Elements Could Have Effect On Outdoor Game

Mark Osiecki

Those fans who travel to Cleveland's Progressive Field today to see second-ranked Ohio State men's hockey take on Michigan will surely be cold, but at least they won't have a rubber disc flying around at speeds up to 100 mph. The players that will know the outdoor conditions could change the game they're so used to but are prepared for this afternoon's contest.

With a high of 29 degrees scheduled and snow flurries in the forecast, there's no telling what effect the weather might have on this afternoon's Frozen Diamond Faceoff in Cleveland's Progressive Field.

Members of the Ohio State hockey team will be ready, though.

The Buckeyes – led by head coach Mark Osiecki – already had to help clear snow off the ice surface when they practiced there Jan. 2, and senior defenseman Sean Duddy said he's not against pitching in again should the need arise.

"It could be good to stay fresh between shifts," he said. "If worse comes to worse, I'll pick up a shovel."

All kidding aside – after all, the Indians will be the ones in charge of clearing any snow that builds up – there are some factors that outdoor hockey will bring into play as the No. 2 Buckeyes get ready to face No. 15 Michigan this afternoon (5 p.m., Fox Sports Ohio) under what should be a gray Cleveland sky.

Snow could be one of those issues as the teams get ready to play the first major outdoor game in Ohio history. The weather forecast calls for intermittent flurries, and while a huge buildup of the white stuff isn't expected, Cleveland weather has never been known for its predictability.

"When we went up there for practice, it was pretty snowy, and there was a quarter-inch of snow on the ice after 20 minutes," senior goaltender Cal Heeter said. "If the weather conditions are like that, it's not going to be much of a hockey game, but it is what it is."

The Buckeyes also found out what an issue wind could pose during that practice session. A strong breeze came out of right field that day, affecting both skaters and Heeter, who complained of snowflakes being blown into his eyes.

"As guys were skating into the wind, it was really hard to get up the ice," OSU head coach Mark Osiecki said. "You turn around and come back the other way, you felt like you were flying. It was pretty interesting."

Osiecki is a veteran of two outdoor games, both of which came when he was an assistant coach at Wisconsin. In 2006, he was on the bench when the Badgers beat Ohio State in the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic in Green Bay's Lambeau Field, and in February 2010 he was there when the home Badgers downed Michigan in Madison's Camp Randall Stadium.

The former game was played on a relatively peaceful February afternoon, with temperatures in the 30s but little wind. The weather at the Camp Randall game didn't quite cooperate as much, with temperatures dipping into the low 20s and the wind picking up.

"It does have an effect, I'll tell you," Osiecki said. "In Camp Randall, there definitely was a factor of the elements."

Osiecki said Ohio State and Michigan – which is playing outdoors for the third time in as many seasons – have had contact with the conference office and have discussed any necessary protocol to deal with the weather that might arise, such as the switching of ends halfway through a period, a way to even up the effect if the wind is too strong in one direction.

One thing that cannot be mitigated by any rules is the cold, and it will definitely be cold. The two teams have outfitted their players with cold weather gear including ski masks and extra gloves for underneath their hockey gloves.

"My hands are bad enough as it is, so I can't wear an extra pair of gloves," Duddy joked. "But they prepare us very well. I'm sure we won't have any issues about being cold or letting the wind affect us in terms of freezing our bodies. That's why getting to practice up there was so useful because guys get to test out all that stuff, see what works, see what doesn't work."

Osiecki also said playing in the cold takes some getting used but said it wasn't a big deal.

"It's just adjusting your lungs to the air temperature," the head coach said. "That has a little bit of an effect and I think the more you get used to it, the better it is."

When all of the elements are combined together, there might be some effects to the game plans as well. The ice in Progressive Field has been in for more than a month, making it much more settled than the usual outdoor rink, but it still might not have the consistency of the average indoor rink.

Most outdoor games usually require teams to keep things simple because the ice quality isn't good enough for fancy plays, but the Buckeyes will be ready if that's the case.

"Our game is to keep it simple in the first place, so if anything it plays into what we try to do as a team right from the start," Duddy said. "We're not going to be the kind of team that wants to dangle around you, make a bunch of pretty moves. We'll play the body hard, make simple plays and get pucks to the net."

When all is said and done, Heeter said he doesn't expect the fact that the Buckeyes are playing outdoors will affect them in any way.

"We're going to go out there and play our game no matter what – wind, cold, rain, sleet, whatever," Heeter said. "We're going to play as hard as we can. It doesn't matter to me."

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