Who would ever complain about a beautiful sunny day in early February?
Well, it didn't cooperate so well with the outdoor ice rink at TD Ameritrade Park.
It wasn't so much the comfortable, upper-40s afternoon temperature that was the problem. It was that the direct afternoon sunlight warmed up the ice, particularly the painted blue lines.
The ice conditions deteriorated during the opening game between the Omaha Lancers and the Lincoln Stars, but the game was completed. The game between UNO and North Dakota was pushed back from its 4:07 p.m. scheduled starting time to 6:07. Later, the starting time was changed to 6:35.
“We're surprised,” said Harold Cliff, president of the Omaha Sports Commission, the group that administered the hockey doubleheader, during the between-games delay. “…We were surprised the sun had that much of an effect with a lower temperature. At 40-some degrees, we thought we would be fine.”
Cliff said both Lancers and Stars personnel were consulted during the opening game and decided to continue playing despite the conditions.
“The (first) game was completed because both coaches and owners wanted to finish the game,” Cliff said. “We gave them the opportunity to delay it and wait for better conditions, but they were unanimous in saying let's finish it.”
Officials from North Dakota and UNO convened with event organizers to discuss whether to delay their game or push it to another day.
Plan B was to play outdoors Sunday. Plan C would have been to play inside the CenturyLink Center on Sunday.
The consensus was that, once the sun set beyond the stadium's upper deck, that the ice would set up quickly and would become playable in short order.
“We all kind of agreed that we couldn't have anyone hurt,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “You look at the ice conditions that the Lancers and Stars were playing on, and then you add about 20 pounds per guy, and now you're really going to jeopardize guys. … You worry about ruts and turning ankles.”
UNO spent part of the delay by returning to their normal locker room across the street at the CenturyLink Center.
“The guys watched TV and we grabbed a bit to eat,” Blais said. “We had to get some food in them. They were over here stretching at 2:30 getting ready for the game and having our meetings, but then you start over.”
North Dakota returned to its hotel and did the same.
So the outdoor doubleheader, almost a year in the making since it was announced, didn't go off without a hitch.
“It's not that disappointing,” Cliff said. “You get used to dealing with conditions that are under your control. If there was something we could have done, I'd feel a lot differently. But weather conditions are what they are and you just have to deal with it.”
Teams get ready, and then wait
Both the North Dakota and UNO teams did the best they could with the extra time they had between games.
“It was weird,” UNO center Dominic Zombo said. “We got to the rink, got ready for the game and then they said we had to wait for three hours.”
Both teams left TD Ameritrade Park for a while — UNO went to its CenturyLink Center locker room, while North Dakota returned to its hotel. Some UNO players were messing around with a soccer ball in the concourse outside their TD Ameritrade locker room after returning.
“We kind of got thrown off our routine, but it was the same way for North Dakota, so you can't complain,” UNO forward Josh Archibald said.
“A lot of distractions and they obviously handled it better than we did.”
Broken pipe causes delay
There was a delay of about 15 minutes before the second period started to clean up a green coolant that spilled up through the ice near the goal at the northeast end of the rink.
In re-drilling one of the holes used to keep the goal in place between periods, one of the underground pipes was struck, causing the leak.
Some brief, light rain showers also came down twice during the game.
Ringer delivers national anthem
A stirring rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner was sung before the UNO-North Dakota game by Jim Cornelison, the tenor who began singing the national anthem prior to Chicago Blackhawks games in 1996 and has done so on a full-time basis since 2007.
Borrowing a bit from baseball
Both Omaha and Lincoln players wore something Saturday that is used frequently during the spring and summer games played at TD Ameritrade Park.
To help battle reflections from the sun, most players were using eye black just like the baseball players who come to Omaha every June for the NCAA men's College World Series.
New venue reminds Stars coach of old one
Stars coach Chad Johnson brought up the Lancers' original home, Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum, when discussing how players have to adjust to conditions that they can't control.
Johnson said that while softer ice could be a problem on 75-degree days in April, he was thinking more of a year-round problem when joking about the old barn.
“The boards there weren't always straight,” Johnson said. “It was just one of those things you had to adjust to when you played there.”
Bring out the extinguishers
Problems with keeping the playing surface solid were a challenge from warmups until the final buzzer to end the Lancers-Stars game. Fire extinguishers were used to even out the ice during breaks, and the referees and linesmen were using shovels to patch up holes.
Lincoln's Jimmy DeVito put a check on Omaha's Niklas Folin at 16:01 of the second period that broke a piece of glass behind the southwest goal. The game was delayed for approximately 10 minutes while new glass was put in.
An odd entry
Omaha's Robbie Baillargeon had an unusual way of entering the media room for the postgame press conference.
So he wouldn't mess up the blades on his skates, the Lancers forward got on all fours and crawled into the room until he got to the carpet.
Struggles not limited to players
The players and officials weren't the only ones who struggled on the ice.
One of the volunteers who scoops shavings from around the goal creases wiped out returning to one of the penalty boxes to leave the ice late in the third period.
He slid and almost went head first into the boards but managed to escape unharmed. The shovel also suffered no damage.
— Steve Beideck and Rob White