Bowling Green’s first outdoor hockey game is set to become a reality.
The Falcons will face Robert Morris in a battle of Top 20 teams at noon Saturday at Fifth Third Field in downtown Toledo.
“We’re all really excited,” said BG senior defenseman Rusty Hafner, who is a native of Toledo. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The Falcons, 11-3-2 overall and ranked 13th nationally, have been idle since Dec. 5-6 when they posted a win and a tie at Northern Michigan. They returned to BG Sunday to start practice for the Robert Morris series.
The teams play at RMU Sunday night at 7. The Colonials, ranked 19th, are 12-3-3.
“Everyone has a little bit more pep in their step this week,” Hafner said. “We’re ready for it, and we’re looking forward to it.”
The Falcons and RMU both will practice for an hour at Fifth Third Field Friday, BG at 3:30 pm. and RMU at 4:30 p.m.
Fifth Third Field is the home of the Toledo Mud Hens, the Class AAA affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.
The Toledo Walleye played the Kalamazoo Wings in an East Coast Hockey League game at Fifth Third Field last Saturday and drew a crowd of 11,222. The Walleye host Fort Wayne at Fifth Third Saturday at 6:30 p.m., following the BG game.
A full size (200 feet by 85) ice rink stretches across the outfield.
“Because we’ve been off for so long, the excitement is just to play another game,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “The excitement level will ratchet up when we practice there Friday when it’s actually real.
“Right now, it’s still something they see on the Internet or they heard the Walleye played a game there. It’s not real until they actually go and experience it. I really feel like that excitement and that energy will ratchet up at that time.”
Hafner is no stranger to outdoor hockey. He played in shinny games as a youngster on the outdoor rink at Ottawa Park in Toledo.
“That was a lot of fun,” said Hafner, who is 23. “It’s always good to be outdoors. It’s hockey. There’s nothing better than playing hockey outdoors.”
Weather could be an issue Saturday, according to weather.com.
The forecast calls for clouds early with a wintry mix expected to move in during the afternoon with a high of 34. Winds will be east/southeast at 5-10 miles per hour. One to three inches of snow and ice is predicted.
“We just talked controlling what we can control and, unfortunately, the weather isn’t something we can control,” Bergeron said. “We won’t worry about it.
“We’ll go there Friday and deal with what we get for practice, and then we’ll go back Saturday and deal with what we get for the game. Robert Morris, they’ll do the same thing. Whatever we’re faced with, we’ll deal with.”
Friday’s forecast is for a mix of sun and clouds, and a high of 33 with west/southwest winds at 5-10 mph.
The Walleye are hoping for a crowd of 4,000-6,000 for the BG game.
“I don’t think you think about it,” Hafner said of the weather. “Once you get out there, you’re in game mode. You just go out and play. You don’t think about the weather. The atmosphere will be good. I don’t think anything really changes.”
The BG-RMU game is part of the Walleye’s Winterfest, a 10-day celebration of winter activities. Public skating, as well as youth, high school and adult hockey games are being played at the stadium as well.
The Falcon game against RMU was announced Feb. 3.
“I don’t know when Derek (RMU head coach Schooley) and I talked last year about playing, either one of us thought we’d be in the Top 20,” Bergeron said. “But that’s where we are.
“The fact the first game is an outdoor game, which will bring some obvious distractions and make it different, this is a huge weekend for both teams.”