by Grant Harmacek
Recently, over the past decade, the NHL has held hockey games outdoors. The NHL played only two other outdoor games prior to the Heritage Classic between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens in 2003, and then a regular Winter Classic game was instituted in 2008. Subsequent outdoor games have followed in a “Stadium Series” which utilizes non traditional (non-hockey) outdoor venues to host NHL games.
This year marks the first time that such an event has come to Colorado. Coors Field, the baseball stadium used by the Colorado Rockies, will play host to a series of 3 hockey games. While the main focus will be on the NHL Stadium Series game between the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings, including an alumni game with former players returning to lace up the skates and relive old rivalries, there will also be a college hockey game played featuring one of the most intense rivalries in Colorado.
The University of Denver and Colorado College have been playing each other in hockey for 66 years. The rivalry is fierce and with both schools featuring non-traditional sporting programs, hockey is huge. Coming off of a recent 4-1 victory and enjoying a dominant run over the last year, DU has the edge historically with the overall record being 167-116-117 in favor of the Pioneers.
As an Avalanche season ticket holder, I had the opportunity to go to the professional version, but an astronomical ticket price made me shy away. I was interested in the novelty of an ice rink in a baseball stadium and had some friends with tickets to the college version, so we made a day of it. I wanted to witness and document such a unique event from the perspective of a sports fan on a budget (and maybe relive some old college glories).
As we approached the stadium the crowd was large and the buzz was palpable. We encountered entrance lines at all gates, a rarity for any Rockies game, save if the Cubs are in town. Security had shut off the metal detectors and was shuffling people through as fast as possible.
Once inside, the place was packed. I had expected some of the concession services to be scaled back, but everything was up and running. We bought some beverages and took our seats just past the DU student section. Both schools were present with bands, antics and a chicken.
The atmosphere was great; lighthearted and carnival like and the weather could not have been more pleasant for a late February puck drop. We even heard rumors that there had been trouble keeping the ice from melting on the rink.
The one draw back we encountered were the sight lines for the actual game. Visual distortion along the glass made it hard to distinguish play in the far end and our seats were too low so that any action in front of the net was blocked by the end boards. This ended up being a small issue, as the actual game play was lopsided toward a superior Denver team, and for a ten-dollar ticket how much actual sport do you need to see?
I worry about next weekend when fans in similar seats shell out a much higher ticket price for barely watchable on ice action. But that’s for the NHL to worry about.
A cheap ticket that gets you into a lively crowd downtown at one of the nicest venues in middle America, how can you go wrong? All in all, the event was an impressive success and I can only hope that these two schools can use this as a blue print to further advance this exciting rivalry!