Hockey heads outdoors

By James Cantagallo

In the second time in four seasons, the Div. II hockey team will take to the ice outdoors.

The Huskies will take on DePaul University in the Winter Frost Face-Off. The game will take place at 4 p.m. Feb. 8 at the MB Financial Park in Rosemont.

“I think this [is] a great way to end the 2013-2014 home schedule by playing at such a nice setup right in the middle of the Chicago suburbs,” said general manager Ian Kalanges through email.

“I am super excited for this event, and this will have a true Winter Classic feel to it with all the surrounding restaurants and attractions. I think this will help give great exposure to the NIU hockey program.”

Kalanges and Div. II head coach Chuck Rinaldo were approached with the idea by Kevin Mann from 200×85 LLC, a creator of hockey programs and tournaments, and Rosemont. After talking it over and seeing the site, NIU decided to go forward with the opportunity.

“It is an exciting event,” Rinaldo said. “We are definitely happy to be a part of it. It will be an all-day showcase of every level of ACHA hockey.

“For us to be able to play DePaul, who is a local rival of ours, should be able to draw big crowds and be a good opportunity to promote our program and the ACHA overall.”

Hockey club President JC Weems feels this is a great opportunity for the Huskies.

“It is everybody’s dream to play in an outdoor game,” Weems said. “It’s a chance to go back to how we played when we were kids. Some of us still go out to ponds during winter break. I am happy for the guys that are going to get to play in it.”

Rinaldo believes there is a sentimental and exciting feeling about being able to play an organized game outside.

“No matter where you grew up and no matter when you started playing hockey, once you are a hockey player, playing outdoors and getting that feel of playing on a pond and in the old outdoor recreational atmosphere, that feels like home to every hockey player. It definitely touches close to everybody’s heart,” Rinaldo said.

The NHL outdoor games, such as the Winter Classic and Stadium Series, have been gaining popularity for a few years. For NIU, playing an outdoor game can be a good recruiting tool.

“It creates great awareness for not only NIU hockey, but ACHA hockey overall,” Rinaldo said. “There are a lot of good hockey players in Illinois that are looking for places to play, and for them to be able to hear about us, DePaul and other various schools being on such a big stage, like an outdoor game, will be an opportunity to get some of the local kids interested in us and local college hockey.”

Weems believes the outdoor game will be a big help with recruiting and that it could attract some players who would otherwise not come to NIU. He would like to see outdoor games become a regular addition to the Huskies’ schedule.

“Hopefully it is a thing we start doing every year,” Weems said. “Hopefully we can work that out with Rosemont, where we have an outdoor game every year, and it will just kind of become our staple.”