High school hockey teams play from dawn until dusk at Michigan Stadium
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
There was a slight breeze at Michigan Stadium as the Father Gabriel Richard High School hockey team walked down the tunnel normally reserved for football players and toward the temporary ice rink on Sunday evening. As the players descended down the rubber-laid hallway, the stadium lights became visible and illuminated the swirling snowflakes against the dark winter sky.
Thirty degrees outside and with a light but steady snow, the slight breeze was just enough to make the flakes look like they were floating rather than falling.
It was a perfect night for outdoor hockey.
“It was cold and awesome,” Gabriel Richard player Gunner Gail said. Gail had four assists in Richard's 4-1 win over Skyline, one of four high school games played at the Big House on Sunday.
Though officially a scrimmage, Gabriel Richard supporters turned out in droves in celebration of the event. The table full of team hats and scarves being sold just inside the entrance to the stadium didn't stay there for long.
With the stadium’s seats off limits, bleachers behind the benches were to provide seating for 300. That wasn’t nearly enough for the Gabriel Richard game or the two that followed.
Though 300 people in T-shirts and jeans may have been able to sit shoulder-to-shoulder in the bleachers, most had on multiple layers and shared blankets, making for far less room.
It was no bother, however, since the preferred mode of watching the games was against the glass, on top of the 2-foot high platform surrounding the rink. Fans covered the perimeter of the rink, standing four deep in some sections, and shook the boards in celebration of big hits and goals.
“It was really cool,” said Huron High School’s Kyle Aaronson, who scored in the River Rats’ 2-2 tie with Dexter (Boxscore) in the final game of the night. “It felt like a really awesome pond hockey game. It was great to see the community's support of local hockey.”
Surrounding the rink, disinterested little brothers pretended to be their favorite football players in games of catch in the end zone, and started snowball fights with the slush accumulated by the Zamboni. Moms and dads, meanwhile, huddled close; sharing blankets and sipping coffee.
“It was like a winter wonderland,” said Skyline’s Marcus Knight, who had a goal for the Eagles. “Time to play hockey old school.”
Pioneer picked up two wins on the day, with the girls team winning 4-2 over Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (Boxscore) under the early morning sun, and the boys beating Saline 3-2 (Boxscore) in the dark of the early evening.
“I wish the game would have turned out better, but it was quite an experience,” Saline coach Drew Denzin said, appreciating the opportunity to be in the stadium and the images that unfolded in the unique venue.
As if on cue, the breeze picked up during the national anthem before the Saline versus Pioneer game, giving the flag an ever so slight wave as snow began to fall.
“It was nice to have the snow falling right at the beginning, sort of a nice national anthem, to look up at the flag,” Denzin said. “It was special.”
“It was hard not be (distracted),” said Pioneer coach Steve Armstrong. “It was a blast. It was a beautiful night out. The weather was perfect and it was good hockey.”
Pete Cunningham covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 734-623-2561. Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.