If you have driven down Plymouth Ave or 490 through downtown Rochester during the last week, you probably saw something a bit curious, lights on at the baseball stadium. Did they start playing winter ball up north?
Nope, they are playing outdoor hockey! It is the Frozen Frontier. It is a 10 day festival that kicked off with an Amerks (AHL) game, and includes 3 college games, an Amerks/Sabres alumni game, several high school games as well as rec-league games and blocks of time sold to sponsors for open skate time. This is a joint venture between the Red Wings, Amerks and Sabres.
I had the opportunity to go to the Amerks game Friday night, it was the kick-off of the outdoor hockey festival. As you can imagine, December in Rochester isn’t exactly balmy.. The scoreboard thermometer showed a game time temp of 20, and it only went down from there.
As we approached the stadium, they had frozen the specially designed throw-back jerseys for each team into blocks of ice as well as a logo ice sculpture of the logo of the festival. They also had those mobile spotlights that are used at special events to draw attention to the location. When I got there, it was lightly snowing, which made for the coolest effect of the snow in the spot beams. It was a nice touch.
|Special sweaters worn by the Amerks|
They had set up a warming station tent down the walk way on the 3rd base side, that had a pre-game party with a band. They had also brought in several port-a-potties, since when they built the stadium 15 years ago, they didn’t predict having a winter event, so the plumbing is turned off at the end of the Red Wings season. Lucky for me, my tickets were in the Perch suite, so we were ok, the suite level bathrooms were good to go.
|In the Perch|
|My brother and I|
The game had an announced attendance of 11k+, and it was a great atmosphere. From where we were sitting, we could see the lines of cars on both Plymouth and State St coming to the game, and could see cars parking on the very top level of the WXXI garage at High Falls. The traffic was steady through most of the first period.
The Colors were presented in a very respectful manner and the national anthem was sung in a very powerful way by a very talented young girl who is no stranger to singing before large crowds. She sang the anthem at a Sabres game that was nationally televised. The pre-game festivities included fireworks timed to the ‘rocket’s red glare’ line of the Star Spangled Banner.
The game turned out to be exactly the type of game you’d hope for in this sort of event. It featured division rivals that flat don’t like each other and had had a rather feisty game just a couple days prior. Early on, the gloves were dropped and that just got the crowd going. The Amerks jumped out to an early lead, only to see that go away and then turn it into a 3-1 deficit. The Amerks went to work in the 3rd, and not only tied it, but pulled ahead 4-3.
The game seemed all but over when the Lake Erie Monsters took a penalty with about 3 minutes left, down a goal, but they didn’t give up. They fought off the power play and then got one of their own with about 50 seconds left. They then pulled the goalie and skated 6 on 4 for the rest of regulation. The Amerks did the best they could to keep the puck out of their zone, but being out numbered, the visitors managed to put the puck in the back of the net with what appeared to be no time on the clock. The officials gathered, and they went to the review, and it was determined that the goal was scored with .1 on the clock to tie the game.
5 minutes of overtime were scoreless, so they went on to the shoot out. The goalies both prevailed in round 1, the Monsters scored in both round 2 and 3, leaving the Amerks down 2-0, with only 2 skaters to go. The 4th Monster skater comes up, if he scores, game over. He doesn’t. Now it’s the Amerk’s turn. If they don’t score, game over. They do.
Same scenario for round 5, The Monsters don’t and the Amerks do. Now we are tied at 2 after 5 rounds. This time Amerks captain Matt Ellis is not to be denied. He nets the game winning shot and sent the Rochester fans home happy, after the fireworks, that is. From the sounds in the crowd, there were more than a few who made the drive up I90 from Cleveland to root on their Monsters.
I haven’t had the chance to make it to any of the other games, and with my schedule, probably won’t. I would have liked to have gone to the RIT men’s game, but it wasn’t to be. I can’t imagine the experience it would be for those high school players that got to change in the Red Wings locker room, then play in that venue. It is something they will remember for the rest of their lives.
I am glad I got to be a part of this, even if just as a fan. I hope that they don’t do it every year. It is something that should be kept as a special event, and not repeated too often. Maybe next time, they can do it at Sahlen’s stadium. It would have provided better sight lines for the fans.