August 11, 2014 at 9:38 pm

Michigan, Michigan State hockey set for Soldier Field showdown

Michigan head coach Red Berenson will lead the Wolverines in an outdoor hockey showdown against Michigan State in February. (David Guralnick / Detroit News)

Michigan State has never shied away from playing in big-time events, and often times, is at the forefront in creating them.

The Spartans hockey team will once again be on the big stage when it plays Michigan in an outdoor hockey game on Feb. 7 at Soldier Field in Chicago as part of the Hockey City Classic. Western Michigan and Miami (Ohio) will also play.

“Michigan State looks to provide unique experiences for its players,” coach Tom Anastos said. “It’s something we talk about with the team, we talk about it in recruiting and this delivers on that commitment.”

This will be the fourth time Michigan and Michigan State will play an outdoor hockey game, after previous meetings at Spartan Stadium, Michigan Stadium and Comerica Park.

“We’re excited to be part of it,” Anastos said. “It has a real unique flair to it from the perspective of our players have an opportunity to play our biggest rival, and actually college hockey’s longest rivalry, on a stage like Soldier Field in a world-class city that is a very vibrant hockey town, in front of one of the Big Ten’s largest alumni bases with Michigan State there in the greater Chicagoland area. We’re very excited. Our players are fired up about it.

“It provides a unique experience for our players and that is important to us.”

It was the first meeting between the rivals in an outdoor setting that began the trend that exists today with the NHL creating its stadium series. On Oct. 6, 2001, the Spartans and Wolverines tied, 3-3, in front of a packed house at Spartan Stadium.

They played again in the Big Chill at the Big House in 2010 at Michigan Stadium with the Wolverines winning, 5-0. And the teams met again in last year’s Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park with Michigan State winning, 3-0.

With so much experience playing outdoors, it begs the question – will hockey return to Spartan Stadium?

“You never know,” Anastos said. “That be would be a call by (athletic director) Mark Hollis. He is the one who really started this. I look at it and people really downplay or overlook how significant that was (in 2001). Back then there was no blueprint for this event.

“Frankly I don’t think there ever will be another Cold War-type atmosphere, I don’t care how many times it’s done. That was so unique, so special.”