OMAHA — The novelty of playing a hockey game outside was the topic in the year leading up to Saturday’s doubleheader at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
Once the attention turned to the ice, a bigger topic was just that — the ice — or at least the occasional layer of slush and water on top of the ice and the delays the poor ice conditions caused.
It was the sun beating down on the ice during the afternoon game between the Lincoln Stars and Omaha Lancers that was the bigger problem than the temperature. There were several delays while crews worked to clear the slush off the ice and repair the worst spots.
The second game, a college game between Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota, was delayed 2 1/2 hours to a 6:30 p.m. start. That allowed for more work on the ice after the sun went down. The ice conditions were much better for the second game, which North Dakota won 5-2.
The number of tickets sold for the doubleheader was 13,650. The crowd was considerably smaller for the Omaha-Lincoln game, before several thousand North Dakota fans arrived.
The Lancers took advantage when the ice conditions were the best in the first period and beat the Stars 4-2. Five of the six goals were scored in the first period, when the Lancers took a 4-1 lead.
Some players compared the ice to quicksand.
“It kind of reminded me of when the weather was starting to get warm back home when it’s about to be springtime,” said Stars second-year forward Paul Ladue, who is from Grand Forks, N.D.
Several players fell down on the ice, and the game was slower than usual.
“Those blue lines seemed to be soaking up the heat,” said Omaha Lancers coach Mike Aikens “You really could not skate across the blue line. You actually saw guys when they were going on rushes jump over the blue line, because they knew they were going to be in trouble. It was almost comical at times.”
Said Stars coach Chad Johnson: “There wasn’t a lot of crisp tape-to-tape passes.”
In the third period, officials discussed stopping the game and waiting to play the final 10 minutes later in the day. The coaches decided it was best to finish it.
Now the Stars hope the result of this game won’t come back to hurt them at the end of the season. The Lancers and Stars are in tight race for one of the four playoff spots in the USHL's Western Conference.
“Obviously, we would have liked to get the two points (for a win) — the division is close — but it was fun hockey out there and the atmosphere was great,” Ladue said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
It was a game to remember for the two Omaha natives playing in the game — Gage Hough for the Lancers and Will Suter for the Stars — who accounted for three of the six goals.
Hough scored two goals and Suter had one. Hough scored the first goal of the game 1 minute, 20 seconds into the first period. He made it 2-0 seven minutes later when he one-timed a shot into the net, then went down on one knee in celebration.
It didn’t matter that he’s from Omaha, Hough said, it was just special to score in such a big game.
Suter scored the final goal of the game seven minutes into the second period when he took a pass from Jake Wood behind the net and batted the puck in.
“It always sucks to come up short, especially against Omaha, and it’s such a big venue,” Suter said. “But it really was nice to get a goal in front of a lot of family and friends and a lot of people who have supported me though the years.”
Outdoor hockey probably won’t become a regular occurrence in Omaha. The rink already was in town for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which made hosting outdoor hockey more economical.