Eaves Ruminates On Outdoor Game, Second Half
CHN Staff Report
It may become more commonplace, but it's still something special.
Tonight, for the second time in four years, Wisconsin will play an outdoor game. It's also the second one in college hockey this year, following the Boston College and Boston University game at Fenway Park on Jan. 8.
Last time, Wisconsin played Ohio State at famed Lambeau Field, football home of the Green Bay Packers. This time, the Badgers host another Big Ten foe, Michigan, at its own football stadium, Camp Randall. Over 50,000 tickets have been sold, and the game will be aired on Big Ten Network (5 p.m. CT).
Michigan, which was involved in the first outdoor game of this magnitude, played in front of a still-record 74,544 at Michigan State's Spartan Stadium in 2001, will play in its own football stadium next December against the Spartans.
Beyond the cool factor, the game is important to both teams, being the last non-conference game of the season (it's also officially the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game). No. 19 Michigan (15-12-1, 10-9-1 CCHA) could use a win to boost its hopes of rallying for an NCAA bid in the second half of the season. No. 3 Wisconsin, with a win, could really solidify what's shaping up to be a top seed at the NCAAs.
As a result, the players need to separate out the novelty of the game from its importance.
"I think we look back on our experience at Lambeau Field. We really didn’t make a big deal," Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. "I think the kids were so excited to play that they were going to play at a high level. So I think that will take care of itself based on the experience that we’ve had.
"The night before we got to go down on the rink and practice and look at it (at Lambeau), you could see the excitement in the kids’ eyes. And then the next morning, when we bussed over, and the whole football parking lot at Lambeau was packed and people were tailgating, and guys just rushed to one side of the bus and said, 'What are these people doing?' because they’re not used to seeing that going to a hockey game. And the people honking their horns, and I thought at that point, they really lit up."
The ice conditions are always interesting for the Outdoor Games, and will depend somewhat on the weather. But Eaves said it seems things have come along since the Lambeau game.
"I stopped by and talked to the ice men, and where they came from in Lambeau and the way they set the deck up and how it will hold the weight of the Zamboni better, and the system that they have," Eaves said. "Those kind of things, just through experience, he says, he didn’t want to say they got it figured out, but he was close to saying we’re so much better than we were four years ago. So that was exciting to hear.
"One of the things that is going to be a challenge for us is to get our goalies out there and see pucks at night under the lights with the background. I think that we have to be very cognizant of that as we do it this week."
These teams squared off once this season already, with Michigan winning a College Hockey Showcase game, 3-2, in a fast-paced game.
Last weekend, Wisconsin split with Minnesota-Duluth, getting shut out Saturday. Prior to that was three points against Denver.
"The weekend before against Denver I thought we did create scoring chances," Eaves said. "This past weekend, I don’t think we executed as good as we could have. Is that our fault or is that the good work of UMD? I think a little bit of both. I’m not too worried about it. These young men know that they weren’t as successful as they needed to be. And they’re pretty good players and have a lot of pride. I think they’ll bounce right back."
After playing at Lambeau, the Badgers went on to win the National Championship that season.
"We’re in the middle of the second half drive, well, this is kind of an energizer," Eaves said. "And we look at it as such. And everybody’s excited. So we only have to play one game. It will energize us. And hopefully, we can take that energy down the backstretch."
Finally, as for the idea of outdoor games in general — Eaves said he's a fan, but you have to be careful.
"I think there’s a balance that needs to be struck between the uniqueness of it," Eaves said. "The one advantage that college has is that our kids, they graduate, and so we have new freshmen coming in. And so, I think that if you have the rotation of every four years having some kind of game like this, there would be a fresh crop of people that hadn’t seen an outdoor game that might keep it fresh."