Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Could Sunshine Be a Problem For North Dakota's Goalie In UNO's Outdoor Hockey Game?

The weather forecast continues to improve for Saturday's "Battles on Ice" outdoor hockey doubleheader.  The Weather Channel calls for a high of 50, and my WeatherUnderground app is calling for sunny skies.  More and more, it looks like precipitation will hold off until later Saturday night or, more likely, Sunday and Monday.

Those sunny skies may present a problem at the start of the game.  The Omaha World-Herald's Rob White reports that North Dakota will defend the "third base" goal in the first period, and yesterday afternoon in the bright sunshine, the sun was still shining on that end of the rink shortly after 4 pm.  Meaning North Dakota's goalie could be staring straight into the sun at faceoff for the first few minutes of the first period.  By about 4:15, the rink was completely shaded, so this probably won't be an issue for long on Saturday if the sun comes out.  This picture was taken about a half-hour prior to the scheduled face-off time; it gives you an idea of how the sun will align with the rink at the start of the UNO/North Dakota game, as well as potentially the end of the Omaha Lancers/Lincoln Stars game.

So now we'll have some hockey purists complaining about soft ice conditions and weather impacting a crucial game in the WCHA standings. I have only one thing to say:  stay home and watch it on TV then.

Are outdoor games a novelty?  Yep. Hockey teams do lots of novel teams.  They wear special sweaters and have silly traditions like throwing a fish or an octopus onto the ice. But "novelty" doesn't make an outdoor game bad.  I'm pretty sure that every player on the UNO and North Dakota roster is probably treating this as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play an outdoor game in front of a big crowd.  I doubt any are wishing this game could be played inside.

The ice conditions argument is especialy spurious, specially after the poor ice conditions at the CenturyLink Center last weekend. I've heard lots of whining from some fans over the last couple of weeks that just makes me shake my head.  The tickets are too expensive. The sightlines are going to suck.  UNO fans should have had their tickets in their season ticket package for free.  Yadda yadda yadda.

Lets start with tickets.  The tickets are a little pricey.  Some people throw out the top price of $90...many of which are club seats with access to a nice warm lounge to duck into between periods.  But many tickets are just $30, and these probably are going to have better sightlines than the more expensive tickets.  And $30 isn't bad for two games of hockey.  And when you consider the expense of setting up a portable ice rink (which is apparently around $150,000), it's probably pretty reasonable in my opinion.

Do I want to spend $30 a game regularly for hockey?  Nope.  But for a special event like this, I don't have an issue at all. Not when I don't know when I'll get another opportunity to watch a hockey game like this.
Are the sightlines going to be bad?  Yep.  You are playing hockey in a stadium that was designed for baseball.  Anytime you play a sport in a facility it wasn't originally designed for, there are going to be issues.  That didn't stop college basketball teams from playing games on aircraft carriers - except when moisture presented a safety issue.  That doesn't stop college football teams from playing games in baseball stadiums.  But let's look at this reasonably:  a baseball and a puck are about the same size.  A black puck on a while ice sheet is still easier to spot than a white baseball that goes up into the air against while clouds.  If you are too far away from the field, just bring binoculars.

Look at Northwestern, who yesterday announced an agreement to play football, lacrosse, and baseball at Wrigley Field.  Yes, Northwestern is going to play football again at Wrigley. Five games, in fact.  The issue of only being able to play one way is already being addressed, as work is already underway to make part of the brick wall movable.
Yep,even though Wrigley seats fewer people than Northwestern's home field, the Wildcats want to play at Wrigley.  Why?  Because it's cool.  Cool for fans, cool for the athletes.  I doubt Nebraska gets selected for one of those games, because Husker fans have shown the ability to fill up Evanston.  But you never know, and if the Huskers get selected for a game at Wrigley, it'll be hard to resist the temptation to spend a fall Saturday in the Friendly Confines.

Same thing about this Saturday.  UNO hockey outdoors at TD Ameritrade Park is a one-time cool event.  Sorry, but this is just plain cool:


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