Outdoor Games

When Sidney Crosby scored the shoot out winner in the first ever Winter Classic it ended a game and launched a new era in the sport. The NHL now hosts the Winter Classic every year on New Years Day. A great event for television and for the host city. They have also launched the Stadium Series, a spinoff where other teams will be able to play outdoors, although under lesser fanfare. College Hockey has attempted to join in on the fun, with Frozen Fenway being a regular event, and Games being played recently at Comerica Park and Soldier Field, among others.

The question lingers: is it too much? Have outdoor games become watered down?

My answer: it depends on your perspective.

As a Frozen Fenway participant myself (UMass in ’11), I believe that the experience is something beyond your wildest dreams, regardless of television or attendance. Most hockey players I know have played on a pond at one point in their lives. You rig up some nets, find a puck and as many of your friends that know how to skate and play until the sun goes down. No boards, no refs, no clock. Just hockey.

As we move on in the game, the structure, rules and coaching have a greater impact on how we understand “hockey”. Playing an outdoor game is an opportunity to mix the hockey we grew up playing with the structured sport we play now. It’s a chance to get back to your roots as a player and just enjoy playing the game.

Kids imagine themselves scoring the game winner in Game 7 when they’re out on the pond. We not ever imagined that we would be playing hockey in a place like Fenway Park. The chance to do something of that magnitude in that kind of environment is a memory that will last a lifetime. Win or lose, the chance to practice and play with the stadium and the city around you is an absolutely amazing experience. Green Monster to your left, Peskys Pole to your right, the pitching mound between you and the locker room. Getting dressed in stalls used by Papi, Pedro, and any number of visiting All-Stars. Eye Black, Toques, and the environment – wind, setting sun, breathing steam,

Does the crowd matter? It is noticeable on the ice, but you can’t tell if there’s 33,000 or 37,000 people in the stands. You don’t pay attention to those things as a competitor. I spoke with some coaches this week that have been at Fenway with less than 10,000 and they all loved the experience. Outdoor games are unforgettable for those most intimately involved in the game. The “student-athlete experience” is second to none.

So again, are outdoor games losing their luster? I think not. At its roots, hockey is a game that is meant to be fun for all involved – it’s easy to get too wrapped up in the seriousness of it. Outdoor games bring us back to the roots. Playing hockey is about achieving dreams and making memories that will last a lifetime. There are few memories greater than playing outdoors, under the lights, in an official game, in a world-famous stadium. It’s something that the players involved will cherish for the rest of their lives.

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Tribute to a Mentor

Today, my mentor for the past two years parted ways with the UMass Hockey program. Don Cahoon, or “Toot” as he was known to most,  was and still is one of the “Good Guys” in hockey.

He brought me in to be his Graduate Assistant and Director of Hockey Operations two years ago upon my graduation from Notre Dame. While I had performed and witnessed many of the duties of the job during my time with the ND hockey program, this was my first opportunity to “make my own way” in the hockey world. Not only did Toot give me the opportunity to work with his program, but he trusted me to do my job with little interference.

As an aspiring young coach, I needed an opportunity where I would be able to do my job yet also grow and develop as a coach. Toot and his staff gave me that and more. Two years later, I can honestly say that I could not have found a better situation for myself than the one I found in Amherst, MA.

My insights, opinions and ideas were listened to, respected and developed over the course of my time here. Toot and the staff at UMass helped me to form my opinions about the game and how it should be played and taught (whether I agreed with them or not). They entrusted me with a number of duties, including scouting reports, game breakdowns, numerous administrative duties, and allowing me to be intimately involved in every aspect of the UMass Hockey program that I could under NCAA rules.

Away from the rink, Toot was an outstanding person. Always involved in the community, I don’t know if there was anyone in the town of Amherst who doesn’t know who Toot is. He made an effort to get to know my family and my girlfriend and had me over for dinner almost monthly.

As a poor grad student trying to find his way in the hockey world, Don Cahoon offered me an opportunity to work but gave me an opportunity to grow. He has been an outstanding mentor to me and I am lucky enough to be able to call him one of my friends for the rest of my life.

Toot, thanks for the two years at UMass. You have forever changed my life and the lives of many hockey players. These hundreds of “wins” are more important than the hundreds of wins you have from a game played on ice. I cannot thank you enough for everything you have done for me and everyone who has known you. Best wishes, and I can’t wait to get out on that boat!