Fun in the Frozen Tundra

Wisconsin-Ohio State hockey game at Lambeau Field creates rare opportunity for fans.

GREEN BAY, Wis. — It was the best of two popular Wisconsin sports: a hockey game in the state's Mecca, a combination of the fan traditions of football and hockey and an all-around unique experience that has been replicated only a few times.

Fans dressed in their Badger or Buckeye red, Green Bay green and gold, and blaze orange poured into the stands at sanctified Lambeau Field Saturday to witness a first in the stadium's history: a hockey game.

Billed as the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic, the highly anticipated U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game between Wisconsin and Ohio State had an announced attendance of 40,890 at Lambeau Field, the overwhelming majority of them Badger fans. They filled about half of the stadium bowl, much of the skyboxes and a set of makeshift bleachers set up in one end zone.

Those fans came for a myriad reasons: to watch their beloved team, to experience the unique and to visit the hallowed home of the Green Bay Packers, who have a waiting list 40 years long for season tickets.

"I just knew it would be an unforgettable, sort of a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing," Madison resident Kyle Rupnow said. "Hopefully they'll come back and do it again. It's just a really unique way to see hockey and so I really wanted to come up."

"[The field] certainly looks a little different with the bleachers on the south end there but I can't think of another venue more that I'd rather it be at," said Jerry Neary, who is a Packer ticket-holder. "I look back to when my dad brought me up here years back for the Ice Bowl game. So I think I will have another historic game under my belt here."

The game was historic. This is the third large-scale outdoor game played in North America—in 2003, the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL brought more than 55,000 fans to a game in Edmonton, and the Michigan-Michigan State "Cold War" game in 2001 in East Lansing drew more than 74,000 fans.

The weather at the beginning of the game was fairly typical for Wisconsin in February: 28 degrees and clear, with a wind chill of 26 degrees. There was a light breeze and no snow, which may have disappointed Badger fan and Kenosha resident Jason Holter, who said he was, "hoping it snows. It will make for better pictures."

By the third period, which started at about 5:15 p.m., stadium lights illuminating the evening sky replaced a mostly cloudy day. Holter never did get his wish for snow but he correctly predicted that the Badgers would win (UW topped OSU 4-2).

During the game, fans clanged their complimentary "boom sticks" together and danced to popular Lambeau Field favorite "Bang the Drum All Day" and enjoyed alcohol, which is not served at Badger events at the Kohl Center, or Camp Randall. They also performed The Wave, watched midget hockey during intermissions, danced to the UW Marching Band and even got down to "Jump Around."

Robbi Dewsnap, a DePere resident, purchased the tickets for her husband, Chris, for Christmas. They both attended St. Norbert College in DePere, and cheered for Bucky Saturday. "It's still the Wisconsin pride thing," Robbi Dewsnap said. "He's huge into it, I'm not so much but you can't help but get into it at a game like this."

Although the game certainly attracted hockey fans, there were also those in attendance who weren't as familiar with the sport or the Badgers.

"It was really wonderful just being at the game inside Lambeau, playing outside, I mean the whole, everybody's there," Rupnow said. "And actually for a lot of people, you could tell there were a lot of people who hadn't been to hockey before. So that was really nice just to be outside. . .

"There was actually a lot of people in my section that were happy to hear some of the hockey cheers that I brought up from Madison. They sort of learned throughout the game."

The weather—which slid down to 27 degrees by the beginning of the third period, wasn't too much of a deterrent.

"It was a little chilly but it could have been a whole lot worse. So I was pretty happy with it," said Robbi Dewsnap, who had a bright red Badger blanket wrapped around her.

Aside from the game itself, there was another major drawing point. Fans flooded the Lambeau Field Atrium, waiting to catch a glimpse of—or get a picture with—the Stanley Cup. The cup was on display, along with an autographed movie poster from "Miracle," a U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame poster, and three Lombardi Trophies.

Neary came up for Allentown to watch Badger captain Adam Burish, the son of friends Mark and Helen Burish. He waited in line 40 minutes to have his picture taken with the Stanley Cup, which was in a fenced-off area in front of a black backdrop, next to the Lombardi Trophies.

And plenty of fans found their own way to get pictures, using digital cameras and cell phones to capture the Kodak moment from the side of a white plastic fence.

"Not bad, huh?" said Brett Bork, showing off a digital image of the Stanley Cup.

He and his cousin, Paul Kruse, opted not to wait in line to have their pictures taken by the photography company that serviced the event, providing free images for patrons.

One middle-aged fan had already seen the Stanley Cup. Wayne Woraska made his first trip to Lambeau with a group of about 40 from the Wausau area. The Stanley Cup came to Wausau when Craig Ludwig, who was born in Rhinelander, won the NHL Championship with the Dallas Stars in 1999.

The admittedly "big hockey fan", who used to coach youth hockey, said he's been waiting 32 years for this game.

"I watch hockey continuously—the college, the high school, the pros," Woraska said.

And now he's seen hockey at Lambeau.


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