HILLARY SMITH: When the ice is bigger, so are the possibilities

2010-12-05T22:00:00Z 2010-12-05T22:16:23Z HILLARY SMITH: When the ice is bigger, so are the possibilitiesBy Hillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
December 05, 2010 10:00 pm  • 

When it comes to the things that Midwesterners are not fazed doing in the cold and snow, attaching thin blades to the bottom of their shoes and making figure eights on ice in the back yard is certainly not one of them.

Snow falls, we slow down our driving or attach chains. Ice comes down on top of that, we check the fluid levels in our cards to make sure they'll still drive.

When it's cold, we adapt and enjoy.

Consider then if your back yard were on the 50-yard line of the largest college football stadium on the planet.

When the University of Michigan opted to out-do what brother-college Michigan State tried nine years ago with an outdoor NCAA hockey game, the U-M officials opened their new toy up to the community.

Work on the ice started Nov. 21 and was completed in time for the first on-ice practice last week.

But the first game played on the ice at the 109,000-plus seat Michigan Stadium wasn't the Wolverines vs. Spartans game slated for this weekend. Instead, it was Adrian College playing Concordia (Wis.) College in the first outdoor D-III hockey game.

Putting an ice rink outside in Ann Arbor became an invitation for all hockey players and fans to enjoy. High schools are playing on the ice, youth teams are playing on the ice, women's teams, girls teams, boys teams and finally, after the game this weekend, an open skate that welcomes the neighborhood and anyone else unfazed to brave the weather and step onto the ice on the field.

These giant outdoor rinks pop up every year in one space or another thanks to the NHL's Winter Classic that began in 2008 in Buffalo.

After Wrigley Field hosted the 2009 Classic, the Cubs organization opted to bring the ice rink back for public skates last year giving fans a chance to the Midwestern tradition of putting skate to ice and trying not to fall down.

Whether it sits on the grass at Wrigley Field or Fenway Park or is settled into the bowl at Michigan Stadium, giving the general public a chance to step on the ice isn't just about good community relations.

Keeping alive the dreams of hockey players helps produce the next Jonathan Toews. Giving little girls a giant space to twirl on lets them close their eyes and open them somewhere in the middle of their Olympic short performance.

A big stage gives way to bigger dreams. Whether it's for college athletes or 5-year-olds just trying to stay up.

In the Midwest, ice in the backyard is nothing to fear, only a home for possibilities.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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