The Spokane Chiefs open training camp a week from today, but 19-year-old forward Matt Marantz was all smiles Wednesday afternoon when he figured they picked up their first win of the Western Hockey League season.
The Chiefs announced they will play the Kootenay Ice outdoors at Avista Stadium on Jan. 15, 2011, a first in major junior hockey.
Earlier this month, the Calgary Hitmen unveiled an outdoor game for the day after the annual National Hockey League outdoor game is played at McMahon Stadium in February.
“It will be an unbelievable experience. It’s an honor to play in something like this,” said Marantz, a native of Calgary, Alberta. “I have a lot of friends on the Hitmen. I’m just happy we can get it done before them and I can be part of the first outdoor game in Canadian Hockey League history.”
Chiefs owner Bobby Brett could barely contain his enthusiasm.
“(At) Brett Sports, we’ve always prided ourselves on putting on a show, putting on quality events,” he said. “We’ve been looking at it on and off the last couple of years. The cost to get the ice is really way too expensive. But when the organization … really took a step back, we looked at this as something we couldn’t afford not to do.
“Everything in life is not about dollars and cents. It probably makes no sense for us to do this game, but I thought this was one of those things that’s a special event. Twenty-five years from now … there will be 50,000 people saying they were there Jan. 15th when the Chiefs beat Kootenay and it was snowing sideways.”
New Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur and former coach Mike Babcock have both was been involved in an outdoor game. Babcock’s Detroit Red Wings played at Wrigley Field two seasons back. Nachbaur was the coach at Binghamton (N.Y.) last season when the American Hockey League team participated.
“I think the only thing better than standing behind the bench coaching is being out on the ice playing,” Nachbaur said. “It reminds you of your childhood. It’s a great spectacle for the fans. It’s memories for the guys.”
Brett said, “(Babcock) just raved about what an event it was, once in a lifetime.
“We don’t have everything figured out how it’s all going to work but with the cooperation we have with the county … we’ll get it all figured out.”
The Chiefs considered playing the game at Albi Stadium, which is operated by the city, while Avista is a county facility where Brett’s baseball team also plays.
“There was always a natural fit with the county with the baseball team here,” Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz said. “Secondly, we’re not saying down the road that Albi couldn’t be a place for potential game in the future.
“We look at the capacity, it’s three times as many people out there, it’s a whole different challenge in that regard. There were also some concerns with the field as well.”
The rink will be set up on a natural grass field before the 6,800 seats at Avista. Albi has artificial turf – and seats more than 20,000.
The Chiefs are making a sacrifice because a Saturday game in January often fills up the Arena, which seats 10,400 for hockey. The tradeoff, besides memories, is publicity. WHL commissioner Ron Robison said the league is working on getting the game televised throughout North America.
“I’ve come to learn one thing in … my last 10 years of experience as commissioner of this league – never underestimate Bobby Brett and his organization,” Robison said. “This is the ultimate hockey experience … to see hockey played in its purest form in an environment like this is what the sport is all about.”
Marantz said, “There was (an outdoor rink) right beside my house. My friends and I would walk down there. I guess that’s where I really learned how to play. It’s my heritage.”
Tickets to the game are not part of the season ticket package, but Chiefs package holders can purchase tickets, which range in price from $25 to $100, beginning today. The first playoff game becomes the 36th game for season-ticket holders.
Single-game tickets go on sale Sept. 1.