Isaac Kohls remembers it well. Growing up in Minnesota, it’s difficult to escape. At some point you played outside, skating with your friends until the adults tell you it’s time to come home.
Eventually, you trade in the pickup games for organized practices and climb through the ranks of hockey. As your aspirations grow bigger, your focus gets smaller out of necessity to succeed at the sport you love. Sometimes you need that reminder of a time when hockey was simpler.
For Kohls and his Niagara University teammates, that reminder couldn’t come at a better time.
The Purple Eagles agreed to move their regular season meeting with Atlantic Hockey rival RIT from the campus rink to Frontier Field participating in Rochester’s Frozen Frontier outdoor hockey extravaganza.
There are 10 days worth of games and open skating along with festivities and merchandise. It’s an event that’s sure to provide memorable moments for spectators and participants. But hoopla and party hats aside, playing a game outside in what’s forecast to be brutally cold conditions takes Kohls back to his days growing up in Minnesota.
“Part of it is going back to the setting of being out there by yourself, skating outside and just the feeling that you’re doing it because you love the game,” said the junior forward from Forest Lake, Minn. “That will be refreshing, I think. And yeah, growing up in Minnesota there’s lakes, there’s ponds, there’s plenty of outdoor rinks. It’s definitely cold enough. I don’t know how the weather’s supposed to be. I know in Minnesota the last couple of weeks it’s been 1 to 10 degrees.”
It will be pretty darn cold for Niagara when they face RIT at 7 p.m. Saturday night at the rink set up on the infield of the home of the Rochester Red Wings International League team in downtown Rochester. The forecast calls for temperatures in the teens with light snow.
It’s the same forecast for game time tonight as Frozen Frontier kicks off with the marquee event, an American Hockey League matchup between the Rochester Americans and the Lake Erie Monsters. Only standing room tickets are available.
Festivities for the AHL clash begin at 5 p.m. with a pregame party in a heated tent located on the left field side of the stadium. There will also be post-game fireworks.
The Frozen Frontier festivities extend for 10 days and while the unique atmosphere and outdoor weather conditions will change parts of the game, the bottom line remains the same — there are two critical standing points on the line.
The Amerks are coming off a 4-2 win over Lake Erie on Tuesday, a game played in the cozy confines of Blue Cross Arena. The Amerks are a third of the way through the season with a record of 11-10, which include two overtime losses and two shootout losses. They’re in the hunt for a playoff spot and moved a point ahead of Cleveland-based Lake Erie with Tuesday’s win.
It’s a critical game in Atlantic Hockey as well as Niagara looks to find some sort of happy place before heading into the semester break while RIT, on a five-game roll, wants to keep moving up the conference standings.
The Purple Eagles have lost five straight, are 3-4-0 in Atlantic Hockey, and have not won away from Dwyer Arena yet this season.
RIT meanwhile is riding first-year goaltender Mike Rotolo. He made his first collegiate start on Nov. 23 against St. Lawrence, earning a 6-4 win, and has rattled off four more including a 4-0 shutout win at Sacred Heart on Nov. 30.
“Obviously RIT’s on a five-game win streak so they’re hot and rolling right now,” said junior forward Mike Conderman, a Rochester native. “We’re going to have to come out and play our best, definitely keep it simple and do whatever we can to score goals and try to get these two points.”
Other highlighted events include:
• Women’s college hockey: RIT (9-9-1) will host Clarkson (13-4-2) in a Division I matchup at noon on Saturday.
• Division III hockey: Nazareth (1-8-1) and Geneseo men (8-2-0) men will clash at noon on Sunday.
• Junior hockey: The Buffalo Junior Sabres and St. Michael’s Buzzers meet at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The Junior Sabres lead the OJHL West Division while the Buzzers are second in the South Division.
• Sabres-Amerks Alumni Game: The puck drop for Sunday’s showcase is at 5 p.m. There will be a pregame meet-and-greet with the players, open to anyone with a game ticket, from 3:30-4:30 in the left field concourse. Among those scheduled to play in the game are Martin Biron, Matthew Barnaby, Randy Cunneyworth, Richie Dunn, Jody Gage, Danny Gare, Yuri Khmylev, Brad May, Jay McKee, Andrew Peters and Ric Seiling.
• High school hockey: Next weekend has two full slates of Section V rivalry games with one Buffalo team sneaking in for good measure. St. Joe’s will play McQuaid on Dec. 21 at 3 p.m.
Tickets for the Niagara-RIT game and the Alumni Game range from $25-$10 while all other games are $10 general admission. Tickets can be purchased at www.frozenfrontier2013.com or at the Frontier Field box office.