Eric Beiersdorfer / Lantern photographer
Growing up, Ohio State men’s hockey coach Mark Osiecki would play outdoor hockey regularly. He would gather with neighborhood kids at a local pond and play pick-up games, and even play outside with his high school team.
“Eventually, you moved indoor and played in the rink,” Osiecki said. “But, even our high school team, we practiced outside once a week.”
On Jan. 15, the OSU men’s hockey team will get to experience the type of hockey its head coach grew up playing, as the No. 9 Buckeyes will face No. 11 Michigan in Ohio’s first outdoor college hockey game. The game, billed as the “Frozen Diamond Faceoff,” will be played at Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Playing outdoors is something that most OSU players haven’t done, Osiecki said.
“These kids, none of them played outdoor hockey, so they don’t really understand,” he said. “You want that feeling of kids that don’t want to leave the ice.”
One of the few Buckeyes who have played outdoor hockey is sophomore forward Alex Lippincott, who said it’s the best way to play the game.
“That’s the fun of the game, playing with your buddies outside,” he said. “There’s nothing better than outdoor hockey. It’s the most fun and the best way to enjoy the game.”
OSU first played in an outdoor game on Feb. 11, 2006, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisc. The Buckeyes faced off against Wisconsin in the “Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic” in front of 40,890 fans. Osiecki was an assistant coach for the Badgers at the time, and OSU lost, 4-2.
Michigan played Michigan State last December in “The Big Chill at the Big House,” when more than 100,000 fans watched the Wolverines defeat the Spartans, 5-0, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The game set a world hockey record with an official attendance of 113,411.
Even though the game is almost two months away, the Buckeyes are already excited.
“There is a lot of buzz, and there should be,” Osiecki said. “It’s a unique situation, that our players, our fans, the state … will never forget.”
Lippincott said his excitement for the game stems from watching the Winter Classic every year, an annual NHL outdoor game played on New Year’s Day, and also because the game is being played at the home of his favorite professional sports team.
“When we first heard it was a possibility, I was real excited,” he said. “That’s my favorite sports team, the Indians. It’s a great feeling to be able to play (at Progressive Field).”
The fact that the game will be played against rival Michigan adds to the hype of the game for some OSU players. The Buckeye-Wolverine hockey rivalry might not be on the same level as the football rivalry, but with recent OSU hockey uniform changes, the game will look similar to ones played on the gridiron.
OSU has new uniforms this season that include a helmet barring similar resemblance to the silver-striped headgear worn by Buckeye football players.
“It will probably look like a football game out there,” senior forward Danny Dries said.
Osiecki said the uniform change was made, in part, after seeing Michigan’s winged-shaped hockey lids, which resemble the helmets worn by the Wolverine football team.
“When they walk in an arena anywhere, people know who they are. It’s Michigan,” he said. “I thought it was a great idea from them whenever they started it.”
The Jan. 15 game could also have great importance concerning the CCHA.
The No. 9 Buckeyes, 10-3-1 on the year, moved into first place in the CCHA with a 7-2-1-1 conference record after beating Michigan in back-to-back games last weekend. The series sweep was the first for OSU in Ann Arbor since 1986.
Michigan is currently tied for seventh in the CCHA with a 3-5-2-1-conference record. The No. 11 Wolverines are 7-5-2 overall this season.
The Buckeyes will face Michigan in Columbus at 7:35 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13 and then travel to Cleveland to play at Progressive Field at 5:05 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15 in what will be a home CCHA game for OSU.