If you glanced at any newsstand on campus Monday, Feb. 11, you didn’t see the names of the papers sitting there or any words for that matter. Staring back at you was a solitary red number “1” on the back of Ben Brust’s white jersey.
The six-column photo — a great shot I might add — took up almost the entire top half of the front page. With reason of course. Two days prior, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team knocked off then-No. 3 Michigan 65-62 in overtime, largely at the hands of Brust who heaved up a last-second shot to send the game into the extra period.
But as I sat there staring at the photo, the hockey beat writer in me couldn’t help but think, “would they do that for hockey?”
Imagine for a second if the men’s hockey team knocked off a top-ranked opponent. Would it make the front page, top fold? My skeptic, yet realistic self says no. But before you protest with thoughts concerning their ability to accomplish such a feat, understand this: on Friday night No. 2 Minnesota will visit the Kohl Center. To finish the two-game series, both teams will travel to Soldier Field to play each other outdoors.
Certainly, The Badger Herald is a student newspaper, but every paper at every level makes similar decisions. But the top story choice still stands to reflect the interests of those putting the paper together and the audience it is catering to. That being said, the question remains: would the Badgers’ outdoor game be featured on the front page if they were to win Sunday — or even Friday for that matter?
Again, probably not.
Hockey, in general, is not nearly as popular as basketball. In the U.S., it’s ranked fourth behind football, baseball and basketball, respectively. This is due in part to hockey’s many needs to play the game. Unlike in basketball where all you need is a ball and hoop, you need a stick, a puck and a net at the very least for street hockey. For actual ice hockey, you need ice, skates, and a helmet (safety first!).
Ultimately, the outdoor games on Sunday are exactly what the sport needs. Miami of Ohio and Notre Dame will kick off the day’s events, while the Badgers and Gophers will highlight the afternoon.
The game in itself is special. Outdoor games are rare. In the National Hockey League, only one is played each season — except this year when it was cancelled due to the lockout — but even then, the Winter Classic has only gained traction in recent years.
At the college level, there have been eight outdoor games between East Coast schools starting in 2010. Outside of the East Coast, there have been six additional outdoor games since 2001, two of which featured the Badgers — a 3-2 victory over Michigan at Camp Randall in 2010 and a 4-2 decision over Ohio State at Lambeau Field in 2006.
While outdoor games have been a growing phenomenon since 2001, Sunday’s event could not come at a more important time for the sport.
On the heels of yet another NHL lockout, fans fed up with the sport earlier this season are fully embracing its comeback. In fact, it’s the first weekend back the NHL saw record ratings.
With the pros thriving once again, such an event as a doubleheader outdoors will garner more interest for the sport, particularly with the event at the collegiate level. Younger players will see the game they play on display at a level they are feasibly closer to.
“I think its big,” senior defenseman John Ramage said. “Any time you get recognition, playing in front of 60,000 people, it’s huge for our team and huge for college hockey.”
“Recruiting-wise, for young kids that are watching … they might see the Badgers playing the Gophers and say ‘hey, these guys playing outdoors is pretty cool, we want to be a part of something like that,’” senior forward Derek Lee said. “All these outdoor games that are taking place, they all have large crowds and everyone seems to be attracted to them, so it’s always something special.”
College hockey won’t simply be on display Sunday, but college hockey at its finest.
Each of the four teams playing Sunday is ranked: No. 2 Minnesota, No. 3 Miami (OH), No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 18 Wisconsin. The four teams have a combined 36 Frozen Four appearances and 11 National Championships, according to UWBadgers.com. Also, one of the four teams has made an appearance in each Frozen Four since 2008.
With some of the finest hockey to be played Sunday, what really makes the event special is the simple fact it is outdoors. It will be hockey as it was meant to be.
Hockey was invented and refined out in the open air on backyard ponds and lakes. While it certainly has evolved and found a constant and new home indoors, playing outside adds a whole new element to the game. Weather conditions instantly become a factor — changing ice conditions and how the players adapt to those new elements.
But, in playing outside, the sport directly relates to kids skating in their backyard rinks or local ponds. As they imagine playing in front of thousands of people and scoring the game-winning goal, they’re simply enjoying playing their favorite sport. On Sunday, that fantasy will be a reality.
And maybe with this amount of exposure, someday the Badgers could make the front page.
Kelly is a senior majoring in journalism. While “Erickson the Red” makes a brief and triumphant return, she couldn’t resist talking about hockey. Will you be making the trip down to Soldier Field? Let her know at [email protected] or hit her up on Twitter @kellymerickson