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Hockey Tue Feb 05 2013
Ever since the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup three years ago, not only has the popularity of the team grown, the demand for the sport in Chicago is higher than ever. The festivities at Soldier Field last Friday might be a stepping stone to bigger and better things as far as hockey in Chicago is concerned.
The Chicago Park District, Office Max and the Chicago Blackhawks Alumni Association, along with members of the ICE (Inner City Education), held the "Light the Lamp" event last week. The ceremony kicked off the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic Winter Festival, a two-week celebration of winter activities capped off with the first outdoor college hockey games ever to be played at Soldier Field. The festival will include several activities for Chicagoland hockey fans, including free public skating, community hockey events, along with high school and college hockey games. The events will take place on a newly constructed hockey rink at Soldier Field.
OfficeMax officials joined Chicago Park District CEO Michael P. Kelly and youth hockey players from ICE to kick off the festivities, along with Blackhawks legends Tony Esposito and Bobby Hull. Kelly opened the ceremonies by making the crowd aware of the increasing demand for another outdoor hockey event in Chicago. According to Kelly, the demand for hockey in Chicago is higher than ever.
"There are more than a million college hockey fans in this town," Kelly said. "There are 3.3 million NHL fans in this town. In the past four years, nobody has sold more hockey tickets than the city of Chicago. Illinois is sixth in hockey participation."
Bobby Hull echoed the sentiments of the park district CEO. He believes the kids in the ICE program who attended the event are what the National Hockey League has to look forward to.
"They are our future NHLers. The future of our league. Here we are waiting for someone to grab the torch," Hull said. "Grab the torch and lead for us."
Hall of Fame goaltender Tony Esposito says the kids that will get to play hockey outside will make memories that they will never forget. "Seeing the kids out there, that's what makes it hockey. I grew up on ice like that. Freezing... a lot of memories. Those kids don't feel the cold like we did."
The parents whose kids are in the ICE program were excited for their children to participate in the opening ceremonies. Michelle Moore, whose son, Erin Carey, is a goaltender in the ICE program, likes the fact that hockey might take her son to places he has never been.
"This is my first time out here. It's wonderful to be out here," Moore said. "It's good thing they did this for the kids. It keeps (Erin) busy. Maybe it will take him somewhere different."
On Feb 17, Notre Dame will face off against Miami of Ohio at noon, followed by Minnesota vs. Wisconsin at 3:30pm. Individual tickets for the Office Max Hockey City Classic are valid for both games and may be purchased at Ticketmaster.com, by calling 800-745-3000 or at the nearest Ticketmaster outlet.