Michigan AD Dave Brandon has big plans to make Big Chill at the Big House unforgettable
Dave Brandon admits he never expected to see the day when Michigan Stadium hosted a hockey game.
But now that the college football venue is being transformed into what Brandon hopes will be the biggest outdoor hockey rink in history, the Michigan athletic director doesn't plan to make The Big Chill at the Big House any ordinary event.
Tickets go on sale Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. for the Dec. 11 outdoor game in which Michigan will host rival Michigan State. Officials hope to break the attendance record for a hockey game, set in 2001 when the Wolverines and Spartans faced each other outdoors in the Cold War in front of 74,544 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
Whether that translates to a sold-out Big House remains unknown.
"I think when you start talking about putting 111,000 in that stadium for a hockey game, that could be tough," Brandon said Tuesday in a phone interview. "Our fundamental goal is to draw the largest crowd ever to watch a hockey game.
"So any number that starts with an eight, we'll be happy. But if we could draw 90,000 or God knows even 100,000, that would really make this an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime event.
Brandon said university officials are planning a series of special events will be held in conjunction with the Big Chill game that could stretch the festivities throughout the weekend.
Among the activities: parties, tailgates, player reunions and public skating sessions as well as an alumni game.
As part of the planning, the Michigan athletic department will unveil an event website Tuesday that will include information. The site, Thebigchillatthebighouse.com will feature interactive elements like Victor the Talking Puck and customizable desktop wallpaper, the school announced Tuesday.
Michigan coach Red Berenson has not made his return for a 27th season official, but has expressed excitement about the outdoor game since it was announced. Berenson grew up playing pond hockey in Canada and was part of the Cold War game as well as this year's Camp Randall Classic against Wisconsin in February.
But he knows considering the crowd the December game could draw, The Big Chill event has the potential to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"It will be an unbelievable event," Berenson said. "Unbelievable."
Brandon has been involved in the planning for December's game, working with university officials who traveled to Madison to witness how Wisconsin handled the event. Officials there spent $600,000 to host the event - $400,000 of which went into installing the temporary rink.
Associate athletic director Mike Stevenson said in February the university would begin with an initial budget for the Big Chill game at $1 million.
For Brandon, though, putting on the biggest show on ice will make the money spent all worth it.
"We have the biggest venue, we have a great hockey program and we live in hockey territory (in Michigan)," Brandon said. "So if anyone should know how to do this bigger and better than anybody, it should be us.
"If people walk out of the gates with smiles on their faces, having seen a good hockey game, we'll know we did our job."
Jeff Arnold covers Michigan hockey for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2554. Follow him at Twitter @jeffreyparnold.