There is definitely something fascinating about walking into an open-air stadium to watch a hockey game. The same can be said about simply playing the game outdoors. But watching a game has a very unique feel to it.
I was afforded the opportunity to watch the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines play on an ice rink erected down the first base line of Progressive Field (Jacob’s Field). The Frozen Diamond Faceoff was part of a larger event hosted by the Cleveland Indians called Indians Snow Days. The Snow Days celebration included a large tubing hill built in left field and basically the frozen equivalent of a lazy river. The centerpiece of everything was, of course, the ice rink.
Since my only other outdoor hockey game came at the 2008 Winter Classic, I won’t bother trying to compare the two events. They are apples and zebras. However, considering what the Indians did for the game, I was quite impressed with the overall result.
The Indians did a great job maximizing the spectator experience, providing quality entertainment and finding an attractive matchup for a city who has a strong hockey community but little allegiance to the higher levels of the game.
Choosing OSU and Michigan was surely an easy choice for the organizers. The Cleveland area adopts nearly every Buckeyes team as their own despite the school being located hours away. Since Cleveland’s hockey community is very much on the periphery of the sports scene, choosing a matchup that every fan could identify with was brilliant. There were quite a few Michigan fans among the 25,864 in attendance, but the crowd largely favored the Buckeyes.
Rather than ramble through the various impressions made on me throughout the event, I’ll offer more of a bullet point rundown.
It was a great choice to run the rink down the first base line. Certainly one motivation was to have a large section of high-quality seats that would cost more. However, the large tubing slides and additional outfield activities wouldn’t allow for the layout utilized at baseball stadiums for the Winter Classic.
The layout was quite favorable. The first base seating in every level was perfect for viewing the game. The third base and right field seats had quality sight lines as well. The only people left with poor views would be those in the upper deck and those sitting in center or left field.
Having the bands each with their own designated section was also a great addition. However, I felt it would have been wise to place them right in the middle of the action. Instead, the OSU band was out in left field and the Michigan band was way out in center. Had they placed them on either side of home plate there would have been more of a “battle of the bands” feel while also engaging the bulk of the fans whose seats were along the two baselines.
The fan experience certainly would have been better if the bands were at the center of the action. But otherwise, the stadium was set up perfectly for this game.
There was a hefty crowd on hand and the entre lower seating bowl – outside of the outfield – was full. It was a fairly partisan OSU crowd, but the Michigan fans that made the trip were active. In fact, it was clear that Michigan has the better hockey fans. Every single one knew all of the UM hockey chants and traditions and participated after every goal.
OSU’s hockey team doesn’t have much tradition and their success has been quite limited beyond this season. So there probably aren’t too many traditions used in Columbus like you see in true college hockey towns like Ann Arbor, Grand Forks or Ithaca. Add the fact that most of the OSU fans were there because they are fans of the school, not the team, and you have a recipe for a slightly toned down home crowd.
The scarlet-clad mob was quieted pretty early on by Michigan’s early goals. There wasn’t much chance for the home supporters to really get behind their team. When the band played Hang On Sloopy and there was widespread participation. Sadly the crowd wasn’t as amped up because of the on-ice performance by the Buckeyes.
Michigan’s crowd would have been aided by placing the bands close to home plate. Actually, the entire atmosphere would have been improved. The music would have carried to more ears, more fans would have been engaged in everything. This was of a particularly negative effect to the Wolverine fans because their chants were difficult to hear. Their chants would have been louder and it would have likely spurred on the Buckeyes fans to get loud too.
Lastly, the game presentation didn’t help matters. It was obvious this game was hosted by a baseball team. The time between whistles was spent doing giveaways rather than providing some music to pump the crowd. Perhaps that took some life out of the crowd too. Everyone was simply watching the videoboard for contests rather than cheering. Hopefully that is one thing the organizers take to heart for next season.
Unfortunately, the Buckeyes were facing a team that played an outdoor game in The Big House last season. The Wolverines knew what to expect regarding ice conditions, vision and the general atmosphere that comes with an outdoor venue. Not to mention, Michigan rolled the Buckeyes two nights previously by a score of 4-1.
OSU played a sloppy game and rarely possessed the puck for any length of time whatsoever. The times they did establish themselves in zone were successful. However, the majority of the game was spent defending the Michigan counter attack.
Michigan was able to seize control with a pair of first-period goals and nailed the coffin shut in the second. A beautiful tip and a softie for goal number four took any life away from the Buckeyes after they registered their first of the game. It was an easy 4-1 victory for the Wolverines.
Aside from a couple of ice issues and generally poor play from OSU, the game was easy to enjoy. If you are planning on catching an NCAA hockey game, understand that there is a significant drop-off compared to the professional game. Keeping that in mind this was a fun game to take in. Five goals were scored, three at my end of the ice and it is always fun to catch two teams that you’re not familiar with.
Ideally the Indians would find two new teams to bring in next season. That is probably a foolhardy wish because only the Buckeyes will bring in the necessary crowds to justify this event. However, finding a different visitor to host will be key. A new opponent will bring a different fan base and a different atmosphere to the ballpark for future games.
photos still to come