The ECHL and the Toledo Walleye plan to take the game outside in 2014.
Representatives from the Toledo Walleye, ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna, and representatives from ProMedica and local businesses will meet at 1 p.m. today at Fifth Third Field to announce that the Walleye will play in the league’s first outdoor hockey game as part of the Toledo Walleye Winterfest.
Fifth Third Field and the Walleye will host the ECHL outdoor game, which follows an annual trend of outdoor games involving National Hockey League, American Hockey League teams, and college teams playing at major-league football and baseball stadiums.
Because future ECHL schedules have not been formulated yet, an opponent for the Walleye and an official date has not yet been set for the outdoor minor-league game, which will be the first played at the home field of the International League’s Toledo Mud Hens.
ProMedica Toledo Hospital will sponsor the Toledo Walleye Winterfest, which is expected to span 10 days — Dec. 26, 2014 to Jan. 4, 2015.
“It’s an absolutely perfect facility,” said Kim McBroom, the chief marketing officer for the Walleye and the Mud Hens. “This is something that’s been done in other baseball stadiums and in football stadiums, but the baseball venue seems to work extremely well.”
McKenna told KWSX, the Stockton Thunder’s broadcast station, late in the 2011-2012 season that Toledo and Idaho were markets interested in hosting an outdoor hockey event that would be highlighted by an ECHL outdoor game.
“We have several markets that have expressed an interest, but there are big challenges,” McKenna said in March. “You’re probably looking at somewhere from a half to three-quarters of a million dollars to set up the field and be able to put up the dashers and prepare for the game. It has to be more than just a one-day event. It’s got to be a week to 10 days where you can almost make it into a hockey festival.”
While hockey has its roots in the outdoors, on frozen ponds and rivers, the phenomenon of playing pro hockey in outdoor facilities picked up steam about 11 years ago, when Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich., hosted “The Cold War,” a Central Collegiate Hockey Association game between Michigan and Michigan State.
Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor is scheduled to host the 2013 Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, barring an NHL lockout. The 109,901-seat facility also hosted Michigan and Michigan State on Dec. 11, 2010, and Detroit’s Comerica Park will host the 2012 SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival from Dec. 15-31.
Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia hosted the 2012 Winter Classic between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, as well as an AHL game between the Hershey and Adirondack .
Pula Arena, an ancient Roman coliseum and concert arena in Croatia, hosted two outdoor Austrian Hockey League games in September.