Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It's Official: Mav Hockey Goes Outdoors at TD Ameritrade Park

MECA and UNO plan to lay the ice between 1st & 3rd base.
Today we finally got confirmation that Omaha is joining the outdoor hockey fad.  Nebraska-Omaha will face off against North Dakota next season at TD Ameritrade Park.  Playing hockey games outdoors has become quite a fad in recent years, popularized by the NHL Winter Classic which draws decent ratings opposite college bowl games on New Years' Day.  (That could be due in part to ESPN's bastardization of bowl games, but that's another story entirely.)

The game is nearly a year away, scheduled for Saturday, February 9, 2013.  UNO and North Dakota are naturals for this type of matchup.  UNO head coach Dean Blais previously led North Dakota to two national championships, and it's a straight shot down I-29 for Sioux fans to come to Omaha.  North Dakota has been looking for an outdoor game.  Previously, they were negotiating with Minnesota to play at Target Field, but things fell through.

So will it be a success? Blais thinks it'll be a quick sellout; I'm not so sure.  The game will be part of a doubleheader; the first game will be the Omaha Lancers facing off against the Lincoln Stars at 12:30 pm.  The Mavs and the Sioux (if the folks up north get their way) will follow 45 minutes later.  Omaha is an event town..but will the casual sports fans sign up for this one?  That's a good question.

No doubt that outdoor hockey has been huge in other markets.  Nearly 25,000 showed up in Cleveland to watch Michigan and Ohio State last month.  Nearly 40,000 bought tickets to a doubleheader at Fenway Park last month as well - two years after Fenway hosted the Winter Classic.  Over 110,000 tickets were sold for a Michigan/Michigan State game at the Big House in 2010.  But it's not a universal success.  Last season, UConn played Sacred Heart in front of less than 2000 people.

The timing of this is perfect.  Omaha will be hosting the professional skating championships in late January, and a portable rink will be needed at the CenturyLink Center for the skaters to warm up on.  After that's done, they'll just move it across the street to the ballpark. So that keeps some of the expenses down as the equipment and technicians will already be in town.

Tickets for this aren't going to be cheap.  UNO announced that tickets will start at $30...those will probably be the outfield bleachers.  Count on the good seats costing $75 or $100.  But Omaha is an event town.  UNO fans will want to be there.  Sioux fans are already planning to spend that weekend in Omaha.  I think Blais might be optimistic about ticket sales, but my instinct is that this will sell out.

And if the weather isn't brutal, it could be a lot of fun.  The UNO Marching Band can march in the outfield between periods. The beer is guaranteed to be cold.  And it's something unique.

Players are going to love this.  Many from the north grew up playing hockey outside.  Here's what some of the players at Frozen Fenway told USCHO last month:
“It was unbelievable,” said the Wildcats’ Kevin Goumas. “As a kid you just dream about playing college hockey, much less playing at a ballpark in front of 30,000 fans and playing against a rival like Maine. The atmosphere was unbelievable.”

“You can’t help but notice you’re at Fenway Park,” said UMass goaltender Jeff Teglia. “I’ll never forget it. I found out this morning [I'd get the start] and I can’t tell you how much it meant to me.”
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said the Black Bears’ Brian Flynn.
Last but not least, check out what Joey Diamond had to say about playing at Fenway. Diamond, by the way, is a Yankees fan.
“I thought it was the coolest thing playing in a venue like this,” he said. “It was very special.”
I repeat, a Yankees fan.
After Wisconsin's last outdoor game, two high profile recruits committed within hours after the game, they were so excited about the event.  So now Wisconsin is looking to play outdoors again.  They've played at Lambeau Field and Camp Randall...now next year, they are looking to play Minnesota in Chicago at Soldier Field.

NoDak blogger Goon thinks outdoor games are overdone, but figures that North Dakota might as well join in. Maybe he'll warm up a little if Mario Lemieux and the Stanley Cup make an appearance, as the AP's Eric Olson suggests.

Either way...it's game on...outside.  It should be a whole lot of fun.  Even if they don't put up the Hal Daub Toboggan Run in the outfield.

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