SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Michigan head hockey coach Mel Pearson was on the bench when the Wolverines played in the first modern day collegiate outdoor game at Michigan State in 2001.
The game at Spartan Stadium set a world attendance record at the time for the largest hockey crowd with 74,544, launching an increasingly popular trend for hockey games to be played at large outdoor venues.
The Wolverines then hosted MSU at Michigan Stadium in 2010, drawing a record crowd of 104,173. Michigan played in its eighth outdoor game on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, and although the event drew 23,422, Pearson said the novelty of playing in the natural elements has not worn off, especially when the team skated to a 4-2 victory over the sixth-ranked Irish.
"When you saw the first once, you just got a feel what it could be," Pearson said of playing outdoors. "It was awesome. There is never going to be one like the first one, but they are great. I hope at some point we can have another one at the Big House. I think the fans would love it and I know our players would love it, but it takes a lot of work from a lot of people."
Notre Dame (12-6-1, 5-4) joined the Big Ten prior to last season, and it took three of five meetings against Michigan (7-7-6, 3-4-4-2), including a 4-3 thriller in the Frozen Four.
This season, Michigan has taken two of the first three matchups, with another one scheduled for Feb. 12 in South Bend.
"It is iconic," Pearson said of Saturday's outdoor event. "These guys will remember this for the rest of their lives, and it adds a little extra sweetness when you win.
"The Michigan-Notre dame rivalry just adds to the game, whether it is football, basketball or any sport. We have a really good rivalry with them the last two years and we look forward to that rivalry. I think it is going to be one of the best rivalries in college hockey moving forward."
Michigan junior goalie Hayden Lavigne, who made 30 saves, said Saturday was a once-and-a-lifetime opportunity. There were clear skies with a temperature of 49 degrees at puck drop (4:30 p.m.). "
"It was unbelievable," Lavigne said. "Playing with the sunset and everything was super cool. Getting that cold air rushing through me, obviously I'm standing there, so anytime the wind came through, I really felt it.
"But it is something I will never forget. It is an opportunity not many of us get and many of us might not ever get again."
Saturday was the first time senior captain Joseph Cecconi played a game outdoors. He made an early impact, scoring from 160 feet away to give the team a 1-0 lead less than five minutes in.
"Looking back at the team that played at the Big House, I was hoping it would be like that," he said. "But still, 23,000 people, I think there was a good amount of Michigan fans there, too, so it was awesome to play in."
A bus full of Children of Yost members made the trip from Ann Arbor to cheer on the Wolverines. Michigan junior John Bartman said he enjoyed the atmosphere but noted the game had a different feel than being at Yost Ice Arena.
"Everything is worse than Yost," he said. "It is a different venue. Yost is tight, you're on the glass shouting and everyone can hear you. This is a great venue, but it is not quite the same."
The Wolverines return home Tuesday against Merrimack.
They are aiming for their second straight victory after an 0-3-6 stretch in their previous nine games.
"We're excited that we got the win," Cecconi said. "We all know that it's time to turn this ship around, and all it takes is one win. That's three big points for us, and that's huge."
This article is written by Ryan Zuke from MLive.com, Walker, Mich. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.