Outdoor hockey will bring its own set of variables to Soldier Field on Sunday when Miami University faces Notre Dame in the inaugural Hockey City Classic.
How’s the ice on a makeshift rink in the middle of a football stadium? How about the wind in the Windy City? Glare of the sun? Temperature?
“One thing I did notice — the boards are pretty alive. They really pop,” RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi said after Saturday’s practice session. “It’s going to be an interesting game for sure.”
It should be a good day for outdoor hockey. Partly sunny and a high of 31 degrees is the forecast.
For most of the players, the condition of the ice is the No. 1 factor. It’s not perfect, nor did anybody expect it to be.
“It’s a little bit rough, but nothing we can’t handle,” MU junior forward Max Cook said. “Being outside, you know it’s not going to be the best ice. It’ll be fine.”
Added freshman defenseman Chris Joyaux, “I think it kind of fits the way that we play. We’ve just got to have our nose over the puck, bend our knees and get after it.”
Because there might be some peculiar bounces, Blasi agreed that the best plan may be to just get as many pucks as possible near the net.
“The ice isn’t too much worse than ours at home, so we’re used to that,” said senior defenseman Steven Spinell, a Chicago native from Vernon Hills. “There’s not going to be a lot of stick handling done by any team. If you do, the puck’s probably going to bounce on you. So just making strong plays with the puck would be the key.”
The goalies, Ryan McKay for Miami and Steven Summerhays for Notre Dame, may have to deal with lots of brightness from their positions. McKay, though, isn’t worried about the glare.
“The eye-black strip that I put on really took care of that 100 percent,” he said. “The ice is probably the biggest factor.”
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said all games have challenges.
“We can’t be focused on the ice conditions or the weather,” he said. “Those things could become a factor, but it’s probably no different than things that happen in arenas. A pane of glass breaks, the lights go out, officiating … how deep do you want to go?”
Important rematch: The Irish took a 3-1 defeat in Oxford on Friday, and they’re determined to do better Sunday. Notre Dame faces an uphill battle in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association title chase and the PairWise rankings that determine the NCAA field.
“I don’t know if backs against the wall is the best term, but I think everyone realizes what kind of situation we’re in,” Irish junior forward T.J. Tynan said.
National spotlight: Miami and Notre Dame both have big-name programs. Both sides feel the Hockey City Classic is an opportunity to promote their sport to a wider audience.
“We’re a little bit like the NHL as far as our sport goes,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of people that are very passionate about it, and there’s a lot of people that don’t know enough about it.”
“It’s a great game, we love it, but we want other people to love it as well,” Blasi said. “In order to do that, we’ve got to make it available to everybody, and this is one way to do that.”
The RedHawks’ participation in an event of this stature confirms that the program is a player on the national stage, according to Blasi.
“Our program is continually trying to be one of the top programs in the country,” he said. “Typically these games are not for the mid-major schools of the U.S. For us to be asked, I think that tells you a little bit about where our program’s at. We feel honored, and we’re proud to be here.”