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Soldier Field Hosts First-ever Hockey Game

Photo by danielhedrick on Flickr

For the first time in Soldier Field’s 88-year history, hockey will be featured on the home field of the Chicago Bears. The OfficeMax Hockey City Classic, which will feature four college teams in a doubleheader, is to take place in Chicago on Sunday, Feb. 17. The first game is between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks while the second game will feature the first-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers taking on their border rival Wisconsin Badgers.

Of the four teams competing in the inaugural Hockey City Classic, only Wisconsin has played in an outdoor game when the team competed against Ohio State in the Frozen Tundra Classic at Lambeau Field back in 2006. This was the only other occasion in which an outdoor professional football field was used for a college ice hockey tournament. Chicago seems to be an ideal location to make sure the other three teams get their shot at playing outdoors, as the four competing universities are all in relative proximity to the largest city in the Midwest.

Season ticket holders of the Chicago Bears and the four universities got first priority in terms of tickets, but there are still some available through a few sources, including Ticketmaster and StubHub. The price range for the event is roughly $20 to $100 on Ticketmaster.

Among those making the trip to the game is John Williams, a native of Hastings, Minn. and the uncle of this reporter, who is making his first trip to an out-of-state outdoor hockey game.

Williams acknowledged that while he believes Chicago is a good location for this event given the locations of the participating schools, he was less certain of the venue.

“Soldier Field is pretty big for an event like this,” he said. “It has the outdoor thing going for it, but usually these games are played in a smaller venue like a ballpark. I don’t see why it needs to be in such a big stadium.”

However, bigger venues have generated a lot of interest and large gatherings in the past. The largest attendance rating for a hockey game in history, either indoors or outdoors, took place at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor when Michigan University faced archrival Michigan State in the Big Chill at the Big House back on Dec. 11, 2010. While this game was played on one of the team’s home campus, the interest in hockey is obviously large enough to pack a football stadium, as 113,411 people attended this game.

It is yet to be seen how many faithful hockey fans will show up to support their respective teams.

“As far as Minnesota is concerned, I think maybe 2,000 to 3,000 Minnesotans might make the trip,” Williams said. “The thing you have to remember though is that there is a nice Minnesota alumni presence in Chicago. That’s the case with many Big 10 schools, and Notre Dame as well. Should be a good turn out.”

While outdoor ice hockey is foreign to Soldier Field, it isn’t so with the city of Chicago. Back in 2009 on New Year’s Day, the Chicago Blackhawks faced off against the Detroit Red Wings at the historic Wrigley Field in the NHL Winter Classic, the first time a hockey game was ever played in a baseball park. The game garnered an attendance of nearly 41,000 spectators. This figure is 5,000 more than the average attendance at a Cubs game and nearly double that of an average Blackhawks contest, although the United Center has a maximum capacity of only 22,428.

The capacity for Soldier Field is 61,500, and while it is unrealistic to fill the entire stadium, as none of the teams are based in Chicago, a very large turnout is still expected.

Drew Russell, the associative vice president for sponsorship and events marketing at the Chicago-based company Intersport, which is responsible for bringing the game to Soldier Field, says that the number of tickets purchased is rising by the day.

“Right now, the ticket count is 46,771,” Russell said four days before the game, “but we are expecting there to be over 50,000 people in attendance.”

Russell said that most of the tickets were sold on Ticketmaster, while the universities combined for about 6,600 being sold to season ticket holders and team guests. A couple of the universities, including Minnesota and Notre Dame, are providing transportation for students to get to the game.

Mike Chandler, senior ticket office specialist at the University of Minnesota, said, “The alumni are on their own, but we have a Minneapolis company called Creative Charters which will be bringing a lot of students down to Chicago.”

Notre Dame, which sold the fewest number of tickets to students and alumni at 624, will be providing only one bus because Notre Dame is so close to Chicago.

Russell says that while Intersport is excited to be able to make the Hockey City Classic game possible, there is a lot of money at stake.

“Between building the rink, the marketing, and taking care of the fans, there is a lot of money at risk,” he said. “We are excited to bring outdoor hockey to Chicago, so hopefully it will be worth it.”


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