I’m from Pittsburgh. I’ve been to dozens of NHL games.

And I’ve never seen pro hockey outside.

I know, I know.

The Penguins bring in fans, which means everything involving them is going to be very — very — expensive. When we finally had our Winter Classic at Heinz Field in 2011 against the Washington Capitals, my dad and I just kind of looked at each other, knowing that the price for this thing was going to be through the roof.

Putting Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin on the same ice means double the cost, especially with all the hype the networks like to put into the game. {Side note: Can we put this much hype into a Philadelphia Flyers/Penguins Winter Classic? Please? Please?)

Yes, I know the NHL puts the Pens and Flyers in their own outdoor Stadium Series, but like I said, it’s expensive if not sold out pretty quickly. We had one last season at Heinz Field and we’ll have another one against the Flyers on their turf (aka, Lincoln Financial Field) on Feb. 23, 2019.

And at Hersheypark Stadium in 2013 between the Hershey Bears and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins? We couldn’t find the time to go. That was almost the first outdoor game for me.

But I finally got to soak one in. Saturday at the 10th AHL Outdoor Classic between the Bears and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Taking in the sights — pretty much everything — sounds — the blades hitting the ice, fans cheering, whistles blowing, Coco banging a drum right in front of the Phantoms’ radio guy — and cold air — only at open windows at the far end of the press box — made me once again realize why I love this sport so much.

It’s a simple, beautiful game.

“Everything seems like a second behind me — [like] the cheer for the goal,” Bears head coach Troy Mann said after the game about the atmosphere. “To compare this to the one in Philadelphia [in 2013], it’s a lot more quaint, much more quaint, much more closer. Overall, I thought it was the perfect night for outdoor hockey.”

“I think tonight was perfect,” Garrett Mitchell said. “Very little wind, we were able to play a really great game. Playing outside, I thought it was pretty cool.”

One thing that I’ve noticed over the years of going to hockey games is that minor league hockey fans are passionate, most of the time even more passionate than their NHL counterparts. All 13,091 people in the stands of Hersheypark Stadium were loud and looking around in awe. They reacted in unison to everything that was happening on the ice. They were involved.

Much better than that guy with glass seats at an NHL game that’s on his phone the whole game. Yeah, you. We see you.

Those three periods were great hockey. Back-and-forth games keep you on the edge of your seat. The Phantoms controlled the momentum for most of the game — and got a lucky bounce with Alex Krushelnyski’s goal in the second period, which popped up into the air in front of Phoenix Copley and somehow found its way into the net.

Nathan Walker’s goal to get the Bears on the board and down by just one shifted the momentum, allowing those on the Chocolate and White side to think the Bears had a chance to come back.

And in sports, nothing is ever over ‘til it’s over.

With six seconds to go in the second, Chris Conner went in alone, cashing in on a low shot past Copley to put the Phantoms back up by two, 3-1, after 40 minutes. And with 2:56 to play in the third, the Bears got on the board again with a Travis Boyd goal to make it 3-2 — which also came with Chris Bourque’s 700th assist.

Two empty-netter’s sealed the 5-2 win for the Phantoms. The outcome may not have been what the Bears faithful had wanted, but it was still an exciting event.

I’ll be back outdoors to take in the CPIHL’s outdoor All-Star Game on Wednesday and I don’t expect anything less than what I saw on Saturday.

An experience I won’t soon forget.

Email Mallory at mmerda@cumberlink.com or follow her on Twitter @MalloryMerda


Sports Reporter

Sports reporter at The Sentinel.

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