By JERAMY STOVER, Sports Editor
Last season University of Michigan-Dearborn hockey experienced a first. And it went just the way they hoped.
The Wolverines cruised to a 10-4 win in their first outdoor hockey game in program history, a day that was set up perfectly for the unique event. It was cold, the winds were howling and a light snow was falling.
Clark Park Classic part two will feature a rematch of UM-Dearborn and one of its most hated rivals Oakland University this Saturday.
And even though the game itself will be a fun experience for both teams, the theme of the game for the Wolverines will be no different than any other game: win and get the two points.
“The guys understand that from here and on out we got to sweep,” head coach Chris Haltinner said. “The guys understand the severity of the game, so for us it’s special but the minute we go on for warmups it’s a regular game just like any other.”
With six weeks left before the final ACHA rankings are released to decide who goes to the national tournament, the Wolverines currently sit in 13th place with a 12-3-2 record.
And with upcoming series against ranked teams Adrian and Liberty, the team sweep isn’t a wish; it’s a must.
The Wolverines have had Oakland’s number in recent years. After being on the wrong side of the rivalry in years past, UM-Dearborn has compiled a 5-2 record against Oakland in the past three seasons.
Freshmen have helped propel the Wolverines to serious consideration for the national tournament this year, including Tyler Groat who leads the team with 22 goals. Many of the rookies have never played in a competitive game outdoors which make Saturday’s game one they’ll remember forever.
“I’m really excited, I’ve never played in an outdoor game before. I’ve talked to a lot of the incoming guys and not too many of us have ever played in one. So it’s definitely something that’s going to be really special and something that’s going to be a memorable,” Tyler Dalton said.
“Playing 18 years, 19 years of organized hockey and doing something for the first time as a 21 year old is something really cool. So I’m really excited about it, my family is really excited about it and the boys are really excited about it. It’s going to be sweet.”
In last year’s inaugural Clark Park Classic, the cold didn’t freeze the Wolverines attack. UM-Dearborn won in decisive fashion. Gino Darin led the way scoring two goals and two assists. Ryan Kelly also got in on the scoring recording two goals and an assist.
Kelly didn’t play during the fall semester portion of the season but he will be back on the ice for the Wolverines this weekend. He’ll bring more than just depth to the forward department as he led the team in assists last season with 34.
The senior forward won’t be the only different look on the Wolverines bench on Saturday. The team will be wearing new uniforms for the outdoor game as they did last year. Coach Haltinner decided to use the same company, Rebirth, to make the jerseys for his team.
With such a one-sided game last season, it is expected of Oakland to come out with a lot of passion looking to get back at their conference foes.
“I would expect them to come out with quite a bit of fire just because of how last year went and actually how the first two games were this year. The first game was close, the second game we took it to them,” Jeff McFarland said. “So they’ve got some bad blood on their side and they’re looking to take it to us.”
One aspect both teams are worried about with this year’s game is the weather. The weather forecast is showing a slight chance of rain for Saturday which could endanger the game of being rescheduled.
If rain falls but not enough to cancel the game, it will make for interesting ice conditions. Water puddles on the ice can be a hockey player’s worst nightmare. It makes skilled players less effective and can make simple tasks such as passing the puck extremely difficult.
“If it’s raining we’re going to have puddles on the ice and that’s not going to be good,” Dalton said. “That sort of eliminates a lot of skill from the game, and in a game as special as this you want to see everyone shine and you want to be able to see everyone’s best aspects.
“If the weather holds to what it’s supposed to be like, I’m looking forward to the experience, but the weather is definitely something we’re going to have to come prepared for and that’s not something you can simulate at all.”
Rain or shine, as long as the game is played in the elements, the Wolverines will enjoy the experience. They hope to make it a better experience by defeating their rival and inching one step closer to achieving their goal of making the national tournament.