Hockey is a game that started outdoors, and in recent years both the NHL and NCAA have been implementing more outdoor games. This trend started out with a game between the University of Michigan and Michigan State. The game was played in East Lansing and set the benchmark for attendance for an outdoor hockey game. This record would be broken by the Wolverines just years later when they hosted the contest between the two. The NHL than jumped in on the phenomena by hosting games in Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and Heinz Field. The success of the NHL Winter Classic in Boston led to Fenway Park starting their own collegiate series of outdoor games entitled “Frozen Fenway”, where the top teams from the Northeast face-off against each other.
Well, this weekend another slate of outdoor games takes center stage in my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Soldier Field, where the Monsters of the Midway play football on a frozen tundra that will be turned into an outdoor rink. For the past week, Chicago high school hockey teams have been facing off, but on Sunday the college kids will get a chance to take things outdoors. At noon, my favorite team, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, will face off against the Redhawks of Miami (OH) followed by a Big Ten matchup between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Both of these top 20 matchups should be good and the added scenery of the Windy City should add the the aura of the event. Let’s first look at the contest between Notre Dame and Miami.
Current CCHA leader and No. 3 in the nation Miami have been on a roll in the past month dropping only one game to Western Michigan. For the Irish, it has been a completely different story. In their last ten games they have posted a record of 3-6-1, and that’s including the two game sweep of Michigan last weekend. The Irish were hot to start the season, but fell in a bit of a rough patch in the month of January. Notre Dame forward Jeff Costello has been on fire as of late, but the key player to watch is Redhawks freshman Riley Barber. Barber has had an amazing season and averages over a point a game. The Redhawks do something that the Hurricanes couldn’t and Miami knocks off Notre Dame at Soldier Field.
The Minnesota/Wisconsin rivalry is arguably one of the best in collegiate hockey. The rivalry is so intense that the two sides even argue about the all-time series record between the teams. The two schools share 23 WCHA titles and both own five NCAA titles each. On Sunday, the Badgers and Gophers will face-off on the shores of Lake Michigan. Minnesota, in my opinion, is the best team in the country and the reason behind that is the play of their freshmen goalie. Adam Wilcox is 18-4-4 on the season and has a remarkable 1.80 GAA.
I like the Gophers in this one, but look for Michael Mersch and Derek Lee to be all over the ice for the Badgers. If Wisconsin wants to win those two will have to play some large minutes and find a way to beat Wilcox. I don’t see that happening. Gophers win in a close one.