Take Me Out To The Ice Rink

Living with a certified Hockey Maniac, it was inevitable that we’d introduce our girls to the sport early. They wore their first ice skates before they were two (not necessarily gracefully or skillfully; being on the ice is different from being good on the ice); they know that the NHL rules the television from November through May (which isn’t the length of the season, but is the length of the bulk of the televised games); they craft a bazillion Rainbow Loom bracelets out of Minnesota Wild colors; they await the construction of the backyard ice rink that we erect each year; they cheer Daddy on with his beer league teammates; and they have seen a good number of Rochester Americans games (our local AHL team, usually referred to as the Amerks), although they have yet to make it to see the Wild (or any NHL team, for that matter) in person.

This year, the Amerks decided to up their game (see what I did there?) and host a 10-day outdoor hockey fest on a rink that would be erected in Frontier Field, where our AAA-league Rochester Red Wings play baseball in much warmer months. Over the course of these ten days, there will be all sorts of hockey played on the rink, from high school tournaments to private skating parties, but the Amerks kicked off the festivities on Friday with a nighttime game against the Lake Erie Monsters.

An outdoor hockey game. In a baseball stadium. Opening night of a ten-day celebration. Frozen Frontier, they’re calling it. There was pretty much no way Nick was going to miss it.

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That seemingly iiiiiiitty bitty little pond out there? A full-sized rink.

And, in turn, there was no way that the rest of us were going to miss it, either, because we are nothing if not all about introducing our girls to as many cultural opportunities as possible. Especially where hockey sticks and beer-wielding fans are involved.

As Friday loomed, it became increasingly clear that it was going to be a really cold night. Sitting in a baseball stadium in the middle of December in Rochester is pretty much guaranteed to be cold no matter what, but we’ve endured a particularly chilly December thus far, with temperatures not really rising much out of the teens and “real feel”s well below zero. While we Rochesterians are known for our snow, deeply frozen temperatures are not really what we’re about.

But, as much as tried to argue with Mother Nature, she gave us the cold shoulder (ah, see, I did it again!) and told us to suck it, so we had no choice but to embrace the frigid temperatures. “Bundling up” took on new meaning, as we donned shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, skiing “shells,” gloves AND mittens, our warmest socks, leggings, pants, snow pants, our winteriest boots, hats, and scarves. Actually, we didn’t don these right away, because we were meeting friends for dinner – the same fabulous friends who’d joined us for Thanksgiving – pre-game, because the idea of removing one’s gloves in order to eat a tepid hotdog in 14-degree weather just wasn’t really appetizing. And so we wore only our under layers (which still made us, how do I put it… thick) as we dined, then put on the rest of our outerwear in the car before heading off the game.

Have you ever tried that? Putting on snow pants (while you’re already wearing your snow boots) and two jackets and gloves and hats and opening up hand warmer packets and shoving them inside your mittens while you’re in your car? If you haven’t, I have a recommendation: don’t. You will need to remove your boots, which will already have snow on them, and said snow will plop unceremoniously onto your car seat or onto your daughter’s hair. Or you might slip slightly while putting on said pants – shoeless – and put an un-booted foot into a pile of snow, which will then make your feet feel oh-so-lovely for the rest of the freezing evening. You might also realize that you can only find one of the super-warm waterproof mittens you’d brought to wear over your not-at-all warm gloves, which will set you into a panic. But that panic will be nothing compared to the meltdown that will be had in the back seat as your cherubs attempt to wedge themselves into their boosters and buckle their seatbelts while essentially being unable to move. Can the Michelin Man buckle himself into his booster seat? Enough said.

While we love Rochester for many, many reasons, well-executed crowd-control is not one of them. Nick had assumed that there would be “pomp and circumstance” before the game — introductions of all of the players, some sort of commemoration of this Frozen Frontier awesomeness — and that the game would probably begin at least a half-hour late, by which time our girls would be a) icicles, b) bored, and c) begging to go home before the puck had even dropped, so we were in no hurry to arrive on time. Which was a good thing, because we got stuck just outside of the stadium in traffic so terrible – despite the police officers “directing” the cars – that it took us over twenty minutes just to move one block. We had three blocks to go. At least we got to stare out of our windows from our warm, cozy car seats, onto the chilly field… at the players zooming around on the ice, because of course the game had started absolutely on time.

Thankfully, the other blocks were quicker than the first, and we eventually found parking and tumbled out of the car. Ella announced that she had to go to the bathroom as soon as we set foot in the stadium (which was odd, considering that she’d just been given the opportunity to use the facilities when we’d left the restaurant and she’d declined; none of your children has ever done this, I assume?), but we elected to forgo the line of port-a-potties immediately inside the gates because we both wanted to at least find our seats and also, port-a-potties? No, thank you. We’ll wait for the real thing.

Finding our seats wasn’t quite as easy as we’d imagined, however, in part because they were (of course) located a good distance from where we’d entered, and also because the stadium was absolutely packed… with people layered up as though ready to tackle some black diamond slopes. You know how everyone moves in a ski lodge (even without the robot-step-inducing ski boots), with wide, just-got-off-a-horse steps, and how everyone is always bumping into one another because you’re all so padded, it’s like banging about in a slow-motion pinball machine? Imagine doing so in the bowels of a baseball stadium when it’s 15 degrees out and… yep.

This being Rochester, sufficient snow gear is not exactly in short supply, so our fellow attendees had also come prepared. Seventy-five percent of them were wearing snow pants (this is an extremely well-researched fact), fifteen percent were wearing full-body hunting gear (I had no idea that “camouflage” came in so many colors), and although it wasn’t clear what the others were wearing to stave off the chill, they were also doing the slow-motion ski-lodge walk, so they must have been sufficiently layered. The toddlers in attendance were particularly amusing, because their parents had (wisely) bundled them up so fiercely, they could scarcely bend their knees, so they waddled and tottered everywhere they went, swaying back and forth like chiming bells.

We eventually hobbled to our seats just in time to hear the announcement that the period would be ending in one minute. Fantastic. Ella still needed to use the restroom, so – hoping to avoid the crush of onlookers flooding out of their seats and toward the loos – I ushered her and Annie (just for kicks and giggles) back out in search of the toilets. We were greeted by these signs instead:
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The girls and I fought through the teeming hordes all the way back to the entrance, where gigantic lines had formed in front of every port-a-potty because a) THERE WERE NO WORKING BATHROOMS (have I mentioned this yet?) and b) the majority of the crowd had – perhaps in a bid to stay warm – been consuming copious quantities of alcohol, which, having gone in one end, had to come out of the other sooner or later. Also? Port-a-potties and ridiculous amounts of snow gear do not mix. It was like trying to peel off a full-body wetsuit inside a disease-ridden gym locker; don’t touch the walls unless you want to lose a hand to gangrene.

As a result, it took approximately 4.57 minutes for every single person to do their business, which, when you multiply that by a minimum of five people in each line, meant… well, I still suck at The Math, but it meant a really long wait. By the time we finally emerged from the johns and had gotten ourselves all suited up again, both of the girls declared they were starving and freezing, so we attempted to scrounge up some food and drinks that could be consumed without needing to remove our gloves. It was almost surreal, seeing the vending stations – which we normally visit in the summer – surrounded by icicles and snow piles up to the counters.

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The chili was selling like it was liquid gold.

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Just a typical evening at the ballpark…

At long last, we waddled our way back to our seats – hot chocolate, a big ol’ pretzel, some popcorn, Twizzlers, and Swedish Fish in hand. The hot chocolate and the pretzel were immediately consumable, but the other items proved a bit trickier. Turns out that Twizzlers and Swedish Fish become rock-solid when the temperature hovers around 15 degrees, making each bite a bit of an adventure — who might break a tooth today? Popcorn is deceptive; it seems easy enough to scoop some up in your gloved hand and then shove a handful into your face, but apparently human beings actually use their sense of touch when they eat popcorn – a sense that is lacking when one’s hands are covered – and, as a result, we were unable to determine when the popcorn was actually in our hands and when it had fallen out. Not to worry, though; more popcorn fell into my purse than went in my mouth, so if we’re hungry later, we can go back for more.

Bladders empty, food and drink in hand (and purse), and nestled into our seats, we were finally able to just sit back and truly take in everything around us. The cliché at sporting events is that the feeling amongst the fans was electric. I could say the same, but instead, I will say it was electrified – there was such a charge running through everyone, it was as though the entire place was humming. Although there’s a certain general loyalty shown to the Red Wings and the Amerks, none of the games we’ve attended previously has been all that well-populated, so enjoying the true “roar of the crowd” has been virtually impossible. By contrast, this Frozen Frontier game was sold out; there were people almost literally hanging from the rafters and they were extremely excited to be there, which added to the carnival-like atmosphere.

The majority of adults were – in Nick’s words – well-lubricated, which also gave the event a Mardi Gras flare. You know, if Mardi Gras were held in a baseball stadium in the middle of a very wintery December and onlookers threw snow, not beads. People were chanting raucously, singing with gusto whenever there was a break in the action. It was the first time that the girls got to see people at a sporting event successfully do the wave, which was awesome but looked pretty freakin’ hilarious with everyone bundled up to within an inch of their lives.

Annie and Ella were particularly taken with the Amerks’ mascot, a large moose very cleverly nicknamed The Moose. The Moose took the job of whipping the crowd into a frenzy very seriously (not that the crowd was all to hard to whip, given the level of revelry and intoxication), and became especially excited whenever the Americans scored, pumping his hooves into the air with a very un-Moose-like flare.

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We jammed along with the music. We stood up and cheered like maniacs whenever the red goal light went on (which was pretty much our only indication that the puck had crossed the goal line, since we couldn’t really see the puck from where we were sitting). We threw our hands in the air and waved them like we really, really didn’t care whenever the wave came crashing our way. We clapped madly for anything and everything, which was a particularly amusing phenomenon, because gloved and mittened hands make no sound when they are smacked together. We marveled at the people who’d been smart enough to bring sleeping bags and goggled at the beer seller wearing shorts.

As for the game? Well, I know that the Amerks eventually won (in a wildly exciting and unexpected finish, as the Monsters tied the game with 0.1 seconds left – I kid you not – which had the inebriated party sports-goers shouting BULLLLL-SHIT!!! over and over again, to the shocked delight of our friends’ 9 year-old son, and the victor was eventually decided by a shoot-out). But the truth of the matter is that we really couldn’t see a damn thing that was happening on the ice.

In a hockey arena, the action is right there – quite literally, with only a couple of inches of glass separating the fans from the players. In a baseball stadium, the players are typically yards and yards away (save for the odd ball that is caught right at the bleachers) and the field is vast, so the hockey rink was positively dwarfed. Add to that the angle of the seats and the boards along the rink’s edge and we could only see about half of the sheet of ice, anyway. We could “follow” the play by watching the players swarming about the ice, but had no idea where the puck actually was.

But that wasn’t really the point. We weren’t there for the game; we were there to say we’d done it. We’d braved the frigid elements and donned every drop of winter gear we owned to teeter our way into a bathroom-less baseball stadium in the middle of December with a crap-ton of drunken revelers, just because. Because that was what it was all about. The hot chocolate and the singing. The wave and the bright lights. The nearly palpable joy and anticipation surging through the air. Come to think of it, it was, in fact, one of the most Christmas-y things we’ve done yet this season.

By the end of the second period, with the action stopped and The Moose taking a potty break (good luck with that), everyone seemed to realize all at once just how unbelievably cold they were. The universal Dance Of The Cold sprung up all around us, with people standing and jitterbugging about back and forth in a futile effort to get their blood pumping again. Our girls were frozen through, and asked to go home; as soon as the third period began (and the majority of fans returned to their seats, making navigating the stadium far easier), we obliged.

Naturally, Annie needed to go to the bathroom on our way out, so our departure was delayed while we waited for her to de-robe in the e-coli infested portable john, but we could still hear the patrons cheering frantically. By the time we reached our car, we could hardly feel our fingers and toes and the girls were beyond exhausted. We agreed that we had, indeed, been there, done that – just because – but we were glad that it was over.

And yet, somehow… we had a total and complete blast. Do I want to brave another Frozen Frontier game? No, thanks. Been there. Done that. But I’m awfully glad we did, because it was pretty much the best damn hockey game I’ve ever been to.

The popcorn that’s still in my purse is just a bonus.frozen frontier4
Why are the girls not wearing their hats even though they’re allergic to the cold? I DON’T KNOW. They must have terrible parents.

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