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Miami Insider: Outdoor hockey not foreign to RedHawks

Outdoor hockey was a way of life for Marc Hagel during his younger days in Hamilton, Ontario. Understandably, it wasn’t always the safest activity.

“Lots of danger for twisting an ankle,” said Hagel, a senior forward at Miami University. “Typically somebody’s dad would put some 2-by-4s down and a sheet of plastic and freeze it in the backyard, or we’d go to the park where there’s a hut and somebody else’s dad would go up there every night and freeze his butt off and water the grass basically.

“We’d meet up after school and play until dinnertime. When you’re growing up in Canada, you only have hockey on the weekends until you start playing travel, so you’d just go out every night and play at outdoor rinks. It was a blast.”

Hagel is looking forward to his first organized outdoor game Sunday, Feb. 17, when his RedHawks face Notre Dame in the Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field in Chicago. It’ll be the first outdoor contest in MU history.

Two of Hagel’s MU teammates have played in a big outdoor venue before. Freshmen Kevin Morris and Matthew Caito played together at Salisbury (Conn.) Prep School and got a chance to compete at Michigan Stadium, the Big House, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Morris and Caito skated to a victory before a smattering of fans the day before the Michigan-Michigan State game set a hockey attendance record (113,411) on Dec. 11, 2010. They were part of that historic crowd.

“I still talk about it with all my old teammates,” Morris said. “I don’t even think people sat in the stands for our game. Obviously everybody had their family and close friends there, but they had some bleachers around the glass that people sat in.”

“It was awesome just to be out there and realize you’re actually on a football field to play hockey,” Caito said. “At first you just look around and it sinks in, but as soon as you step on the ice, you’re battling for the win. You want those points.”

He said the weather was clear and “perfect” that day, and that was a good thing. Caito is from California.

“I’m not a big fan of the cold,” he said. “Outdoor hockey is something you don’t talk about in Cali, that’s for sure. Roller hockey — that’s about it.”

Morris, meanwhile, grew up on the St. Lawrence River near Canada.

“Where I grew up in northern New York, there’s ponds, rivers and outdoor rinks everywhere you go,” Morris said. “You do feel the wind when you play, and there’s oftentimes snow, some different variables that you don’t have to think about in an indoor game.”

He’s excited about the opportunity to play at Soldier Field, home of the National Football League’s Chicago Bears.

“Having a Zamboni instead of a hose will be nice,” Morris said. “And being able to go into a locker room between periods instead of having to shovel, that will be really nice.”

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