Dec. 17, 2009
Camp Randall Stadium is nationally known for its screaming fans, hard-nose football, and its history as one of the best atmospheres for a college sporting event. Soon, history will be made. The screaming fans are bundled up, layer-upon-layer. The footballs and cleats are replaced with hockey sticks and ice skates. The atmosphere, well, it is still here.
Welcome to the 2010 Culver's Camp Randall Hockey Classic.
Looking back at some history, the idea of outdoor hockey is not unheard of. In the early part of the 20th century, outdoor hockey was the norm, but the first outdoor game in recent times took place on Sept. 28, 1991. Like many others, you are probably thinking, “It must have taken place in Canada or some other frozen tundra area.” Wrong. The Los Angeles Kings squared off against the New York Rangers in not-so-chilly Las Vegas for an exhibition contest. Wayne Gretzky scored a goal in the Kings’ trek to a 5-2 victory. The 13,000 fans in attendance were leisurely dressed in shorts and t-shirts, not your typical hockey attire.
From there, there seemed to be a lull in the NHL for outdoor hockey action. It was not until Nov. 22, 2003, that another noteworthy game was played outside. In front of a crowd of just over 57,000, the Edmonton Oilers battled the Montreal Canadiens. In what is now known as the Heritage Classic, Montreal edged Edmonton, 4-3. The event took place in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium, despite temperatures of close to -22 °F with wind chill. It was held to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Edmonton Oilers joining the NHL in 1979 and the 20th anniversary of their first Stanley Cup win in 1984.
Outdoor hockey has since become an annual New Year’s Day rite for the NHL, with the league playing games on Jan. 1 for the past two seasons. The Pittsburgh Penguins skated at the Buffalo Sabres in 2008, before the Detroit Red Wings met the Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley Field last season. This year, the Philadelphia Flyers take on the Boston Bruins at Fenway Park.
Aside from the NHL, college hockey saw itself getting into the action as well. The first outdoor game featured in-state rivals Michigan and Michigan State on Oct. 6, 2001. MSU was the host, and the game was played in Spartan Stadium. Setting the record for the largest attendance for an ice hockey game (74,544), fans saw the Spartans and Wolverines skate to a 3-3 tie. After falling behind, 3-1, late in the third period, Michigan was able to notch two quick scores to push the game to a draw.
The Badgers got their first taste of an outdoor hockey game less than five years later in 2006, as the team headed to another historic, monumental location. The game was played in world-renowned Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The puck dropped just after 3 p.m. CST, and the weather was perfect for a typical Wisconsinite on a Feb. 11 day. Temperatures were a balmy 28 °F. Wisconsin skated against the Buckeyes of Ohio State in the contest, with the Badgers coming out on top, 4-2. A late goal by former Badger Robbie Earl helped seal the deal for UW.
As history has it, the games are not just your ordinary games. Though a hockey game is being played, it could be argued that the experience one gains from the experience is what matters. This season, the Badger men face the Michigan Wolverines in both of the teams’ second-ever outdoor contest. They have already met once this season, with UM besting the Badgers, 3-2, back on November 28, 2009. The UW women will make history of their own with their first outdoor hockey game as they take on Bemidji State.
A stadium that is used to seeing hard-hitting football will now be introduced to the world of hockey. Having some of the best fans in college sports (if not the best), it should be an unforgettable experience for the fans, players, and coaches.
Drop the puck.