Michigan’s Jon Merrill, right, chases down a loose puck with Michigan State’s Jake Chelios during first period action of UM’s 5-0 win over MSU in the Big Chill, Saturday, December 11th at Michigan Stadium. (Ann Arbor News file photo)
When Michigan and Michigan State played outdoors at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 6, 2001, the event launched an increasingly popular trend for hockey games to be played outdoors at large venues, such as football and baseball stadiums.
The “Cold War” between the Wolverines and Spartans set a world record at the time for the largest hockey crowd with 74,544, and the outdoor games have continued to draw large crowds since.
Since 2001, there have been more than 100 games played outdoors at the professional, college and junior hockey levels.
The NHL, for instance, created the annual “Winter Classic” in 2008 and has added several outdoor games every year since.
The Winter Classic has been played at popular venues such as Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Michigan Stadium and Gillette Stadium, with each drawing more than 36,000 fans.
The outdoor games give fans a unique viewing experience, while some of the players get to relive moments from their childhood playing outside on a pond or lake.
Outdoor games aren’t limited to cold-weather climates, either. The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings played an NHL “Stadium Series” game at Dodger Stadium in 2014, while the Kings then played the San Jose Sharks at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California the following year.
In 1991, the Kings played the New York Rangers in an exhibition game outside at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Temperatures reached warmer than 90 degrees during the game.
Saturday, though, will be Michigan’s first outdoor game since 2015.