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On the Ice, Under the Sky: The Outdoor Hockey Game Tradition

Feb 18, 2013, 9:35 AM EDT

Hockey vs Miami of Ohio at Soldier Field in Chicago...Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

This weekend, The Fighting Irish men’s hockey team got back in touch with the roots of the sport’s history—playing outdoors, with the brisk wind in their faces and the sun above their heads. As an ode to the historic days of Irish hockey (the 1963-1968 years), the Irish Icers sported their throwback jerseys. The new jerseys exhibited a very simple yet classic look to them, having only the word “IRISH” written diagonally from right shoulder to left hip.

Although this was the Irish’s first outdoor classic, it was not the first time that rival hockey teams have met outside under the clouds and snowflakes. Michigan and Michigan State began the new trend in the modern era of hockey in 2001 when they hosted the “Cold War” at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. After this, hockey clubs, including those in the NHL began to pick up the tradition. The 2003 Heritage Classic was an intra-national battle between the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadians. This was the first regular season outdoor game in NHL history. It was a major success, drawing nearly 60,000 diehard NHL fans who braved the -22 degree Fahrenheit wind-chill. The NHL soon decided to make a tradition of the outdoor game by installing an annual Winter Classic, the first taking place in Buffalo, N.Y. (Buffalo Sabres vs. Pittsburgh Penguins). The Spartans of Michigan State took on the Wolverines of Michigan once again in 2010; this time at the Big House in Michigan. This game solidified the outdoor hockey game tradition by recording the most highly attended hockey game in history—over 110,000 fans filled the stands on that cold December day in Ann Arbor.

With the disbanding of the CCHA forthcoming at the end of the season, it is impossible to tell if the Fighting Irish will be able to continue this tradition of playing divisional games outdoors. Let’s hope the move to the Hockey East will provide an equal or better opportunity to keep this spirited tradition alive.

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