Mount Carmel senior Dylan Klouda was in Wrigley Field for the Winter Classic hockey game between the Blackhawks and Detroit on Jan. 1, 2009.
“I was to the right of home plate,” Klouda recalled. “Lower deck. They weren’t great seats, but it was great to be there.”
Klouda will have a much better perch for today’s hockey extravaganza at Soldier Field. He’ll be on the ice.
Mount Carmel meets Glenbrook South at 2 p.m. in the second of four High School Hockey Faceoff games to be played today, and one of seven on the weekend.
“It’s going to be pretty exciting for the players,” Klouda said, “a chance to play outside in front of a bunch of people. But we’ll have to stick to our game.”
How easy will that be? Hardened veterans on the Blackhawks and other NHL teams who have played in the league’s Winter Classic have all been caught up in the atmosphere. High school-age hockey players will be no different.
“Who wouldn’t be excited?” said junior left wing Richard Fordon, the team’s leading scorer. “This is a big thing coming into town. It’s one of the bigger games in our year. I’m very excited about it, looking forward to it a lot. But I don’t know what to expect. I’ve never played (organized) hockey outdoors. Just pond hockey.
“Everyone’s going to be nervous. It’s up to the guys who’ve been on the team for a couple of years to settle everyone down.”
Mount Carmel is 10-9-3 overall, and 7-2-3 in the last dozen games.
Glenbrook South is 12-19-3.
Mount Carmel coach Scott Sortal and other school administrators discovered the possibility of high school games being played at Soldier Field shortly after the Feb. 17 college doubleheader, in which Notre Dame meets Miami (Ohio) and Wisconsin plays Minnesota, was announced. Through AHAI, the state high school hockey group, the Caravan was able to wangle an invitation, and were matched against the Titans.
“We wanted to do everything we could to have the opportunity to play there,” Sortal said. “It’ll be a different game for us. We’ll bus to Soldier Field from our home rink. But once we get there, it’ll be like any other game.”
“Just getting used to the sight will be different,” Sortel allowed.
The giant grandstands and suites. The replay scoreboards at either end of the arena. The long walk from the entrance to the field to the rink itself, set up in the middle of the football field.
The weather could be a factor. It’s supposed to be partly sunny and in the mid-30s (it was an overcast 32 degrees at Wrigley Field for the Blackhawks’ Winter Classic), but this is Chicago. It could change in five minutes. If there’s snow, it would recall the NHL’s first Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2008, where Ralph Wilson Stadium was turned into a hockey snow globe as Buffalo and Pittsburgh played into overtime and a shootout before Sidney Crosby won the game for the Penguins. That inspired the Blackhawks to go after the next playing, and now we have this.
Mount Carmel should have a big contingent of fans on hand. The Caravan’s occasional football games at Soldier Field get a respectable house. The once-in-a-lifetime nature of this should lure alumni as well.
“We’ve been selling tickets like crazy,” Sortel said. “The school is behind it. We’ve had hockey trivia on the (in-house) announcements all this week.”
Said Klouda, “Everyone I’ve talked to said they’re going to be there or will try to be there.”
This is big, but Fordon tried to put it into perspective.
“For me it’s just one game, and I’m looking forward to it, but coming to Mount Carmel as a hockey player, all I’ve wanted to do is win a Kennedy Cup,” Fordon said. “It’s more important than the state championship.”
Mount Carmel’s portion of the Catholic League’s Kennedy Cup playoffs start Sunday afternoon, when the fifth-seeded Caravan play fourth-seeded Providence at Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood.
One way or the other, the sky’s the limit.