Tundra delights

Lambeau game will leave lasting memories

To paraphrase Bob Johnson, it was a great day for hockey. For the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic inside Lambeau Field Saturday afternoon, conditions were about as close to perfect as could be imagined. A February day in Wisconsin could have brought heavy snow, driving sleet, extreme winds—or bright sun and 40-plus degree temperatures, which would have made the ice look like a lake.

Instead, it was in the upper 20s with a light breeze for Saturday's historic tilt between the Wisconsin and Ohio State men's hockey teams. The Badgers won an important game, 4-2, but that seemed auxiliary to the larger story: they were playing hockey inside Lambeau Field! Hockey in Lambeau, home of the Green Bay Packers, before nearly 41,000 fans.

"The overall atmosphere was tough to put into words," UW center Jake Dowell said. "It was so cool to go out there and have our fans be here and so many people here. Such diehard fans… It was unbelievable."

Saturday's game was certainly unique. About eight minutes into the first period, a bright patch of sunlight appeared in the high slot in Wisconsin's defensive zone. And, in OSU's defensive zone, a wider swath of sun bathed goalie Dave Caruso's crease and the circle to his right.

Because of the first-period sun, and its glare off the ice, several players on both teams wore eye black, a la a football player or baseball outfielder.

"The glare off the ice was pretty bright and it was kind of affecting me," UW senior wing Robbie Earl said. "Once I put that on it helped a lot."

Playing indoors, of course, the light is consistent throughout the game. In Green Bay Saturday, the early-game glare gave way to a cloudy second period and effectively a night game during a third period that began at about 5:15 p.m.

"It was cool. We got both experiences," Badger winger Ryan MacMurchy said. "It's just like when you are a kid and you're playing at the outdoor rink. Earlier in the first period it was like you were playing all day and playing right through the night like when we were young out in the outdoor rinks, when we were little kids playing for eight hours. It just brought back a lot of memories and some real fun experiences."

In was just one distinct aspect of what will be an unforgettable experience for players, coaches and fans.

"I don't think I've stopped smiling yet since the game's ended," senior captain Adam Burish said. "It was unbelievable."

"It didn't really hit us until we walked in Friday and saw the rink," sophomore defenseman Kyle Klubertanz. "… We're all looking around. It is kind of hard to focus on practice because it looks awesome. We're actually skating at Lambeau Field. We couldn't really believe it."

"It was amazing," Ohio State defenseman Sean Collins said. "You grow up playing outside when you're a young kid and to be able to play a game outside in front of that many fans—at Lambeau Field especially—it was an amazing experience."

The rink had its quirks. The ice was in pretty good shape in the first period, but was pretty shaky by the end of the game.

"I noticed in the third period there was a few areas in our zone that were pretty chewed up but the refs did a pretty good job of fixing that," Collins said.

"It was OK. You don't go into the game expecting great, great ice," Burish said. "It's outdoors, you don't know what to expect… As the game went on it get chippy—and the pucks were bouncing everywhere. It was tough…

"But it's outdoors and you could throw cement in there, guys would have a thrill playing on Lambeau Field. So, yeah, it was tough, but who cares? It was such a blast out there."

The makeshift rink in the middle of a historic football field featured several other eccentricities.

"If I could put it into one word, everything was really unpredictable out there cause there were spots on the boards that if we would just throw the puck around it would hit and pop out to the middle," Dowell said. "And sometimes it would do it, sometimes it wouldn't."

"The boards were brand new," UW goalie Shane Connelly explained. "… Some of the doors weren't closed all the way. Like there were still gaps in the thing and the ice—big chunks were coming out… I thought the ice wore down a little bit, and broke down a little bit towards the end of the game. But I thought it was still pretty good conditions."

In an indoor arena, the team benches are separated from one another by a piece of glass. At the Frozen Tundra rink, there was no barrier in between the two benches. And there was no space behind the bench for the coaching staff to walk among its players, as is typical. Instead, the coaches all stood on water coolers behind the bench.

And the rink was separated from the fans, who were seated in the stadium bowl and a temporary grandstand situated near what would normally be an end zone.

"It definitely is weird knowing that the fans are so far back, and there's no pounding on the glass," Dowell said.

"It was kind of neat too because (we) weren't right beside the glass," junior center Andrew Joudrey said. "So it kind of just seemed like you were just out in the middle of ice out on a pond."

The outdoor rink was not nearly as loud as the Kohl Center, but the festive atmosphere in the stands left a positive impression on the game's participants.

"It was an intimate environment," Burish said of the stadium atmosphere. "When we first got out there (for practice Friday) it felt like, ‘This rink's in the middle of nowhere.' But then once you fill it all in there and fill all the people in there it felt like an intimate hockey atmosphere."

One variable that proved not to be an issue was the weather. With temperatures in the upper 20s the game was remarkably comfortable for the players. The Packers lent Under Armor to the players to help them stay warm, but Collins said some of the Buckeyes did not wear it because they did not feel cold.

"You've probably played in colder indoor rinks," OSU coach John Markell said to Collins. "Really. That wasn't that cold out there. It really wasn't. It was very, very pleasant."

Several images will remain vivid in the participants' minds. For Eaves, it is the playing of House of Pain's Jump Around prior to the third period. As is customary prior to the fourth quarter of a UW football game at Camp Randall, those in attendance jumped in place to the music.

"That left such an impression upon me just because… if you come to a football game, that's what you notice," Eaves said. " I think just the energy of the people, the vastness of almost 41,000 people. For the first time, and I can think of many a game, just being able to step back and look up and see all those people in the suites and all those people just cheering."

"We were proud to come here and play in front of that many people," Markell said. "They supported it well. We were treated professionally by the Packers, and their group is very, very impressive. I would recommend anybody to come back to face the same situation."

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