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Outdoor game gets cold shoulder

Moose GM says it's too pricey -- but Syracuse is doing it

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/11/2009 (2827 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ROCKFORD, Ill. -- Winnipeg is certainly cold enough. Our hockey fans are unquestionably die-hard enough. And no one -- but no one -- can handle frigid weather quite like a Winnipegger.

And yet we have been left out in the cold, so to speak, when it comes to hosting an outdoor hockey game, a point driven home yet again Tuesday when Syracuse -- that's right, freaking Syracuse -- announced that they will host the first ever outdoor American Hockey League game this coming February.

An outdoor Moose game would mean fans at Canad Inns Stadium would get to see a winning team.


An outdoor Moose game would mean fans at Canad Inns Stadium would get to see a winning team.

The Crunch and high-profile New York Senator Chuck Schumer -- of all people -- announced on Tuesday that the Crunch will play the Binghamton Senators on Feb. 20, 2010 in an afternoon game to be held outside at the New York State Fairgrounds.

"This first-ever outdoor AHL hockey game -- which I hope will become an annual tradition -- will bring the eyes of the sports world to Syracuse," said Schumer.

"Eyes of the sports world" is probably a bit of a stretch -- even for a politician -- given that there is nothing, of course, original about this idea.

The NHL has played outdoor games to huge crowds at football stadiums in Edmonton and Buffalo and baseball parks in Chicago and, this February, at Fenway Park in Boston.

But Schumer does have a point when he says the game "has the potential to bring in serious tourism revenue for Syracuse and be a financial shot in the arm in difficult times."

Precisely. All of which begged the most obvious question -- How come we didn't think of that first?

So I tracked down Manitoba Moose GM Craig Heisinger, who's down here as his club plays the Rockford IceHogs tonight in the first of a three-game Illinois road swing this week.

Heisinger agreed that everything would seem to support the idea of staging an outdoor hockey game in Winnipeg. Except...

"Except the math doesn't work," said Heisinger. "We looked at the idea two years ago and just couldn't make the numbers work."

The biggest problem, said Heisinger, is the one you'd least expect to have in staging an outdoor hockey game in a Winnipeg winter -- the need to install artificial ice.

"You can't just play on outdoor ice," said Heisinger. "There's a certain minimum standard that comes with artificial ice that we would have to maintain.

"So then you're talking about all that refrigeration equipment and laying the pipes underneath the ice and all of that. It's very expensive."

Put it all together and Heisinger said the Moose were told it would cost a half-million dollars just to install the rink outdoors.

And while that might work in the NHL, Heisinger said the Moose operate on thinner margins and the ones for an outdoor game didn't work even if they could have packed 30,000 people into Canad Inns Stadium.

"The football stadium would have been the most likely place to have held it," Heisinger said. "And it's worked good in the NHL games -- but there's a lot more dollars involved there."

Still, it begs the question how Syracuse has come up with a way to make the numbers work for an outdoor game while Winnipeg cannot, particularly considering Manitoba is second only to Hershey in AHL attendance when they just play the regular old-fashioned way -- indoors.

"I have no idea how they're doing it in Syracuse," said Heisinger. "I just know it didn't work for us."

All of which is just fine with Moose head coach Scott Arniel, who still remembers what happened last winter when he supervised an outdoor practice for his team as part of a one-off promotion.

"My whistle froze to my lips, so I don't know it's exactly something I want to do," Arniel said. "And I think right now, it is starting to run its course. We've seen so many of them, I think even the NHL should take a year off in between, or maybe even two.

"I just hate to see a great thing like that overdone."

It's probably too late for that in any event.

And it's also too bad that we appear to have missed what might have been our best opportunity in the past few years to have at least one winning team play in Canad Inns Stadium.

Read more by Paul Wiecek.


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