Hockey game at Camp Randall diminishes outdoor appeal, provides bad sightlines

As you’ll find out in the coming posts in this blog, I’m not too into the whole "going to the game to get drunk and be there for the social aspect" idea. I’m more of a fan of showing up on time and watching the game, as absurd as that may sound to many UW fans. In the last two years I’ve been to like five total games as a fan and the rest as either a writer or a broadcaster, so maybe I’ve been shut out from the fun of being a fan. Nonetheless, I am not as excited as many are and will be about the proposed outdoor hockey game at Camp Randall in February of 2010. These hockey games are much less about hockey as they are being outdoors in the cold for hours at a time, and combined with the fact that people will be able to see less than they could at Lambeau, I think the UW might have trouble accomplishing their goal of a world record for attendance.

To recap, the Badgers participated in the second and most recent NCAA Division 1 outdoor hockey game in February of 2006 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, known as the Frozen Tundra Classic. I went to the game, and as unique as it was, I would not want to do it again. 40,889 other fans were informed along with me that Wisconsin defeated Ohio State 4-2. I use the word informed because frankly one could barely tell what was going on and essentially had to rely on public address announcer Bob Look to figure out when anything happened. You really just could not see that much.

Lambeau Field shut off one end of the stadium and built temporary stands on that end in order to push the rink closer to the other end to at least give fans on the ends a clue as to what was going on in the game. This reduced the game’s potential attendance and the crowd did not approach a typical Packers' football capacity crowd of 72,928. Considering the fact that early reports indicate that UW will be going for an attendance record, that would mean that the rink would be centered at Camp Randall so that they do not have to shut down one end and limit attendance.

A hockey rink is 200 feet in length, so if center ice is at midfield, each end of the rink would extend about 33 yards each way, with each end being at the respective 17 yard lines. If you’re in these end zones, that leaves you at the very least 35-40 yards from the action as the stands at UW begin about 15 yards behind the end zones. If there’s any sport that is not meant to be viewed from 300 feet away, it’s hockey, especially from behind. You could fit another half of a hockey rink between the end zone stands and the edge of the rink. I don’t like when people tell me they don’t watch hockey because they can’t see the puck, but I think it’s reasonable to not want to sit in the cold in February if you can’t see the puck, let alone see it when you're distanced from the action behind Michigan goalie Bryan Hogan. When the "Cold War" game between Michigan and Michigan State and Spartan Stadium set the current record of 74,544 in 2001, they placed the rink at midfield. However, I don’t think you could get people in those end zones to do it all over again. Badger fans have done this already, and seating will be worse at Camp Randall than it was at Lambeau. If you’re attending for the atmosphere, good...if you’re attending to watch hockey, good luck.

When you do two of these games in such a short period of time, the games lose their appeal and excitement. The Frozen Tundra game was a once and a lifetime opportunity, but now it's looking like seeing Wisconsin hockey outside might be a twice-in-five-years chance. Furthermore, looking at the students, they struggle to show up for games at Camp Randall in 50 degree weather when you actually can see the game, so I don’t know if they’ll be there in 1 degree weather when you can’t see the game. The quality of hockey fans in Madison is better than football fans, but they don't stand a chance in terms of quantity. I hope it works out and they break the attendance record for the sake of the hockey program, but I think with Wisconsin having already hosted an outdoor game, this record is made to be broken by another program whose fans have never had the experience of watching hockey outdoors, or by an NHL team on New Year's Day. You don’t want to host an outdoor game and wind up with a similar turnout to a certain game at Camp Randall involving, umm, Cal Poly. (We could open up another brand new blog solely devoted to the events of that day).

No offense Hoge. I know you’re ecstatic about it. You’re a different breed than I am, though. You went to see Wisconsin and Michigan play football at Camp Randall in September of 2005 with a collapsed lung, so I don’t think something like cold weather will stop you this time around from seeing the two teams play hockey in the dead of winter. But standing a hail mary toss from the action is something I've done before, and I think the UW might have trouble having its prayer for a new record answered.

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