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Irish set to play hockey outdoors

Notre Dame, Miami, Soldier Field. Why not do it twice?

A computer rendering of the layout for Notre Dame and Miami's matchup at Soldier Field on Feb. 17.

Five months after the Fighting Irish football team plays the University of Miami at Chicago’s Solider Field, the stadium will host Notre Dame and Miami University for its first outdoor hockey game. The game is part of a college hockey doubleheader scheduled for Feb. 17 and will also feature rivals Minnesota and Wisconsin. The four teams met in the Windy City Wednesday afternoon to officially introduce the “Hockey City Classic” that Blue & Gold Illustrated first reported in January.

“It's a great thrill for Notre Dame to play our first outdoor game in Chicago at historic Soldier Field,” Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said in a statement. “With so many Irish fans, alumni and current players hailing from the Windy City, it will be a homecoming of sorts.”

Jackson and the Irish have done a good job of establishing recruiting roots in Chicago. Seven players on the roster are Illinois natives, including two-time team MVP T.J. Tynan and rising senior defenseman Sam Calabrese. Calabrese represented the team during Wednesday’s press conference.

“Growing up in Chicago, it’s always been a dream to watch college hockey in our city,” said the Park Ridge, Ill. native.

The Irish have played in Chicago more than 40 times since the 1960s, most recently as hosts of the Shillelagh Tournament in 2011, but this will be the first time any team laces up their skates at the city’s iconic football stadium. The event’s organizers, the Chicago Park District and Intersport, said the two college games will be the grand finale of two weeks of hockey events at the field that include high school games and public skating sessions.

Outdoor hockey games have become increasingly common since 2008 when the NHL started its successful annual “Winter Classic” matchups on New Year’s Day. In the past year more than a dozen college teams have played in venues like Boston’s Fenway Park and Cleveland’s Progressive Field.

Notre Dame has considered an outdoor game for several years, but wanted to wait to find the right opportunity before signing on to play. Associate athletic director Tom Nevala said the event had to be, “an impactful thing, not just another one of those games,” when the rumors first surfaced in January.

“It has been [on our radar] for a number of years, we’ve been looking for the right opportunity,” he said. “You don’t get to schedule very many of your own games in hockey, so timing is everything. It has to fit our schedule."

The game will be the second in an otherwise normal two-game series with Miami. It was originally slated to be played at the RedHawks home rink in Ohio and will not cost the Irish a home game in the new Compton Family Ice Arena.

The meeting will also be a last hurrah for the two CCHA rivals before they head in separate directions at the end of the season. Notre Dame will begin play in the Hockey East Conference in the 2013-14 season and Miami will join the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference. The added storyline of sending the CCHA out to sea gives Notre Dame the impact it wanted.

Start times and television information have not yet been announced, but tickets for the 61,500-seat stadium will go on sale Oct. 1.

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