Last night, the Phantoms defeated the Bears, 5-2, in front of just over 13,000 cold fans at Hersheypark Stadium. While it was a bit of a disappointing crowd, the players were having an immense amount of fun (as well as the mascots).
Some Phantoms and Bears players have played in outdoor events before and knew what to expect from the cold weather (it was 36º, but it felt like it was 0º), and some players, like Garrett Mitchell, were playing in their third outdoor game.
Mitchell, who has been in the Capitals’ and Bears’ organizations since he was drafted in 2009, has played in two previous AHL outdoor games, both with Hershey. In 2012, the Bears played the Phantoms in front of a record-breaking 45,000-plus crowd at Citizens Bank Park, the home of the NHL Winter Classic just four days previously. Mitchell recorded two shots in that game but watched as the Phantoms scored in the final minute of the third to send the game into overtime and eventually win. Mitchell also played against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2013 at Hersheypark Stadium, but the Bears lost, 2-1, in overtime. He hasn’t recorded a point in three outdoor games.
Troy Mann, current head coach of the Bears, was an assistant coach in both the 2012 and 2013 outdoor games.
Chris Bourque is the only other member of the current Bears to have played with the Bears in the 2012 Outdoor Classic, where he recorded three points. He didn’t play in the 2013 Outdoor Classic because his rights were traded in the offseason to the Boston Bruins.
The Phantoms’ current team does not have anyone who played in the 2012 Outdoor Classic.
Both teams have players who have played outdoors in the AHL with other teams. For example, Zach Sill played for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the 2013 AHL Outdoor Classic against the Bears and recorded an assist in that game. Funnily enough, he returned to Hersheypark Stadium last night to dress for the Bears exactly five years after playing against them outside.
In December 2013, Phil Varone, who was a member of the Rochester Americans at the time, played in the Frozen Frontier game at Frontier Field against the Lake Erie Monsters. Varone scored in the second period to tie the game at three. In the shootout, his attempt was stopped, but the Americans went onto win, 5-4. Later that month, T.J. Brennan played for the Toronto Marlies at Comerica Park against the Grand Rapids Griffins. He assisted on the game-tying goal two minutes into the third period, and the Marlies won the game in the shootout.
Some players, like Dustin Gazely and Travis Boyd, played outdoors in college. Gazely played for Michigan State in “The Big Chill at the Big House”, a 2010 outdoor game at Michigan Stadium between Michigan State and Michigan. In front of well over 100,000 people, Michigan defeated Michigan State, 5-0. The game still holds the record for the largest hockey crowd ever.
Boyd played for the University of Minnesota in the 2014 Hockey City Classic at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. In front of 45,000 fans, the Golden Gophers defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes, 1-0.
Even though some Bears and Phantoms players have experience playing outdoors in college and professional hockey, the 2018 AHL Outdoor Classic was a first for many. It’ll be a game that all players will remember forever, and even for the Bears that lost, no losing team ever hated the opportunity to play outdoors.
The Phantoms will remember this one with a bigger smile, however.
Featured image credit: JustSports Photography
Dylan was the President of GNGHockey from its beginnings to January 2018.