State are back in the outdoor game business, and this time, they will set a record that will be tough to break. The storied rivals will meet Saturday at Michigan Stadium in "The Big Chill at the Big House."
Over 100,000 tickets have been sold, and the game will be played before the biggest crowd to attend a hockey game.
Unlike other outdoor events, Michigan Stadium's ice should be in good shape. Not only will it host practices leading up to the game, but there's already been a college game. Over 1,400 showed up to watch Adrian (Mich.) beat Concordia (Wisc.) 3-0 in a Division III game. All in all, more than 25 high school, college, and youth games will be played in The Big House before the Michigan-Michigan State game.
The game was made official in January, and ticket sales were halted in May after Michigan sold over 100,000.
"If you ask the people who have been involved in all the things that have to happen, there's a lot more than we can talk about today," Michigan coach Red Berenson, winner of over 700 college games, said. "I'm really impressed with our athletic department's commitment and the follow through. It's been seamless. Now it's up to our team."
Berenson, who turned 71 Wednesday, will face off against longtime adversary Rick Comley, who has more than 770 wins in nearly 40 seasons as a college coach in Michigan (Lake Superior State, Northern Michigan, and now Michigan State).
Comley is okay with the idea of his players enjoying the moment.
"For these kids, it's probably the only time in their life cycle, unless they make the NHL and get a chance again with somebody," he said this week. "Why not just embrace it and go along for the ride? It's such a great rivalry that when the puck is dropped, and you're lined against that jersey, there's no question the kids are going to play."
The Spartans are 6-8-3, and Comley isn't worried about different stratgies for an outdoor game.
"We're just trying to get better, as corny as that sounds," he said.
Comley said this game takes him back to his roots a bit.
"I come from the generation that played more outside than inside."
Both coaches talked about memories from the 2001 game in East Lansing, which ended in a 3-3 tie.
"I watched the game in '01, and I thought it was tremendous," Comley said. "All you have to do is watch even a Sidney Crosby play in a game and see what it means to him, and you know what it will mean to our kids."
"We had concerns (about the 2001 game)," Berenson said. "We had ice scheduled for Friday evening at Spartan Stadium. We got there, and Michigan State was finishing up, and it was pouring rain. They were skating out there in the rain. We decided not to have maybe a questionable first experience, so we stayed off and skated indoors at Munn (Michigan State's hockey arena). We skated Saturday morning, and it was sunny and cold and perfect, and the players were beaming.
"(Mike) Cammalleri was our leading scorer, and he got hurt that week. Wasn't going to play, but he insisted that he had to play in the game. We went ahead with it, and he ended up being the MVP for our team."
Both teams will be able to refocus after the outdoor game. They'll be off until Dec. 29-30, when they take part in the annual Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.