ECHL’s 1st outdoor hockey game, at Fifth Third Field, eyed as template

10/12/2012
BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
The boundaries of an ice rink are roped off as the ECHL, the Toledo Walleye and Promedica announce plans Thursday to hold a Winterfest and outdoor hockey game at Fifth Third Field.
The boundaries of an ice rink are roped off as the ECHL, the Toledo Walleye and Promedica announce plans Thursday to hold a Winterfest and outdoor hockey game at Fifth Third Field.

Nick Vitucci looked over his shoulder and quickly examined the outline of a hockey rink inside Fifth Third Field. Then, he thought back to the origins of the game.

“It brings you back to the grassroots of it, of being a child and playing this game,” the fourth-year coach of the Toledo Walleye said. “As a kid, I grew up playing hockey on outdoor rinks, and streams and canals and had an outdoor rink in my backyard, and I still build one for my son, to this day. But the memories it takes you back to, it’s just playing. You’re out there learning the game, with your buddies, and having a good time doing so.”

Vitucci’s team will now have the chance to play hockey outside, albeit in a more structured surrounding — inside the confines of Fifth Third Field.

An artist's rendering of what the atmosphere would be like for a hockey game at Fifth Third Field.
An artist's rendering of what the atmosphere would be like for a hockey game at Fifth Third Field.

The Walleye will play in the ECHL’s first outdoor hockey game as part of the Toledo Walleye Winterfest, a 10-day event scheduled for December, 2014. The ECHL’s first outdoor game is scheduled for Dec. 27, and it will highlight of an extravaganza that will include high school and youth hockey games, and public skating on a regulation-sized hockey rink.

The rink would be laid out roughly with the left sideboard running across the infield from first base to third base and center ice approximately where second base is anchored at Fifth Third. The nets would be roughly in shallow left field and shallow right field.

Vitucci and three of the Walleye joined Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna, Detroit Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill, and Walleye general manager Joe Napoli on Thursday at Fifth Third to herald the event, which will be sponsored by ProMedica Toledo Hospital.

“What we kept coming back to is that it made sense to do an outdoor game, it made sense to do it in downtown Toledo, and it made sense to do it at Fifth Third Field,” Napoli said. “Then all the hard work starts.” Ticket sales dates and an opponent will be announced later.

“Waiting a little over 12 months from now seems like enough time, but we feel more comfortable doing it in [2014] because that would give us time to take it from good to excellent,” Napoli said, adding that three years of planning went into the 2006 International League All-Star Game at Fifth Third Field.

Napoli estimated the cost of the event at between $750,000 to $1.25 million. A more specific figure hinges on the number of events complementing the 10-day schedule. McKenna said the Walleye will take the lead overseeing Winterfest.

“Given that they approached us and wanted to do event, and having the two years to plan and put everything together is also a critical factor,” McKenna said. It’s not something that can be thrown together quickly.”

McKenna said the ECHL had discussions with two other franchises about sponsoring an outdoor game, but he declined to name the franchises. The commissioners said he believed Toledo could be a template for future outdoor ECHL games.

“There will be a number of other cities that will be watching very closely what goes on here," McKenna said.

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com or 419-724-6510 or on Twitter@RLenziBlade.