Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Preps for an Instant Hockey Classic

The NHL isn’t the only one with a Winter Classic. The University of Wisconsin will roll out the Camp Randall Hockey Classic on Feb. 6 at its legendary football stadium in Madison.

The oldest stadium of any Big Ten school, Camp Randall has seen its share of action since opening in 1917, but Saturday’s doubleheader of men’s and women’s hockey will be a first for the home of the Wisconsin Badgers football team.

“About a year ago, we started discussing the possibility of making this happen,” says Tim Wise, assistant AD for events and facilities at UW. “We just thought it was a great idea and what a great place to do it. Camp Randall is a historic football stadium, and we felt that it would be an amazing opportunity to showcase our hockey programs as well as our football stadium.”

The Hockey Classic will be only the third event of its kind, following a Wisconsin- Ohio State face-off in 2006 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI, and a Michigan-Michigan State tilt back in 2001 in East Lansing, MI, the latter holding the world record for the largest hockey crowd, with an attendance of 74,544 people.

The school’s original goal was to usurp that record, but, as of Wednesday, the attendance hovered around 50,000, which would still make the game the fourth-largest of its kind in North America. A single ticket is good for admission to both the women’s matchup with Bemidji State and the men’s game against Michigan.

Braving the Elements
Preparations for the Classic began in April when the Wisconsin events and facilities department began an eight-month process to properly winterize Camp Randall. The $225,000 project ran through the beginning of January and ensured that everything from pipes to electrical hookups would operate correctly during the brutal Wisconsin winter.

“As old as Camp Randall is, it was certainly not built to operate during January and February,” says Wise. “That’s been the major piece that we’ve been dealing with: getting it winterized to handle that many people in the middle of February.”

Next came the issue of snow removal.  After an intense snow storm just before Christmas, it took weeks to clear the massive amount of snow blanketing the stadium. Another storm on Monday meant yet another last-minute shoveling mission. Wise admits that “just getting the snow removed has been quite an undertaking.”

Camp Randall Is Foaming
As for the rink itself, the installation was complicated by the fact that there is a natural crown to Camp Randall’s field, making it difficult to lay the rink’s foundation. Ice Rink Events, which handled the first NHL Winter Classic, in 2008, solved that problem by using a specially designed foam system that form-fits to the field. A plywood cover is then installed on top of the foam, followed by an intricate system of water holders and cooling agents, and finished off with a smooth layer of ice surrounded by regulation boards.

“From top to bottom,” says Wise, “in terms of the foam system all the way to getting the ice and the basher boards in, it took a little more than a week to finish [the rink].”

Big Ten Network’s Big Problem
The rink is positioned squarely in the middle of the field, running from one 17-yard line to the other. Obviously, this can give a cavernous feel to the venue, which can have an effect on the game’s telecast.

Big Ten is the official network partner for both the men’s and women’s games and will shoot the game much as it would a Badgers football game. Although adjustments had to be made as a result of the rink’s location at midfield, the network decided to stick primarily with its usual camera placements.

“We’re setting the rink in the center of the field, so, naturally, the seating bowl is pushed back quite a bit and seems farther away. That means the camera placements are also pushed back,” Wise points out. “Most of those folks have been here throughout our football season anyway, so they’re very familiar with our stadium and our setup. Our director of facilities, Barry Fox, met with the Big Ten Network, and they explored camera options and what to do. In the end, we decided it was best to keep cameras set up in a similar fashion to what we do for football.”

The Big Ten Network will air both games — the men’s game live and the ladies’ outing on tape delay Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET.  Currently at No. 9 in the latest USCHO poll, the women will take the ice against Bemidji State at 3 p.m.; the third-ranked men’s team will face Michigan at 6 p.m.