"The Big Chill" made a big splash over the weekend, packing some 113,000 fans into the Big House for a college hockey game, making it the largest crowd to ever see a game outdoors. Yet that game couldn't have gone off as smoothly if the Michigan Stadium ice hadn't had a test run from some eager high school squads nearly a week before.
According to AnnArbor.com and the Heritage Newspapers of Southern Michigan, Michigan Stadium officials and a group of high school hockey teams got together to stage a quartet of high school games on the temporary Michigan Stadium ice surface six days before Michigan and Michigan State faced off, serving as a way of testing the ice while also helping forge a connection between the massive collegiate event with the local hockey community.
As one might expect, the event was a huge hit with the lucky teens who got to be the first to test drive the 2010 edition of the Michigan Stadium icescape.
"It was really cool," Huron (Mich.) High's Kyle Aaronson told AnnArbor.com "It felt like a really awesome pond hockey game. It was great to see the community's support of local hockey."
While the four-game event gave Stadium officials plenty of feedback on the ice surface, they couldn't get similar data on the slightly modified seating configuration, which was made off limits to the high school fans.
Instead, a set of temporary bleachers were set up just beyond the rink's retaining boards which were expected to seat some 300 fans. They didn't fit nearly that many, which had fans stand around the rink's perimeter, with some kids running off to play catch in the exposed football end zones.
By day's end, Pioneer (Mich.) High was the event's biggest winner, with both the school's boys and girls teams pulling out wins on the outdoor surface.
Yet, more than that, Michigan Stadium stood out, proving that even a huge commercial success full of logistical issues like the Big Chill can find plenty of room to work in prep sports and connect with the roots of sport. It's a lesson worth remembering, if the NHL and its Winter Classic are listening or watching.