By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
After months, perhaps years of speculation, an announcement was made Tuesday afternoon confirming an outdoor hockey game at TD Ameritrade Park in 2013. On Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 the Lincoln Stars will play the Omaha Lancers and the University of North Dakota will play UNO at an ice rink that will be constructed on the field of the downtown ballpark.
“Since the decision of building a new home for the College World Series in downtown Omaha, we knew it (TD Ameritrade Park) would also offer new and exciting sporting opportunities to the citizens here and throughout the region,” MECA President and CEO Roger Dixon said. “In February of 2013 it will host a first of its kind event in the Midwest. We are very excited for what this will mean for our city.”
The event is being called the “Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice.” Plans are to have the games run back-to-back, with the Stars and Lancers beginning at 12:30 p.m. and the Fighting Sioux and Mavericks playing about 45 minutes after.
‘Battles on Ice’ is being treated as a single event and tickets will be good for both games. Tickets go on sale on Oct. 1 and start at $30.
Almost as long as TD Ameritrade Park has been in existence, rumors have been swirling about an ‘Omaha Hockey Day’ that included an outdoors game. Rumors started with playing a final game at Rosenblatt Stadium then gradually moved to TD Ameritrade once Rosenblatt began deconstruction.
At the press conference announcing the event, UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts credited Omaha Lancers president and managing partner Ben Robert with the idea of getting his team and the Mavs together for something special.
“Ben Robert came to my office about two and a half years ago, and he said I want to do outdoor hockey in Omaha…TD Ameritrade didn’t even exist then,” Alberts said. “Ben kept going, kept talking about outdoor hockey.”
“We had a few things we had to work, obviously with the NCAA and others. The fact that we’re here today is a great testament to the hard work of an awful lot of people, and we’re honored as a part of UNO to be a part of this.”
Outdoor games have become somewhat of a regular thing in hockey over the last four years. The NHL began a tradition of playing an outdoor game on New Year’s Day in 2008 and dubbed it the Winter Classic.
From its beginning in Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Stadium to this year in Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Ballpark, tens of thousands of fans have packed the venues to be a part of outdoor hockey. It’s also become somewhat of a regular thing in college hockey.
Michigan hosted Michigan State in the ‘Big Chill at the Big House’ in December 2010 and drew over 100,000 fans. Just a month ago, Michigan again played outside, this time as visitors to Ohio State at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
“We got this idea certainly from the NHL,” UNO head coach Dean Blais said. “They’ve had games in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Edmonton where it was about 20 below so it will be a lot nicer.”
“The skates get dull a little bit faster but it’s extremely fun. Most of the players that have played the game from up north played their youth hockey on the outdoor rinks and here we’re gonna bring it to Omaha.”
An artist’s rendition of what TD Ameritrade will look like a year from now shows the hockey rink being set up on the edge of the infield dirt. It will run from foul line to foul line with one goal in the southwest corner and the other in the northeast.
Omaha Sports Commission President Harold Cliff said that $30 will be the starting price for tickets. Other prices and seating arrangements are to be finalized over the next few months.
Cliff also said that the ice installed for the ‘Battles on Ice’ will also be the ice used for skaters to warm up on at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The rink at TD Ameritrade will be transported to the convention center area of CenturyLink Center.
“I really think this game is indicative of what makes Omaha special,” Alberts said. “Omaha is special because people come together and collaborate things so the citizens of Omaha have a great time.”
Despite the concerns that often come with anything to do with the College World Series, Cliff said that MECA didn’t seek any approval to use TD Ameritrade Park for the event. Since the venue is owned by the city of Omaha and not the NCAA, it opens it up for a variety of possibilities.
Cliff said that he feels that outdoor games have gained in popularity because they’re more than just games, they’re events.
“If you were to buy a ticket in Yankee Stadium for example, because you’re so far away from the ice you’re not really watching the closeness of the game,” Cliff said. “You’re there to observe and participate in the event. And it is a little different. I think that’s one of the reasons that makes it so popular.”
With the College World Series, NCAA tournament games this march, U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials this summer and a host of other events, Omaha has started to become the nation’s best destination for amateur sports. Ben Robert, who might be considered the father of the event feels that ‘Battles on Ice’ is further confirmation of that.
“I believe this is going to be a very exciting day for the city of Omaha,” Robert said. “We’ll put ourselves on the map of the nation when it comes to the city being recognized as a top city.”