Sometime this week, Dean Blais will check out the position of the sun in the sky just after 4 p.m.
Because who knows? How the sun is setting over TD Ameritrade Park could, theoretically anyway, contribute to the regular-season accomplishments and postseason hopes of Blais' UNO hockey team.
With Saturday's outdoor game at TD Ameritrade Park between Nos. 14 and 15 UNO and No. 7 North Dakota set for 4:07 p.m., Blais wants to at least get a feel for the setting.
The position of the sun, the conditions of the ice, the impact of any potential weather ... all are unknown variables in a sport where those variables are typically controlled.
Beyond that, Saturday's matchup is being approached more as just a hockey game in a unique venue. A really important hockey game, but still ...
“It's not a whole lot different,” Blais said. “It's ice. It doesn't matter what the quality is — there wasn't a real good sheet of ice here (inside the CenturyLink Center) Saturday. The rink is the same size. It'll obviously be a little colder.”
The Mavericks are expected to defend the goal nearest to where first base would typically be at TD Ameritrade Park in the first and third periods, while defending the goal nearest third base in the second period.
For what it's worth, that would mean North Dakota's goaltender and retreating defensemen would have to look in the general direction of the sun in the first period.
But that doesn't mean the sunlight might make things different looking the other direction, either.
“It might be a bit of an adjustment for the goalies with the sunlight, especially with which way the sun is setting,” Blais said.
North Dakota spent some time Monday preparing for the outdoor game by practicing for about 45 minutes at an outdoor ice rink at a park in Grand Forks, N.D.
But Blais isn't concerned about the lack of local outdoor ice.
“That's OK,” Blais said of North Dakota's outdoor practice. “But I don't think it's going to make you more prepared to play the Saturday game.
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Blais said he wasn't planning on having his players spend any time on the outdoor ice until Saturday morning. The series starts Friday, and UNO's opportunities to skate at the CenturyLink Center are rare enough.
“Mentally, I want our guys to concentrate on the Friday game,” he said.
That said, UNO has to practice somewhere else Thursday because of an event at the arena, and Harold Cliff, president of the Omaha Sports Commission, said that all four teams — the Omaha Lancers and Lincoln Stars playing the opening game of Saturday's doubleheader — have access to the TD Ameritrade rink for practice on Thursday.
The wind chill in Grand Forks on Monday for North Dakota's outdoor practice was 10-below zero. It won't be that cold Saturday.
In fact, the temperature — expected to be in the 40s at game time — likely won't reach freezing. And the ice wouldn't be affected by warm temperatures unless it reached the 60s.
Snow isn't expected, but a little snow wouldn't be a big deal. There is a 30 percent chance of rain, however, but that's expected later. And while light rain wouldn't be much of an issue, heavy rain could lead to a delay or even a postponement.
Should the ice become unplayable Saturday, the game would shift to Sunday. And if it's impossible to play outdoors Sunday, the game would be played indoors at the CenturyLink Center on Sunday, Cliff said.
Cliff said he didn't know how much rain might be too much.
“It would all depend on how much comes down and if you end up with puddles on the ice and the puck wouldn't move through it,” he said. “We'll judge it as it goes, and we're certainly not going to push the game through without considering the safety of the players.”
Like the sport that is usually played in the stadium — baseball — the duration of any weather delay would be a wait-and-see proposition.
“We'd be in touch with the weather office to see the forecast and we would respect the fans who would have to wait a certain amount of time,” Cliff said. “But at the moment it (the forecast) looks really good.
“I'm more concerned that people are concerned about the weather than I am concerned about the weather.”
Expected mild temperatures could lead to a strong walkup crowd that could boost the attendance. More than 11,000 tickets had been sold as of Tuesday afternoon for the 24,000-seat venue.
Blais said that at Saturday's expected temperature, the ice will slow the players down a little bit. At 10 to 15 degrees he said, the ice would be faster.
UNO's experience level on outdoor ice varies from player to player. Some from Canada, Minnesota and other parts of the upper Midwest grew up playing plenty of outdoor hockey, in youth leagues and just messing around.
Others like California native Matt White have barely dabbled outside.
“I don't really know what to expect,” White said. “I think the weather is the only thing that might be a factor. As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to play the same way. It's just a different hockey atmosphere.”
Josh Archibald, who grew up in Saskatchewan before moving to Minnesota at age 15, has played enough outdoor hockey to have an idea of what to expect. And after playing on less than ideal ice conditions last weekend inside the CenturyLink Center, Archibald said the Mavs are probably prepared.
“The ice conditions here have been tough, so I think we're getting used to some bad bounces and not having things go our way,” Archibald said.
White said players would likely have another layer of clothing available just in case it starts getting a little brisk outside. More than likely the players will find the combination of mild temperature and vigorous exercise enough to keep them warm.
“The backup goaltender will probably wear long underwear and an extra sweatshirt under his jersey,” Blais said. “But everyone else will play. The coaches will obviously be wearing their boots and maybe an extra pair of pants — instead of a sport coat, you'll need a jacket.”
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