On January 2nd, the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers took the ice in front of nearly 47,000 hockey enthusiasts at Citizens Bank Park in what would turn out to be a thrilling 3-2 victory for the "Boys in Blue."
Eight days later, Hockey East brought an exciting double header to "Frozen Fenway" where UMass-UVM and UNH-Maine entertained over 38,000 fans under the lights. Two overtime classics later, those fans had officially gotten their money's worth.
Most recently, this past weekend, the hockey crazed people of Hamilton, a city that in recent years always seems to be in talks with somebody about bringing another National Hockey League team to Ontario, hosted an outdoor game of their own. At this American Hockey League matchup, played at the home of the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, over 20,000 fans watched the Toronto Marlies take down the Hamilton Bulldogs 7-2 in a physical and passion filled game.
As they say in the baseball classic, "Field Of Dreams," and as we saw this month with games played at a variety of levels, "If you build it, they will come." But as we know, the game has been enjoyed outdoors by passionate hockey fans for years in front of much smaller (and generally absent) crowds. Frozen lakes, ponds, and man made backyard rinks built by dedicated fathers across the world, have become proven training grounds, stress relievers, and bonding areas, for anyone with a pair of skates, a puck, and a stick.
This past weekend, Lake Nokomis in Minnesota played host to the annual U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, in front of some of the previously mentioned more modest crowds. Nonetheless, players of all ages gathered to enjoy the game in the environment in which it began. The tournament is a great celebration of the game that brings together players with all backgrounds and skill levels.
Whether enjoyed on the backyard pond or in some of North America's most historic sports cathedrals, outdoor hockey is a game rich in history that has created countless lifelong relationships for players and fans alike. It is for that reason, the outdoor game is a tradition that won't be going anywhere anytime soon.