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Hockey: Time for the icers to march through the tunnel

Kyle Cassily | Wednesday, February 13, 2008

This may be an exercise in futility, but it sounds too damn cool not to put it out there.

Imagine instead of lounging around in your dorm room on a Saturday afternoon in February, kicking the crumpled Natty cans off your coffee table to make room for a Sbarro’s pizza, you could be tailgating outside Notre Dame Stadium for a game.

Obviously the football team isn’t going to be playing a mid-winter bowl in South Bend ever (or a post-December one for that matter, it seems).

But the hockey team could play there.

College hockey teams have played two separate games in football stadiums (CCHA teams, all) before, and the NHL has played two outdoor games as well. All of them drew huge crowds, were great to watch and put hockey under a spotlight it rarely receives.

A hockey game against Michigan in Notre Dame Stadium makes me drool. It makes me want to bundle up, grab a case from Belmont, throw down a lawn chair in C lot and wait for the gates to open.

The wondrous South Bend winters and city life keep us students bundled up in our dorms, apartments and houses all winter. The only interaction we get is when we jam ourselves up in the sweatbox of a house party or bar.

That kind of thing is fun and all, but our student body lacks any opportunities to get together as a whole like we can on football Saturdays. An outdoor hockey game, in addition to being a hell of a sight, would do that.

Michigan played Michigan State at Spartan Stadium in October 2001 in front of 75,000 fans, the largest crowd to ever watch a hockey game. Wisconsin and Ohio State played at Lambeau Field in February 2006 in front of 40,000 fans.

Last time I checked, Notre Dame Stadium held just over 80,000 people. That would set the world record for most people to ever watch a hockey game, knocking off Notre Dame’s northern state school neighbors. And who wouldn’t want another way to beat Michigan State and Michigan?

Unfortunately, this is where the logistics of an outdoor game get in the way of the icy dream. But the biggest obstacle to the Irish lacing up their skates inside the stadium isn’t what you would think.

It’s not building the rink while preserving the stadium turf. It’s not the amount of money it would take to build an outdoor rink. And it’s not the supposed tradition of having nothing but football in Notre Dame Stadium.

It’s parking.

Associate Athletic Director Tom Nevala said Notre Dame during the winter can’t handle the number of vehicles an outdoor game would create. The University uses extensive amount of grass field parking to accommodate vehicles for fall football games, and that parking wouldn’t be accessible during the snowed-in winter months.

The idea of an outdoor Notre Dame game has been tossed around, however, Nevala said.

“If we were going to host it, a place like Soldier Field [in Chicago] would make sense,” he said.

It also isn’t possible, Nevala said, for a hockey game to be played in the fall when the parking lots aren’t covered in snow and the football team is on the road. The amount of time needed to build the rink, he said, wouldn’t make it possible to fit a hockey game in around the football schedule.

But I have a solution.

If the snow-covered lots make a game in the winter impossible and football (who cares about Notre Dame football really?) takes precedence in the fall, there is an alternative. From Oct. 4 to Oct. 31 next season, Notre Dame football doesn’t play at home. Excluding the one week of fall break smack in the middle of that stretch, there is a large amount of time where a rink can be built and an opponent like Michigan can be lined up to spar in the stadium.

If that stretch doesn’t work, from Nov. 2 to Nov. 22 next season, the football team also doesn’t play a game at Notre Dame Stadium. Those are two huge breaks where a rink can be constructed and the money can be raised through ticket sales to pay for the construction.

When Michigan State played Michigan at Spartan Stadium in 2001, the game was played during a road weekend for State’s football team.

If Michigan State can do it, why can’t we?

There are people who specialize in constructing rinks inside, outside or wherever, and there are always long breaks in the home football schedule. Put these two things together, add in a strong dash of the increasing amount of interest in hockey at Notre Dame and, voila, we have an outdoor game.

Plus, who doesn’t love the thought of beating Michigan two times in the same year in the stadium?

I’m drooling.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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