Blazers take to the ice (outside)
Game takes fans and players back to hockey's roots.
January 17, 2011
By Mike Killeen
Susan Welz is a certified public accountant. January means the start of the tax preparation season.
"It's my busy time of year," Susan said.
But nothing was going to stop her from watching her daughter, Rachel, and the rest of the College of Saint Benedict hockey team play the first outdoor women's Division III hockey game Saturday, Jan. 15 at Bernick's Outdoor Rink, Sartell, Minn. Not the cold. Not the wind. And certainly not form 1040A.
"I said, 'This is going to be the first Division III women's outdoor game, and I am taking off," said Susan, who drove six hours from Oconomowoc, Wis., with her husband, Bruce, to watch the game.
Susan was part of chilly crowd of several hundred people who huddled around the rink and watched Concordia-Moorhead beat the Blazers 9-1 in a Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game.
"I thought it was really awesome," said Rachel Welz, a junior defensive player for the Blazers who scored CSB's only goal in the second period. "They've introduced the Winter Classic into the NHL (an annual outdoor game played on Jan. 1 each year), and it's going back to the roots where hockey started."
"It's kind of cool to see how the NHL picked it up, and Michigan and Michigan State's (men's) teams set the record for attendance (over 113,000 fans watched their outdoor game Dec. 11 at Ann Arbor, Mich.). I think it's really sweet, in the same season, we can be part of making history," Rachel added.
The outdoor game may have taken fans back to hockey's roots, but there were plenty of modern touches. The rink was bordered by fiberglass boards. Plexiglas, netting and wire protected the fans from errant pucks or sticks, a public address announcer updated game developments and a warming house was available for fans (the players retreated to locker rooms in nearby Bernick's Arena between periods). Players also used hand and foot warmers to keep toasty.
And, some oddities showed. This may have been the first hockey game where sunglasses were part of the game attire for fans. Players wore eye black - like baseball or softball players - to cut down on sun glare. At one point, trainers on the CSB bench found their water bottles frozen just minutes into the game.
Susan said she had never watched her daughter play an outside game before. "It's actually fun to be closer to the rink," she said. "The sounds of the game are much better than being in the stands."
Also watching her first game outdoors was Bonnie Milton from Maple Grove, Minn. Her daughter, Abby, a former CSB player who graduated in 2009, drove from Fargo, N.D., to meet her mom and several other former Blazers' players and watch the game.
"We have another daughter, Madelyn, who is a sophomore at CSB. She's competing at the dance team competition in Florida," Bonnie said. "Our choice was, do we go to Florida or do we watch the outdoor game? We took the Minnesotan choice."
Amy Glaeser-Hedtke '05 played for the Blazers from 2001-05. She now lives in St. Cloud, and came out because she thought "it would be kind of cool" to see the first outdoor game.
"Not only is it a great thing for Minnesota sports and Minnesota hockey, but its great publicity for the area as well," Amy said. "Honestly, I didn't think they'd have lines painted on the rink. This is for real!"
Sami Massey, a first-year student at CSB, went to the game to cheer on her roommate, reserve goalie Sammi Gagnon.
'It's a lot more hard-core out here than inside with the weather," said Sami Massey, from Rosemount, Minn. "Just everything feels a little different. But it does make me appreciate what fans went through watching outdoor hockey."
"It was the experience that we were looking for, and we ended up having a great day for it," Blazers' coach Patrick Michaud said. "It was a lot of preparation, and you really have to thank the people from Bernick's Arena and the city (of Sartell), who put a lot of extra time and effort into doing this game."
Many would like to see the game continue on a yearly basis.
"I'd love it if we did it again next year. It was so much fun," Rachel said.
"I would be here," Susan added.
Photographs by Emily Kight '14