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Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills

December 18, 2013

Brother Rice, Cranbrook hockey teams to highlight two days of prep action at Comerica Park

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Comerica Park has officially been updated for the Hockeytown Winter Festival. Brother Rice, Cranbrook and Country Day are all scheduled to play on Dec. 19.

DETROIT — One of the better hockey rivalries the high school game has to offer is about to take on a whole new twist.

Outdoors, to be exact. Inside a baseball stadium.

“It’s a chance of a lifetime,” Birmingham Brother Rice coach Lou Schmidt Jr. said of a 3:30 p.m. contest against Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood on Dec. 19 at Comerica Park. “To get down there and play in that stadium is something we can’t wait for. It’s going to be pretty special.”

Comerica has been transformed into a hockey wonderland, serving as an appetizer in the days leading up to the main course, the 2014 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Warriors and Cranes highlight a four-day, 10-game package of prep action, all part of the Hockeytown Winter Festival.

“It’s one of those things that takes you back to when you were growing up and you played hockey on a pond,” Schmidt said. “The only difference is we’ll have 40,000 seats around us in a baseball stadium and a pretty electric atmosphere.”

“Playing outdoors is a novelty these days,” Cranbrook coach Andy Weidenbach said with a laugh. “Playing indoors was the novelty when I was growing up. But this is going to be special. It’s such an awesome venue and an awesome opportunity for everyone involved. To be part of what the NHL is doing is pretty historic. It’s something these kids will never forget.”

There will, of course, need to be some adjustments.

The venue itself creates a certain challenge, with sightlines becoming more difficult with more space around the rink itself.

Cranbrook played an outdoor game in 2010 at Clark Park in Detroit, but the game was so well attended, fans surrounded the rink as they would during a regular game inside.

“This won’t be packed like that was, just because of the venue itself,” Weidenbach said.

The other, and more obvious, challenge will be the weather.

“The cold is the main thing, especially if it’s real cold,” Schmidt said. “Depending how bad it is, or if it’s snowing, can play a big role on you, physically. But it’s something you have to adjust to.”

Not lost in all the hoopla of the venue and the historic overtones is the fact these are two good teams battling in a Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League North Division contest.

“They are a great team, with a top line that is probably the best in high school hockey,” Schmidt said of Cranbrook. Rice was 3-2-0 at press time and 2-1-0 in the North. “We have a few good lines of our own to throw at them, and it think our guys will take this game as a personal challenge to see where we are right now.”

“The experience is what matters, but this is a league game against a great rival,” said Weidenbach, whose team was 7-0-0 at press time. “Who we’re playing brings some extra attention to the game, which is great.”

Still, Weidenbach stressed he and his guys weren’t going to put too much emphasis on a win or a loss.

“When we played at Clark Park, how many people actually remember the final score?” he said with a laugh. “We’re going to be part of history, and that’s what everyone involved will take away from this.”

The full prep schedule
Prep action at Comerica is set for Dec. 18 at 8:30 a.m. when the Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe South girls teams will face off.

Traverse City West and Traverse City Central will battle at 3:30 p.m., followed by Cadillac High and Big Rapids High at 7 p.m., and Clarkston High against Lake Orion High at 10:30 p.m.

On Dec. 19, Plymouth High and Canton High begin the day at 8:30 a.m., followed by Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day against Utica Eisenhower at noon, Rice and Cranbrook at 3:30 p.m., and then Brighton High against Howell High at 7 p.m.

On Dec. 21, Livonia Stevenson and South Lyon battle at 8:30 p.m.

In a game played after press time, Rochester United and Rochester Hills Stoney Creek began the prep takeover of Comerica. The city rivals faced off Dec. 16.

Ticket’s for any of the games can be purchased at Comerica Park and are available for $10.