Ever since their concert at Shea Stadium in 1965, the idea of setting up a performance area in the middle of a baseball infield has defaulted as "the thing to do" for any event taking place in a baseball stadium that does not actually belong there...which is of course, anything other than the game of baseball.
Hokepoints: The Stupidest Sporting Event I've Ever Attended
Bill Rapai [set]
I went to the second (consolation) game of the Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park. Michigan lost 3-0. Brian said I must write this up, which is just as well since I'm too depressed to write about the football team right now. So.
As a Detroiter (err…Metro-) I appreciate Mike Ilitch. He may be a king of the Sicilian Square people while I'm a firm Foldedsliceitarian, but he's the daddy who won't say no to a Brett Hull or a Prince Fielder even if he just got you a Robitaille/Cabrera. He also funds a third of Detroit charities, renovated FoxTown, and realized the United States needed a Canadian-like hockey development program 30 years before USA Hockey itself got serious about it.
For this, that, and the other thing, nobody in this town can begrudge him anything. Not for weirdly refusing to put Larry Aurie's number (6) in the rafters, or for putting Tiger Stadium in the ground, or for not paying his taxes, because Ilitch is the guy who bought the Dead Things, then stole the GM who built that Islanders dynasty, then drafted Yzerman, then began a postseason streak which has outlasted both of Michigan's.
So when they told him they wanted to have his Red Wings host the Winter Classic (and once the stakeholders could decide on which pizza to order)* nobody could begrudge Mike his demand that Detroit, as opposed to Ann Arbor, should play host city, and that his downtown, bank-monikered ballpark should get a carnival and an ice rink too.
When you got down there and saw the Hockey Hall of Fame tent in the middle of the stadium lot, you could be for this in a rah-rah-good-for-Detroit kind of way. But, like handing that long-term deal to Franzen instead of Hossa, Comerica Park as hockey rink was a contemporarily questionable decision which in hindsight appears to be an awful one.
* [My vote would have been Supino's**]
**[Yes, we are all about superfluous possessives in Detroit. What of it?]
The thing about outdoor hockey is it's supposed to call to mind "pure" hockey, i.e. the game you played with friends under a gunmetal sky after spending twice that long shoveling, until the half-frozen parent you left on the shore decided everybody's going to fall in/catch a cold. I realize not everyone knows what this experience is, and there are myriad social/cultural/class reasons why this is, including SE Michigan geography:
[Jump: CoPa makes for a bad hockey rink, Michigan makes like a bad hockey team, and a hockey stick serves as a passable bat]
To those from the blue-speckled areas, you know how different hockey sounds without walls. Those sounds, not the size of the crowd, are what captivate me whenever they announce another outdoor extravaganza. My favorite of these is still that first Winter Classic in Buffalo, not because it had throwback jerseys and Gary Bettman's version of LeBron in it, but because the snow pillowed the stadium sounds and made it seem like any moment Mrs. Crosby was going to walk out onto the ice and declare it's time for cocoa.
|As with most UM sporting events this year, the highlight was the (alumni pep) band. [Me]|
Comerica Park was just an awful venue for this. For one the signature gentle slopes that make it such a pleasant garden-in-the-machine in summer meant nobody could sit within 100 yards of the action and still see over the boards. The decision to align the rink 1st to 3rd (instead of snug up one of the baselines) appeared to come from a "we're going to sell this place out" thought process. After just five minutes of watching torsos I gave up and watched on the scoreboard. Later we wandered to the upper deck, but there you couldn't even tell Michigan's players (wearing the blue-shoulder unis) from State's, and the distortion from the glass made seeing the puck impossible, so we went back to our seats behind 3rd base where at least we were close to the band.
Second, they plugged microphones into the boards and pumped the sounds of the game through the stadium loudspeakers. The same echo that makes "now batting (batting) for the Tigers (Tigers)…" so pleasing created a delay between sound and action. The result, when combined with watching on the big screen, was the sensation that you were watching a game on mute on TV while some other game took place in a rink behind you. The actual, torso-filled rink in your peripheral vision was eminently ignorable.
And the ads. Oh man, the ads. They played advertisements on the scoreboard during every break in the action and all through the period breaks, and the volume for those was triple what it was during the game. It meant you couldn't talk to the guy next to you without shouting, and even then it was nigh useless. I wanted to break something when they interrupted the band the umpteenth time with some jingle for a pill or car or whatever. There's like 500 people here—you get three times that many impressions if you punch yourself in the dong and put it on YouTube.
Ann Arbor probably has a right to be pissed. The rah-rah Detroit thing was great for the Superbowl, but for this it just seemed superfluous atop the city's usual Christmas/New Year's festivities and accompanying ice rink. The people who would have gone to the one went to this other. Seeing it, I have to agree with Bettman and the NHL guys who came in thinking Ann Arbor's campusmosphere would have been right-sized.
The Actual Playing of the Hockey
Sad Mac is sad. [Rapai]
Sucked. With Andrew Copp off at the World Juniors Championships—where he's leading Team USA to a 3-0 mark and persuading the German captain to break his back—Michigan looked, well, a lot like Michigan last season before they came up with Andrew Copp. The lifelessness was reflected in the shot totals (37-14 after two periods). Most of those by MSU were fling-it-at-Racine things during their four power plays. Michigan got none of those (and probably deserved two) until the outcome was decided and it was make-the-stats-plausible time. Or perhaps the ref just wanted to hear the Red Wings play-by-play man say the name "Mackenzie MacEacher" again. It is a wonderful name.
|Red on Friday night, photo by Bill Rapai.|
I was thinking this when I realized we didn't do the (penalty box) cheer, and with the usher-to-fan ratio about 1-to-3 at that point I didn't think to start it.
Disclaimer: I don't know hockey as well as Brian, in fact until I literally ended up in charge of writing the book on these guys I couldn't name all of them. Also I was watching the whole game on the leftfield scoreboard, and that was filmed in pore-o'-vision. So I can't really offer much of an opinion on the play of Max Shuart or Alex Kile except that they played and I wasn't the only person who had to look them up on my phone to know this fact. I can tell you they probably weren't in position because nobody but Compher (who was sent home from the WJC with an injury) was ever in a spot to receive a potential assist, and they probably didn't backcheck, because nobody but Compher did. Boo was there a few times on offense; nothing came of it anyhow. Copp's presence was missed badly; Moffatt's absence was noticeable.
The defense was what the preview feared: Bennett out there doing the right things, and lots of inexperienced dudes doing inexperienced things. Michigan's big checky dudes (Clare, Downing, Serville) wandered to the boards to watch, and Chiasson wandered around the circles and sometimes waved his stick at things. De Jong was a scratch, because whenever I go to Comerica Park it's a Ramon Santiago day.
Racine started; the previous night's game was colder, lasted for three hours, and ended at 10:30 p.m., is my guess for why Nagelvoort didn't go. For his part Racine gave up a rusty soft goal at the beginning, an even softer one at the de facto end, and was otherwise very strong. The sandwich goal was given up with 7 seconds left in a ludicrous elbowing penalty to Downing. You can read all about it in MGoBlueline's Diary:
In what would become the theme of the weekend, it seemed like they’d make it through this trouble spot, things were fine, ok, OH COME ON ARE YOU SERIOUS. Michigan takes away the pass to the MSU player in the slot, but…
…that leaves Berry wide open on the other side of the ice. He shoots it over the glove of Racine and Michigan State’s lead is increased.
Berry then swung his stick like a baseball bat, because we're in a baseball stadium. This was pretty awesome, and made me hate Matt Berry for making me like him, and because that was just about the only fun thing to happen all afternoon.
On our way back to my brother's to watch the bowl game, we drove by Gilbert Lake, and there you could see some kids had cleared for themselves a rink of indiscriminate dimensions, and a bit of trodden ground upon the shore, where a parent had watched.
Here's how that conversation probably went:
Guy 1: Let's put it in the middle of the infield.
Guy 2: Well nobody will really be able to see.
Guy 3: So what do you suggest?
Guy 2: Put it hard up against the 3rd base line, put risers on the other sides.
Guy 1: But then we're cutting the effective seating down to like 10,000! Why even have it outdoors then?
I'm with you on that. Best in town.
I am certainly glad I didn't end up going on Saturday. Tickets were like $2 each (for Torso seats, as I now understand) and it was tempting, even after the first loss.
What was the reported attendance? I can't find it anywhere, but it had to be pretty low.
I'd guess maybe 5,000. Certainly less than a quarter full there. Have to imagine it was worse for the championship game
I went Saturday and had a similar experience to the author except we watched the second period in the in stadium bar.
The only thing that could top this would be putting it in the middle of Michigan Intenational Speedway.
I also started in the lower stands and realized immediately that you could not tell what was going on at all. You could see people waist up, skating at angle. No clue where the puck is. No depth perception at all.
Moved to the upperdeck for the 2nd and 3rd periods and could see much better when I wasn't being frozen to death by the higher winds up there
...at eardrum-rattling volume - the scourge of every. single. sporting event.
we do the same thing at michigan stadium. the pregame music during warmups means you literally can't carry on a normal conversation.
I went to the consolation as well. That was pretty tough to watch, but it shouldn't be a huge deal in the grand scheme of the season. We just need to turn it on in Big Ten play.
Also, I have been back in Michigan since the 21st and have probably played upwards of 30 hours of pond hockey so far. Heading back out today as well, then to AA for the Classic. A break full of outdoor hockey is a great one to me (even though your map just cuts off Farmington from the "people who play hockey a lot").
Were they hoping for higher attendence or promoting downtown activities more? Not sure why they would hold this outdoors. I am in the group of people who play hockey a lot (well actually used to play hockey a lot-lol) and was considering attending however trying to convince my spouse and adult children that this would be more fun than the casino lost steam with every blast of snow driven icey wind. I might have had some takers had it been indoors.
I'm confused, havent they held the GLI @ Comerica for a couple of years now? Was it just because of the WC that they expected a bigger crowd to show up and moved the rink to the center of the field?
The GLI has been at Joe Louis since the end of the 70's. Before that it was at Olympia.
but i do beg to differ regarding the hockey geography lesson. as a young person (think: dinosaurs had just keeled over, great lakes were brand new) i stepped onto lake st. clair many a day to play hockey outside. from parks and homes, and we played for hours. i suppose that might've even made a difference when i came to play at michigan - sure didn't hurt.
Plus, on the East Side, we have these things called "indoor rinks" where you don't have to wait for it to be freezing cold outside before you can play hockey. Our MHSAA Division II/III schools do pretty well by themselves.
I didn't meant o leave out the east side. I used to write for Michigan Hockey Mag (that rag you see in those arenas) and probably spent as much time at ONYX as I did in my apartment then.
I hear ya. Obviously lots of people who grew up north of 8 mile don't play hockey, and vice versa. In general I was saying that kids who grew up in Oakland and Macomb are as likely to have played lake hockey as to have built a snowman, while it's rarer for Wayne County. This observation takes on racial overtones sometimes but there's a far simpler explanation that I figured I'd show while coming back to the overarching theme of Southeast Michigan hockey venues, from Gilbert Lake, to local rinks, to the Little Caesars development program, to Ann Arbor/USNDTP, to Michigan and MSU and finally the Joe.
The area I've circled in that map is as lake-pocked as the region just north of Minneapolis, or that in northeastern Wisconsin. I thought paying homage to one of the epicenters of U.S. hockey, and U.S. Hockey in general, would have made a great theme for an Ann Arbor-based Winter Fest. However Ilitch owns the Red Wings and Tigers and wanted the cross-marketing opportunity that provided, and made a shortsighted decision.
I don't think your logic is really sound... I know for a fact that the Wings have done studies that show the bulk of their STH base live to the west and south of the city. And it doesn't come close to explaining why 5,000 people showed up for an event that regularly does three times that many people at the Joe.
I think the Hockeytown Winterval or whatever it was called was a misguided idea not because Detroit is a poor location or Comerica is a poor venue but because the level in interest in sub-NHL hockey in this area is effectively nill. The OHL games have apparently drawn even fewer people than the college games did and I'll bet the AHL game drew even fewer. Hold all three events in the Big House and you'd probably still see 3-5,000 people tops.
Where people don't play hockey: washtenaw county. There is no aaa team in the county. Chelsea is as and Ann Arbor hockey is a wasteland.
..in the middle of Comerica looks dreadful. Actually think that the old Tiger Stadium (with its full enclosure and overhanging upper deck would have been much superior. Comerica is just too open.
Although if the attendence was really just 5,000 then maybe some kind of temp set-up at Campus Martius (or another downtown location) would have worked better.
I went to the first three Michigan outdoor games (Cold War, Madison, Big Chill), and no matter what the folks who harbor nostalgia for playing pond hockey say,
I've come to the conclusion this kind of outdoor hockey is utter horseshit for all involved. The ice is never right, the sight lines are horrid... And we're supposed to overlook the fact it usually creates compromised hockey because the gimmick. No thanks.
Basically, there's no reason to play a game that matters for something, whether it's a tournament or conference points or whatever, in a venue like this.
I think it's bullshit that they can't just let fans surround the ice like they do in the European outdoor games. That'd at least look cool
Holy cow I'm moving to Croatia! That looks sweet. I'm guessing the Romans who built that stadium understood sight lines
As someone who went to the Big Chill a few years back, I would never want to watch hockey in a football or baseball stadium again. It has the new and fun factor once. After that, It is awful to watch.