The Cleveland Indians announced this afternoon that Progressive Field, the home of the MLB club, will host an outdoor hockey game billed as "The Frozen Diamond Faceoff" between the Ohio State and Michigan men's programs on Jan. 15, 2012.
The NCAA regular season and Central Collegiate Hockey Association conference game will be the first outdoor hockey game of this scale in state history, and OSU head coach Mark Osiecki is happy to be taking part.
"It's a tremendous opportunity not only for the kids to feel something like that and be a part of something that special, but it's great for our program and our athletic department to be on that big stage," he told BuckeyeSports.com. "It's a unique setting, a unique situation. Anytime you can take part in one of those outdoor games, I think it's a no-brainer."
The game will be staged in tandem with the Indians "Snow Days" promotion in which Progressive Field is turned into a winter park with ice skating, snow tubing and more.
The event debuted last year, but this year's main draw will be the hockey game between the Buckeyes and Wolverines, who have developed an intense rivalry on the ice that mirrors the famous one on the gridiron. Indians president Mark Shapiro expects a full house of more than 40,000 fans when the puck drops near the shores of Lake Erie.
"We expect the place to be sold out," he said. "I think recognizing how passionate the fan base is for Ohio State and recognizing Michigan fans as extremely mobile and that there are also a lot of them in the state of Ohio, that rivalry we think will certainly spark some interest. You also have a unique event that I think will draw some event-goers."
Outdoor hockey games have become all the rage, with the NHL staging its "Winter Classic" each year on New Year's Day and college programs trying to take advantage of the publicity such games generate.
"I think we're trying to build that and continue to build hockey," Osiecki said. "Anytime you can do something like this for hockey, it's outstanding. When you scale it down to just our program, I think it's going to be outstanding. That additional exposure is certainly needed for us."
While Ohio State's hockey program struggles for attention in football-mad Columbus, Michigan does have a rabid hockey following. The Wolverines made the national title game a year ago and sold out "The Big Chill in the Big House," an outdoor game against Michigan State in December that drew more than 100,000 fans to Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.
In other outdoor contests, Ohio State played Wisconsin in Lambeau Field in February 2006 in the "Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic" while Michigan traveled to take on Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium in Madison in February 2010.
Osiecki was an assistant coach at Wisconsin for both of those games and has made it no secret he wants his players to be able to experience those atmospheres.
"These kids are probably too young now; most of these kids haven't played on outdoor ice," he said. "But for our coaching staff, we all grew up playing on outdoor ice. The funny thing that is going to happen – and it's happened in the two other games – as soon as you get there for practice on Saturday, we'll have to kick the guys off the ice. They'll want to stay on the ice as long as they can and take everything in."
Ohio State associate athletic director Chris Schneider, who oversees the hockey program, said the event will allow Ohio State's hockey program to spend some time in the limelight, and the game will be staged in a heavily pro-OSU portion of the state.
"We are excited to be a part of The Frozen Diamond Faceoff," Schneider said. "The event allows us to bring Ohio State hockey to fans in the northern part of the state. We are pleased we can share this experience with one of our university's biggest rivals."
Ohio State and Michigan will play four times in 2011-12. Michigan will host a two-game series in Yost Ice Arena in November before OSU plays host to the Maize and Blue in Value City Arena on Jan. 13. The outdoor game in Cleveland two days later will serve as an OSU home game.
Tickets through the Indians will be available in November, but Ohio State will have a presale allotment for Buckeye fans before that.
Faceoff will be set for 5:05 p.m. after the field opens at 10 a.m. for Snow Days.