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Hockey: Outdoor game at Soldier Field garners excitement

Isaac Lorton | Friday, February 15, 2013

Playing outside is nothing new to the Irish.

It’s part of the history of the Notre Dame hockey program and its part of the childhood of many Notre Dame players. 

Notre Dame first began fielding a hockey team in 1912. From that time until Notre Dame received NCAA Division I status in 1968-69, practice – and even some games -  were contingent on whether St. Joseph’s Lake was frozen over and able to hold a hockey game. Players and coaches would have to clear off the layers of snow with shovels in order to compete. 

Now instead of players and coaches readying the venue, three organizations and a team of workers have prepared Soldier Field in Chicago for the back-to-back games of No. 12 Notre Dame (18-11-1, 14-7-1-1 CCHA) vs. No. 3 Miami (18-7-5, 13-5-4-4) and No. 2 Minnesota vs. No. 18 Wisconsin. 

Intersport, a Chicago-based sports and entertainment marketing company, teamed up with Soldier Field, the home of the Bears, and the Chicago Parks District in order to host the inaugural Hockey Classic. For the past two weeks, Soldier Field has been a hub of events in celebration and preparation for the Hockey Classic. The festivities include two days of free public ice-skating; youth, high school and adult hockey events and private ice rentals. Although the smallest venue in the NFL, Soldier Field (with a seating capacity of 61,500) is far larger than any arena the players have competed in.   

Junior center T.J. Tynan said the amount of fans and the venue should not be affect Notre Dame’s play. 

“I think we are used to it. We’ve played in some pretty tough environments.,” Tynan said. “Obviously there’s not as many fans, but it’s pretty loud some places. They get pretty rowdy. I think at this age and at this level, all the guys are going to be used to the crowd and the crowd noises and the whacky stuff that’s going to be going on.”

Senior defenseman Sam Calabrese, a native of Park Ridge, a suburb of Chicago, said he is excited about the opportunity to play at Soldier Field. 

“I’ve been to a lot of games as a football fan, but I never imagined playing hockey out there,” Calabrese said. “Growing up, outdoor hockey games weren’t really thought of… Now that they’ve been doing it, for my senior year to play at Soldier Field, it’s going to be an unbelievable experience.”

Tynan, a native of Orland Park, another suburb of Chicago, agreed with Calabrese’s sentiment. 

“Obviously it’s special outdoors with your teammates, but especially being from Chicago and being a Bears fan, it’s going to be real special for all of us,” Tynan said. 

The teams arrive on Saturday in order to get a feel for the outdoor environment and venue, Tynan said. 

“I think all the jitters will get out of the way Saturday when we practice and we figure out exactly what it’s going to be like,” he said. “The rink is still the same size. You’re on the ice, between the boards. But it will be different, especially because we’ll be outside and they’ll be a lot more open space.”

Junior goaltender Steven Summerhays, an Alaska native, said outdoor games are nothing new to him.

“Up until high school, we had practice once a week outside usually,” Summerhays said.  “It’s something I’ve grown up doing. I don’t mind it too much. It’s fun. It’ll be fun, hopefully [I] get out there play Sunday.”

Irish coach Jeff Jackson said the Hockey Classic will be an event, but the Irish should not get too caught up in the festivities. 

“It’ll just be the spectacle,” Jackson said.  “It’s going to be the outdoor feel to it, which is more like we played when we were kids. We called it shinny. We can’t play shinny on Sunday because there’s too much on the line.”

The Irish will first take on Miami (OH) in Oxford, Ohio, on Friday night and then will travel to Chicago to play Miami in the Hockey Classic at Soldier Field. 

Contact Isaac Lorton at ilorton@nd.edu