12/27/2008 5:37 PM - From chicagoblackhawks.com: (link)
CHICAGO — Duncan Keith found out what it was like to skate in front of 74,554 screaming fans at Spartan Stadium seven years ago when he made his NCAA debut for Michigan State against Michigan in the Cold War game.
"It's definitely a different type of loudness," Keith told NHL.com Friday night. "It was almost like an echoing with literally thousands of people."
That was college, though. This is the NHL, and come Thursday the Chicago Blackhawks All-Star defenseman will have a whole batch of new outdoor hockey memories to cherish.
Keith and Blackhawks forward Adam Burish both played in outdoor hockey games as collegians, but these outdoor-game veterans expect the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Wrigley Field on New Years Day to be a one-of-a-kind event.
"I'd play in this one with a broken leg, I know that," Burish, who is hoping to come off the injured reserve list this weekend, just in time for the Winter Classic, told NHL.com.
Keith's outdoor game experience was nothing like he had ever seen before. The sheer enormity was striking.
Until he was 14 years old Keith lived in Fort Francis, Ont., a small town of roughly 9,000 people in the northwest part of the province. He moved with his family to Penticton, B.C., which has a population of just under 35,000.
You can imagine how big his eyes got when he saw 74,000-plus at Spartan Stadium for his first-ever college hockey game.
"For me, I came from a small town so just seeing that many people all in one stadium was amazing," Keith said. "I had never been to a football game before or a baseball game before. I got thrown into the mix."
The game ended in a 3-3 tie, which to Keith now seems like the ideal scenario. Back then, a tie only seemed like a loss.
"It's a pretty good rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State, so it would have been tough to lose that one against them," Keith said. "It was kind of fitting that it was tied."
Burish's outdoor game, the Frozen Tundra Classic at Lambeau Field on Feb. 11, 2006 between his Wisconsin Badgers and the Ohio State Buckeyes, was a bit cosier.
Only 40,890 turned out at the legendary stadium, which seats 72,601 for football — but it was still considered a sellout because of how the rink was built on the field.
"The rink extended from the end zone to the far 30-yard line and then they put a grandstand up (in front of the north end zone)," Burish said. "It was a little bit more intimate."
Burish, the Badgers' captain that afternoon, scored 23 seconds into the first period. Wisconsin won, 4-2, thanks to a pair of third-period goals.
"It was something I'll never forget, to start a game like that," he said. "It's a different noise than you're normally used to. It was a deeper, louder roar because there are two or three times the people you are normally around and it's a rush like you don't experience in a normal game."
He remembers that Mother Nature wasn't a factor at all. It was reportedly 28 degrees with clear skies for the game.
"I wore a T-shirt and my regular pants," Burish said. "Some of these guys were complaining that it was going to be so cold (at Wrigley Field), and I have assured them that you are not going to feel the cold. You're going to be so excited about the atmosphere that the cold is not going to bother you."
Burish said the game operations crew at Lambeau Field kept some Packers' traditions alive for the hockey game, making it an even more unique experience.
"At football games, the tradition is after the third quarter they play 'Jump Around,' and as we were walking on the ice after the second intermission they started playing 'Jump Around,'" he said." There were 40,000 people in Lambeau Field jumping around. It was like a wave of people."
The Badgers also kept a famous Lambeau Field tradition alive by doing the Lambeau Leap into the south end zone after the game.
"There was cement everywhere so all the trainers were ticked off that we ruined our skates, but we were running around, jumping into the crowd and people were spilling beer on us and yelling," he said. "We ran around half the stadium high-fiving everybody."
Both Burish and Keith said they were curious about the show the NHL and the fans have in store for Jan. 1.
"Say if a Red Wing guy shoots the puck out of play, will somebody zip it back on the field?" Burish said. "'Take Me Out to The Ball Game' would be kind of cool if somebody were to sing that."
We'll soon find out.