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Aerial photo of Soldier Field, and the Hockey City Classic rink. | Aerial Photo by Lee Hogan
Hockey action will kick-off on an outdoor rink at Soldier Field as seven high school games will take place today and tomorrow as part of the Hockey City Classic Winter Festival.
Five top-10 teams will play on the rink, including Benet, St. Rita, Fenwick, Loyola Gold and New Trier Green.
Benet plays today against St. Viator at 7 p.m; St. Rita will carry on its rivalry with Fenwick tomorrow at 5 p.m.; and top-rated New Trier Green will square off with No. 3 Loyola Gold tomorrow at 7 p.m.
‘‘I skated on the ice there twice,’’ St.Rita center Chris Foley said. ‘‘It’s something that I haven’t done before.
‘‘Two good teams facing off against each other. It could end up being big for future games. We could end up playing [Fenwick] for the Kennedy Cup.’’
Unlike past hockey players, most of today’s high school players have rarely played outdoors. Most of them came up playing in rinks around the area. The experience will be a new one for today’s youth, but it was the way stars of the past learned how to play the game.
A pair of Blackhawks legends remember coming up by playing outdoors.
‘‘The difference is that you never get tired outdoors because it’s cold,’’ Tony Esposito said. ‘‘You don’t want to stop anyways because you’ll freeze. It’s a grass-roots thing with me because I did that my whole life. I was never on indoor ice until I was 16 years old.’’
Added fellow Hall of Famer Bobby Hull: “Sixty years ago we used to play in weather just like this and think nothing of it. They were great days and that’s where hockey was first played.’’
The rink will be the same as indoor rinks with boards, blue lines and a red line, but the weather will and large-stadium atmosphere will add new elements.
‘‘I think it’s really cool — Saturday’s game,’’ St. Rita goalie Marty Napleton said. ‘‘I played a little bit of outdoor hockey but nothing like this. I’ve never played organized hockey outdoors.’’
The players and fans may have lucked out with clear, relatively mild conditions expected for both days. But once the sun goes down, temperatures may drop.
‘‘I don’t know what I’m going to wear underneath,’’ Foley said. ‘‘Some guys will end up wearing long johns, some guys will wear what they usually wear. We play at five o’clock, so it will be pretty cold.’’
Rita will play Fenwick for the fourth time this year, with the Friars holding a 2-1 edge. The two teams may see each other down the road in the Kennedy Cup championship. Fenwick drew the top seed and the Mustangs garnered the second seed.
New Trier has beaten Loyola twice this year with one goal deciding each game.