Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – The forecast for game time in the first women's hockey outdoor game in Alberta post-secondary history calls for scattered flurries and a temperature of minus-5.
As for the temperature of the rivalry between the MacEwan Griffins and NAIT Ooks, who will face off in Falun, Alta. at 2 p.m. on Saturday?
With first place in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference standings on the line heading into the semester break, the 10-3-0-0 Griffins and 10-2-1-0 Ooks meet in a game that will be about winning, even if the atmosphere promises to deliver one of the coolest experiences of the players' careers.
"Huge kudos to the organizer," said MacEwan head coach Lindsay McAlpine of Neil Brown, the president of P.L.A.C.E. (Pigeon Lake Athletic Cultural Education Society), which will benefit from the proceeds of the game as they aim to build a multi-use/multi-seasonal facility in the area.
"He's taken everything off the coaches' plate and allowed us to focus on the game. It's kind of worked out to be a relatively critical game to wrap up the first half."
The Falun Frozen Female Challenge – an idea originally hatched last fall – will be the first women's hockey outdoor game in Alberta post-secondary history. The significance of being a part of that and harkening back to hockey's roots isn't lost on the players.
"It's really exciting," said Griffins captain Nikki Reimer. "Most girls growing up, everyone's spent time on the ponds or outside. It's going to be a little déjà vu from when we were kids. I'm excited for it.
"Every Christmas, our family has an outdoor scrimmage," she added. "My auntie puts a rink in her backyard. I'm excited for it."
Reimer also remembers practicing on outdoor rinks in her hometown of Winnipeg, but she has never played a competitive game under open skies.
Pickup hockey is McAlpine's primary experience with the outdoor game as a player, but she did face something similar during a trip to Switzerland as a member of the University of Alberta Pandas alumni team.
"The only time I've seen it is when I went to Europe," she said. "A couple of their arenas over there are half covered and half open. That was really interesting – the concept of having the light and sun shining on the ice. I think that will take a few minutes for the girls to get used to. Once we get used to it, we'll be ready to roll."
There's no doubt there will be adjustments – things you don't have to think about when playing indoors.
"On the bench we'll be wearing toques and bigger parkas," said McAlpine. "I think the craziest thing for me is Ryan (Davies – Griffins women's hockey athletic therapist), who works with the Edmonton Eskimos, got us eye black. He got it from the Eskimos and the girls on both teams will be wearing eye black for the game."
Reimer noted the team will need to quickly get over the awe of the unique experience and focus on the task at hand.
"I think that's going to be something we need to focus on – maybe getting that awe out in warmup and bringing our focus in for the first period," she said. "It's the last game of the first half and we're fighting with NAIT for first place, so it is a really, really important game."
Despite outshooting the Ooks 51-23 in last weekend's meeting at the Downtown Community Arena, the Griffins needed a shootout to net a 2-1 victory.
"We just have to bear down," said Reimer. "It's been a struggle for us I think this whole half – putting our chances away and putting the puck in the net. We've been getting a lot of chances and we've been outshooting teams most every game, but we've been struggling to find the back of the net, so that's what we have to do against NAIT, especially this weekend."
Especially with the bounty of first place in the ACAC up for grabs – a result that will be locked in place at least until play resumes Jan. 10-12. Expect both teams to be clicking at full capacity in what sets up as a dandy matchup.
"Like you saw last week, it was a 1-1 game that had to go all the way to a shootout," said McAlpine. "I'm expecting it to be of the same competitive level.
"I think both teams will get over the awe factor quite quickly when that rivalry plants itself early in that game. It's something we're definitely looking forward to and I think we'll have the same mindset going in as if it was a regular game."
If you can't make it to Falun for the game, watch it on ACAC TV here.