DIII Women's Hockey goes outdoors
Concordia-Moorhead, St. Benedict make history with oudoor game
Mike Killeen and Sara Eisenhauer, NCAA.com
Concordia-Moorhead and Saint Benedict played the first outdoor women’s ice hockey game in Division III history this past Saturday at Bernick’s Outdoor Rink in Sartell, Minn.
The Cobbers won the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game, 9-1, in front of several hundred chilled fans who braved the elements to witness history.
They included Susan Welz, a certified public accountant who is immersed in tax preparation season. But nothing was going to stop her from watching her daughter, Rachel, and the rest of the Saint Benedict team. She drove six hours from Oconomowoc, Wis., with her husband, Bruce, to watch the game.
“I thought it was awesome,” said Rachel Welz, a junior defensive player for the Blazers who scored Saint Benedict’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.”
The game also follows what has become a tradition of sorts in men’s college hockey. Michigan and Michigan State set an attendance record of more than 113,000 fans at their outdoor game Dec. 11 in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“It’s really sweet, in the same season, we can be part of making history,” Welz said.
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, athletic trainers on the Saint Benedict bench found their water bottles frozen just minutes into the game.
“This is a great way to showcase what Division III hockey is about,” said Saint Benedict coach Patrick Michaud. “There’s still the core philosophy that there is a lot at stake, but also, that there are two teams that want to play hockey and have fun.”
What initially began as a rescheduling of a conference series to a different date and location has turned into an event that took a great deal of planning and organization. Steve Kimble, assistant athletics director of events at Saint Benedict, said making sure all the simple things, such as where power came from and where fans sat, were challenging.
“These are all things you normally don’t think of until you go outside,” Kimble said. “We have had to watch for all those small details and figure out how to pull it off.”
Kimble said the Saint Benedict staff also worked hard to ensure that the playing conditions were safe for the student-athletes. With temperatures in the low teens to single digits, having a contingency plan in place was critical, though in the end, not necessary this time.
“It’s an interesting situation because there is not really another winter sport to look at and follow those standards,” Kimble said.
“It’s wonderful what this event can do for promoting women’s hockey,” said Saint Benedict Athletics Director Carol Howe-Veenstra. “I know our women are excited to be a part of this very special experience.”
Cobbers head coach Brett Bruininks hopes the game will generate exposure for schools like Concordia and Saint Benedict that may get overlooked due to their location outside the Twin Cities metro area.
“I hope it gives us some exposure of what we can offer athletically,” Bruininks said. “I think it’s great exposure for our athletics department.”
“I’m sure a lot of people will realize how big of a deal this game is after the fact,” Kimble said. “An outdoor college hockey game is pretty unique and has never been done at the Division III level. I think we’ll look back and realize we are the only people to have ever done that.”
For Michaud, hosting such a significant event is something that really embodies the philosophy of Saint Benedict athletics.
“Blazers really represent the idea that we do things that aren’t being done anywhere else,” Michaud said. “It was the experience that we were looking for, and we ended up having a great day for it,” said Michaud. “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.”
Mike Killeen is the director of content development at Saint Benedict and Saint John’s (Minnesota); Sara Eisenhauer is an intern at the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.