SPORTS

Outdoor rink nearing completion at Ivor Wynne as Bulldogs go outside

01/16/2012 05:26 EST | Updated 03/17/2012 05:12 EDT
The vision is close to becoming a reality.

As Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer sat through the NHL's Heritage Classic outdoor game at McMahon Stadium last February, all he could think about what hosting a similar event in his own backyard.

"I believe that the game out in Calgary really touched home with him," Ed Chamberlain, the Bulldogs vice-president of sales and marketing, said in a recent interview. "Our owner approached me and said he was at the Heritage Classic last year and that he really wants to put an outdoor game in Hamilton.

"He said `I think it would be unbelievable.' ... And here we are."

The Bulldogs are scheduled to face the rival Toronto Marlies at Ivor Wynne Stadium — home to the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats — on Saturday afternoon.

The temporary ice surface was built by Ice Rink Events and saw its first action Monday, with staff from the two American Hockey League teams and members of the media given a chance to test it out. The Marlies and Bulldogs are also planning to practise at Ivor Wynne this week and an alumni game is scheduled for Friday night.

"We're going to try and use it as much as we can," said Chamberlain. "The more people skate on it the better the ice gets. It gets stronger."

The game marks the second time the AHL has taken its product outdoors in a matter of weeks — and the fourth time overall. Adirondack and Hershey played before a sellout crowd at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park on Jan. 6., four days after the NHL's Winter Classic.

Like the NCAA and NHL, the AHL is an enthusiastic supporter of such events.

"Our experiences have been outstanding with outdoor games," said AHL president Dave Andrews. "The players, coaches, officials and fans see the events as unique celebrations of the sport.

"While the NHL Winter Classics and our AHL outdoor events have been televised, very few fans in most locations have ever had the chance to experience them."

Chamberlain estimates that as many as 22,000 fans can be fit it into Ivor Wynne, which is below CFL capacity because one end of the stadium has been eliminated due to poor sightlines. As of Monday, tickets were still available.

Even after the Marlies and Bulldogs face one another, the rink will remain in place for a week. It should be busy, too.

"We're going to have community skates, we're going to have youth hockey teams playing," said Chamberlain. "We have a lot of different activities going on over a two-week span.

"We'll have people on the ice from eight in the morning until 11 o'clock in the evening."

Even though numerous outdoor hockey games have been held over the last decade — starting with the Michigan-Michigan State "Cold War" matchup in 2001 — the concept still seems to have plenty of life left in it.

"Our game last week in Philly was spectacular with 45,000 fans attending," said Andrews. "It was a great event which received rave reviews from players and fans. I expect that the experience at Ivor Wynne will also be very special for all involved.

"I am really looking forward to it."

He's far from the only one.

Andlauer wanted to ensure as many people as possible could experience the outdoor setting — whether it's attending the Bulldogs-Marlies game or having a chance to skate on the rink themselves.

"This is the first event in the last season of Ivor Wynne Stadium," said Chamberlain. "They're building a brand new football field and we thought it would be cool to kind of launch it off with this. The second part of it is we want to do something special for the city of Hamilton.

"Our owner really loves the whole area here and he said `Let's do something different, let's do something that people will remember.' ''

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