There will be firsts across the board Feb. 17, but the Faceoff at Falcon Stadium won’t be the first time playing under open sky for several players.
Two Colorado College Tigers from colder climates — and one more who lists surfing among his hobbies — can rely on past experience as CC takes on Air Force on a repurposed football field.
CC sophomore Ben Copeland and junior Christiano Versich got the chance to participate in Hockey Day Minnesota.
“I was so happy,” Versich said of finding out he’d be in his first outdoor game. “I was like, ‘Once-in-a-lifetime thing for sure.’”
“Obviously, not,” he chuckled. “Twice in a lifetime for the lucky people.”
A rink was constructed at Holman Field, an airport across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Paul, for the Jan. 17, 2015, games. Versich scored a power-play goal, but his St. Thomas Academy Cadets fell to the Hill-Murray School Pioneers in overtime.
Copeland recalled his team’s snowy win in Elk River, Minn. He had a rink in his backyard so “playing outside, it just kind of felt natural.”
“It’s fun. Less stress,” he said. “You just go out and play.”
It isn’t all Minnesota natives with outdoor hockey tales — in fact, Oceanside, California's Jack Gates has the most relevant experience.
He said his San Diego Jr. Gulls — a bunch of “14-year-olds from California that are used to sand and the beach” — trekked east to Colorado Springs to play an outdoor game against the Pikes Peak Miners.
Gates recalled a nice night — “pretty cold” — and seeing the unfamiliar stars and mountains. The Gulls got ready in a shed. Many hand warmers were involved.
“At times the game goes pretty quick, but you’ve just got to think to yourself on the bench, just soak it all in when you can,” Gates said. “Not many people get to do this.”
It was announced Monday that the Tigers will battle the Falcons at Falcon Stadium after the Colorado Avalanche and L.A. Kings are done with the rink. Tickets immediately went on sale.
The novelty certainly hasn’t worn off for the relative veterans.
“When the rumors started swirling about this, I was so excited because of how fun my first experience was,” Versich said.
“I’m sure a lot of people will be in awe of the venue, but you’ve gotta remember we’re there to win the game.”