|Red Wings’ intern Michaels Caples enjoyed a sunshiny December afternoon in Chicago. He was among several media members invited to skate on the ice that will be used for the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field on New Year’s Day. Watch Intern Mike Skate|
CHICAGO – Growing up in southeast Michigan, winter meant hockey, and that’s all I wanted to do. Nothing could beat heading out to a frozen body of water to play pond hockey. We would drive out to the local golf course my uncle manages, shovel off the pond, and skate until we were too cold to continue. If the weather didn’t cooperate, I would head up to the closest rink and skate the day away.
It sounds cliché and straight to the marketing campaign of the Winter Classic, but all these emotions came back to me on Tuesday. After a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of historic Wrigley Field, I was one of the fortunate media members allowed to skate on the ice built across the infield. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my young life — both as a fan and a journalist.
I had been looking forward to this opportunity since the moment I received the e-mail confirming my attendance at the 2009 NHL Winter Classic. I checked the schedule that came attached, and it said ‘Media Skate, RSVP here’. I nearly fell out of my chair, and packed up my skates that instant. It seemed too good to be true, but after multiple e-mails confirming it, I decided to allow myself to be incredibly excited for the chance. Through my semester classes ending at Michigan State, the holiday season beginning, and even Christmas, all I could think about was the trip to Chicago.
After making a bunch of adults as giddy as kids on Christmas Eve wait for about an hour, we were finally directed to a doorway, which lead us to the field. We paraded through a poorly lit corridor that would be very uncomfortable for Johan Franzen, to find that the light at the end of the tunnel led to the visitor’s dugout. I had to fight back a gasp when I realized where we were, and where we were going.
We headed up the dugout steps and followed a short path to a line of chairs where we could lace up our skates. It was just like an open skate session; except for the fact that I was sitting in the middle of perhaps the most memorable stadium in all of baseball.
I tied up my skates to the correct tightness that years of practice brings, and helped my fellow colleague, Lindsey Ungar, tighten up hers. And then, it was time to take the ice, just like the Red Wings will on Thursday. A staff member cracked open one of the doors, and I jumped onto the ice.
I quickly realized that I better take it easy. Wouldn’t want to tear a hamstring. On my first stride, I coasted a bit on one skate, and nearly toppled over. My right skate decided it didn’t want to glide, but luckily I caught myself before utter embarrassment.
It was short-lived, however. People close to me would second that I’m not the most graceful individual, and my clumsiness was on full display Tuesday afternoon. I coasted into a corner of the ice, pulling out my phone to snap a photo. I spun as I came to the corner, rotating so that my back would be along the boards. Little did I know that there was a big rut right in the middle of a bright-red goal line, and I fell … hard. Luckily, I didn’t hurt myself, and didn’t make much commotion, because Lindsey was the only one to say anything about the incident.
Once I recollected myself, I looked up to see a gorgeous blue sky serving as backdrop to the grandstands of the “Friendly Confines”. I cruised around the ice, trying to comprehend the magnitude of what I was really doing. For a hockey fanatic, turned journalist, the only thing in my hockey life that has been more exciting then this moment was interviewing the Red Wings on the ice during the Stanley Cup celebration.
|Red Wings’ intern Michaels Caples laces up his skates Tuesday before heading out for a skate at Wrigley Field.|
After skating around with a big smile, and attempting to chronicle my fun through my digital camera, I tried to focus on the ice conditions and what the players will enjoy and deal with this week. The first thing I noticed was the sun radiating down on the ice. If you have ever attended a baseball game during the day, you are well aware of the shadows projected across the field. Even though it’s the dead of winter, those same shadows are out in force, covering roughly half of the ice. If New Year’s Day is clear and sunny, then the players might invest in eye-black or tinted visors, because I am sure that it has been a while since they last had to squint to see a puck.
The other problem the shadows present is that the variation in temperature affects the ice conditions. It was a unique experience, skating on an ice surface that changed drastically. In the sunny end of the ice, the ice was perfect; smooth, fast, and hard. I had no problems stopping, crossing over, or jumping into stride. The other end of the ice was a different story. The shadowed ice felt as if it was peeling; as my skate cut through the ice, the frozen water felt very chunky and choppy (for lack of better phrases). Afraid to lose an edge, I would maneuver my way through that end slowly then pick-up speed for the stretches between the blue lines and the sunny end. I don’t think I was the only one taking this approach; it seemed like there was a lot more activity on the ‘good’ side of the ice. It was quite the photo opportunity, however, so that might have been the leading reason to stay in the sunlight.
On a side note, I got a kick out of the boxes and cones over a few areas of the ice that weren’t ready to be skated on. I found it very reminiscent of real pond hockey, where such markers served as reminders of holes in the ice.
With a lot of traffic and a variety of skill levels on the ice, I couldn’t skate as fast as I may have liked. I tried to limit my speed, but did dig into some crossovers cutting across the circles. I made sure to live out my childhood dreams though, acting like I was coming in on a breakaway and scoring a goal, complete with the air-stickhandling and post-goal celebration. Considering I was the kid who had to wear all of his hockey equipment whenever he would go open-skating, I was obligated to act so childish, at least for a moment.
For an added hockey touch, the NHL staff had us all meet at center ice for a team photo. It reminded me of the team photos every team takes after a championship performance, and I wasn’t the only one – ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun slid to the front of the photo, posing as the team goaltender. When the buzzer sounded to officially kick us off the ice/field, I had to be coaxed by some of the PR staff to the door. I contemplated seeing how fast they could skate, but the weekend isn’t over yet.
Skating on the Wrigley Field ice ranks among the most exciting things I have ever done. When I watch the Wings and the Blackhawks take the ice this week I am sure that I will be wishing I could be right back out there.
I will be, even if it’s in spirit only.