Michigan-Michigan State face off in The Bill Chill Saturday

Published 10:25 pm Thursday, December 9, 2010

ANN ARBOR — The University of Michigan and Michigan State University will play a second outdoor ice hockey game to be played between the two storied programs.

The teams will face off in “The Big Chill at the Big House” at Michigan Stadium on Saturday at 3 p.m.

“I am extremely pleased that the Michigan and Michigan State athletic departments are collaborating on such an outstanding event,” former U-M athletic director Bill Martin said. “The Cold War game in 2001 was a resounding success, and this game at Michigan Stadium should again provide great excitement for the schools, the CCHA and the state of Michigan.”

“We are thrilled to take part in this game at Michigan Stadium, and proud that our event in 2001 has led to a series of these games that bring hockey back to where it began — outdoors,” commented Mark Hollis, Michigan State director of athletics. “The Cold War game has led the way to some exciting opportunities in college hockey and the NHL. It’s a nod to tradition but also a very modern, exciting thing for our student-athletes and fans to experience. There are always great crowds when these teams meet, and we expect another fantastic gathering of hockey fans in the state of Michigan to embrace this exciting event.”

While the NHL’s Winter Classic has become a popular annual event, the concept of returning to the game’s roots began with a game between the Wolverines and Spartans at the start of the decade. The first outdoor collegiate hockey game in the modern era took place between the schools on Oct. 6, 2001, when MSU hosted the “Cold War” at Spartan Stadium in front of a world-record crowd of 74,544. That game ended in a 3-3 tie.

The Big Chill at the Big House will be the fifth outdoor game in Division I men’s ice hockey, and the third outdoor contest in U-M hockey history. Since the Cold War, there have been two other men’s outdoor games, with the Camp Randall Hockey Classic between host Wisconsin and the Wolverines coming up on Feb. 6. Wisconsin hosted an outdoor game in 2006 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., taking on Ohio State. Earlier this season, Boston College and Boston University faced off at Fenway Park.

“This will be an unbelievable event,” U-M head coach Red Berenson said. “Not only is this a great rivalry between two top programs, but for it to be held in the Big House at Michigan is beyond what any of us have ever dreamt. This is finally a reality and it could be the largest crowd ever to witness a hockey game of any kind. I know our team, our staff and our fans from all over the country will be counting the days until the Big Chill at the Big House arrives.”

“Michigan State-Michigan is one of college hockey’s great rivalries, and this will be a grand stage on which to showcase it,” added Rick Comley, head coach of the Spartans. “This is an exciting event for the student-athletes, coaches and staff, and the fan bases of both schools. When these teams face off, it is a game that people pay attention to nationally — and having one of our games outdoors in Michigan Stadium will create even more excitement and energy.”

Comley and Berenson are two of college hockey’s most distinguished and accomplished coaches. MSU’s Comley ranks third on the active coaching wins list with 765 triumphs over 37 seasons. Currently in his 26th season at U-M, Berenson is in fourth place on the active wins list with 687 career victories. They each have a pair of national championships — Comley in 1991 (Northern Michigan) and 2007 (Michigan State), Berenson in 1996 and 1998 with the Wolverines.

The playing surface has been placed in the center of Michigan Stadium. The red line (center ice) will run on top of the 50-yard line, and the end boards will extend to reach the 17-yard lines.

Since the Cold War game in 2001, the NHL has embraced the concept of outdoor games. The NHL’s first-ever outdoor game took place in 2003 when the Edmonton Oilers staged the Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium against the Montreal Canadiens. In 2008, the first game put on by the NHL and branded the Winter Classic was played at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, N.Y., between the homestanding Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Winter Classic games have since been held in Chicago (vs. Detroit in 2009) and Boston (vs. Philadelphia in 2010).

The Big Chill at the Big House will serve as one of Michigan’s two scheduled home games against Michigan State in the 2010-11 season. Additional games between the archrivals will be contested at Yost and Munn Ice Arenas (one each), plus the annual game at Joe Louis Arena. Dates are yet to be determined.

“Michigan and Michigan State set the standard for staging outdoor games on a grand scale on Oct. 6, 2001, and it’s great to see them collaborating again on an event that should once again put two CCHA teams in the national, and international, hockey spotlight,” CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos said.