From left to right: Cody Longuski, Chris Haltinner, Jase Paciocco and Gino Darin await a decision regarding the ice during UM-Dearborn's series opener vs. Oakland Jan. 23, 2015. The game was cancelled after 33 minutes of game time and an hour delay due to thin ice. (Ricky Lindsay/MJ)

By RICKY LINDSAY, Sports Editor

Ricky Lindsay headshotIt’s never good when a hockey team experiences poor ice conditions.

It’s even worse when an outdoor rink boasts better ice than a team’s home rink.

The University of Michigan-Dearborn hockey team’s matchup vs. Oakland on Jan. 23 was cancelled after an hour delay due to thin ice at the Fieldhouse. Workers and game officials attempted to patch the ice with snow and several zamboni runs before the surface was deemed unsafe.

“The optimum level for the ice is about one inch. We had issues this week with our zamboni which didn’t allow us to really maintenance the ice at the requirement that was necessary,” Beaudry said. “As you continue to go through the week and a lot of traffic on there, the ice just has a tendency to thin. When it gets to a certain level, it can break through and that’s what happened tonight.”

A common theme at this year’s outdoor game at Clark Park involved the rink’s quality. Players expressed that the outdoor venue’s ice outdid that in the Fieldhouse, their home rink.

For one, it’s an outdoor rink, exposed to all the elements. There’s no climate control outdoors. And the elements were present — there was a steady snowstorm that lasted three hours before the game to puck drop. Snow is usually the biggest thing hampering quality of ice in outdoor games. Not at this one.

Friday wasn’t the first time UM-Dearborn’s Fieldhouse experienced poor ice conditions. But it’s quite telling when several Wolverines are vocal regarding the problem. And they know that ice — it’s a place they spend most of their time at. Some work at The Fieldhouse and others help with intramural broomball.

“I think that we both know that it’s visible there’s an ice issue,” UM-Dearborn head coach Chris Haltinner said. “You have to tend to this. Doing this, it’s not a clock-in, clock-out, it’s gotta be addressed. We can’t have games keep getting cancelled like this. What if this was for the (Vice) Chancellor’s night?”

UM-Dearborn had a chance to make a statement Friday. Before this season, the Wolverines were 3-13 against Oakland since 2009. They’ve already swept the Grizzlies this season and led 2-1 after nearly 33 minutes of play when the delay hit.

Matching the win total vs. Oakland for five years in just one month would have been a huge statement.

That didn’t happen. Not because of UM-Dearborn; it was dominating and well on its way to another win. But because a familiar nemesis struck again: poor ice.

***

It’s happened before, even this season.

Ice breaking loose behind a net cost UM-Dearborn a potential win against National Tournament-host John Carroll on Nov. 22, 2014; the Wolverines held a 3-0 game before the game was cancelled after 34 minutes of play.

Haltinner has been with the program for the past six seasons. The Fieldhouse ice rink experiencing ice issues is nothing new to him. And with seven regular-season games remaining in a push for a national tournament bid, ice will, yet again, cost the Wolverines.

“It’s gotta be addressed. I mean it can’t be swept underneath the carpet,” Haltinner said. “There’s stuff that’s gotta be better here. We need new stuff. When you have ice, it needs TLC, right? 24-7. We didn’t have that and it’s unfortunate. You need new things and it’s blatantly obvious. Tonight it made it more apparent. That’s two wins that this cost us this season. You win John Carroll, you win this one, are you sitting at 18 anymore? No. It’s going to come down to the wire now and it’s tough.”

According to Haltinner, the Wolverines must win the remainder of its games to improve its chance at an appearance in nationals.

It won’t come easy.

UM-Dearborn faces Davenport for a home-and-home series to wrap up January, followed by four consecutive home games vs. Kent State and Eastern Michigan.

Seven teams receive automatic bids into nationals: the winners of the ACHA’s six conferences and host John Carroll. Adrian clinched the GLCHL, so that option no longer exists for the Wolverines. The 13 remaining spots for nationals are awarded by computer rankings.

“(With the cancellation), now we have to win out,” Haltinner said. “Seven in a row, that’s tough. That’s not easy. Especially against the teams we’re playing. It’s like, make it harder. Every time we get going, something happens. It’ll make these kids stronger, so lets hope for the best.”

Haltinner assembled a team for the ages in the offseason with the hopes of breaking through for a national tournament bid.

But thanks to two cancelled games, the road has become that much difficult.

***

Haltinner is right.

Something needs to be done.

Not just for UM-Dearborn hockey’s sake.

The Fieldhouse is not only the team’s home rink, the venue hosts youth hockey games and tournaments, Haltinner’s hockey school, open hockey and skating and intramural broomball.

And the hockey team is UM-Dearborn’s version of Michigan football.

There’s a fair amount of money coming through those doors.

This is perhaps the first public issue facing Beaudry in his young stint as UM-Dearborn’s athletic director.

And it’s a big one.

But Beaudry didn’t shy away when the challenge hit. He was instrumental throughout the delay, from examining the ice to the processes enacted in an attempt to fix it.

“It’s very unfortunate that this occurred again this year, but we’ve really got to take internal review on our ice procedures and look at how we can rectify this situation going into the future,” Beaudry said. “We want to make sure not just our student athletes but those traveling into our building to watch our contests are able to see the completion of a game. We’ll certainly do our due diligence internally to work on ways to improve our ice conditions going forward.”

Last year, UM-Dearborn executed an all-out rebranding effort for its athletic programs. It was moderately successful, but was a step in the right direction.

But it’s time for another effort.

UM-Dearborn must soon revitalize its facilities. The process will be a pivotal in delivering its athletic programs to the next level in all facets.

If the university is serious about having competitive athletics, it’s a move that needs to be done. It won’t happen overnight, but each day passed puts UM-Dearborn further behind.

In the words of Chris Haltinner: “It’s gotta be addressed.”