DALLAS, Texas — Fantastic. Amazing. Unbelievable.
Those were among the descriptions of Friday night’s first USHL Frosty Cup won by the Chicago Steel 7-2 over the Green Bay Gamblers at the Cotton Bowl stadium. It was the “sequel” to Wednesday’s NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic.
Well, the father of one of the players playfully claimed somewhat conflicting emotions.
“I never got to play in one, so I’m a little upset,” said 22-year NHL veteran Shane Doan, whose son, Josh, gave the Steel the lead for good only 3:36 into the game. “He gets to play in one even before he gets a chance to be a pro.
“I was happy and excited for him.”
The event, more than a year in the making, was enjoyed by winners and losers alike along with a crowd made up primarily of friends and family.
“The kids are having a wonderful time,” USHL commissioner Tom Garrity said. “We’re a league where the kids are still amateurs, and these are things that hopefully they’ll remember the rest of their lives.”
The rink was situated in the middle of the football field that has hosted college football’s famed Texas-Oklahoma rivalry since the stadium opened in 1930. With a considerable distance between the playing surface and the seating area, there was little chance of a hat making its way to the ice after Steel forward Sam Colangelo completed his hat trick with a power-play goal in the closing minutes.
Colangelo, whose 18 goals this season tie him for the league lead with Trevor Kuntar of the Youngstown Phantoms, was one of many of Friday’s players who grew up playing outdoor hockey. He was reared in Massachusetts and skated for the first time on a pond in his neighborhood.
“It brings back memories of growing up learning to play hockey,” he said. “Playing outdoors here was probably one of the coolest hockey experiences I’ve had.”
Each team posed for a team photo at center ice before play began at 5 p.m. The first period was played beneath the setting sun and a cloudless sky with temperatures in the mid-50s. The final two periods were played in the dark.
“For the [skaters], the play’s right in front of them. So, I don’t think there was a lot changing,” said Gamblers coach Pat Mikesch.
For the goalies, though, the difference in lighting proved challenging.
“Some of the shadows made it a little difficult,” said Chicago goalie Ian Shane, who played the first half before giving way to Victor Ostman. “Victor agreed it was kind of weird lighting above the boards. I feel like us both and the Green Bay goalie [Gavin Enright] struggled with it a little bit.”
Shane said he felt the weather getting colder during the game. It certainly wasn’t as cold as the most memorable weather event in the stadium’s history. An ice storm struck Dallas on Jan. 1, 1979 during the Cotton Bowl Classic between Notre Dame and Houston. The Fighting Irish trailed by 22 points and their quarterback, future Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana, stayed in the locker room after halftime sipping chicken soup to fight off a virus. Montana returned and rallied Notre Dame in the closing minutes to a dramatic 35-34 win.
Steel coach Brock Sheahan brought some Notre Dame flavor to Friday’s game, having served as an Irish volunteer coach. During his first season in South Bend, Notre Dame played in the Frozen Fenway against Boston College.
“Absolutely freezing,” Sheahan recalled with a smile.
Sheahan said there was no difference in preparing his team for Friday’s game as there was for the previous night’s game against the Gamblers, played inside the Stars’ Comerica Center in suburban Frisco — a 7-1 Steel win.
“It’s a once in a lifetime event for most of the guys,” Sheahan said. “I thought our guys took advantage of it. They came out ready to play. I’m really happy with how the evening went.”
Green Bay’s Mikesch told his players he hoped they enjoyed the game despite the outcome.
“You could see they were nodding and smiling,” he said. “When they get to reflect on it, it’ll be a great experience.”
For Gamblers forward Ryan O’Reilly, it was a local hockey experience of a lifetime — for the second time. O’Reilly grew up in nearby Southlake and played Friday before a large contingent of family and friends; some of his buddies brought Big Head on a Stick displays featuring a photo of a 10-year-old Ryan. In June 2018, many of those same supporters were in the stands across town at American Airlines Center when O’Reilly was chosen in the fourth round of the NHL Draft by the Detroit Red Wings.
“It honestly kind of felt like the same experience,” said O’Reilly, who had a second period shot bang off the inside of the right post. “Not exactly the result our team wanted, but it’s pretty emotional.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo from USHL