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Chargers and Bears begin what all hope is annual tradition of outdoor hockey

By: Mike Moore | C&G Newspapers | Published January 26, 2011

 Bloomfield’s Michael Calvas celebrates a second-period goal with his team during the Jan. 23 outdoor game at Clark Park. The Chargers eventually fell to Berkley 4-3.

Bloomfield’s Michael Calvas celebrates a second-period goal with his team during the Jan. 23 outdoor game at Clark Park. The Chargers eventually fell to Berkley 4-3.

Photo by Andrew Potter


DETROIT — The sun hovering above him remained his saving grace, and Jeff Fleming knew it. Without its bright light, and somewhat calming rays, this day, so long in the making and so highly anticipated, may have fallen somewhere between unbearable and regrettable.

Yet, as he stood behind his team’s bench, moments after a thrilling 4-3 victory, Fleming remained impervious by his surroundings.

“This was a perfect day,” the Berkley-Ferndale Unified hockey coach said. “We couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

Earlier, when Fleming and his squad arrived at Clark Park in downtown Detroit for their outdoor game against Bloomfield Hills Unified, he remembers hearing a weather report that it was 12 degrees.

Cold, but not windy.

Sunny, but not snowing.

More or less, perfect for outdoor hockey.

“A real nice day,” Bloomfield coach Rick Reed said. “We got fortunate. Mother Nature cooperated.”

Game-time temps reached the high teens, but the focus this Jan. 23 afternoon was the experience of taking a sport so many know as strictly indoors and lacing up the skates outside.

“It was a surreal experience,” Chargers senior Cameron Schwalb said after scoring two goals in the loss. “I’ve never played outside before, so it was pretty cool. Very different, but really cool.”

“It was really my first time ever playing a game outside, so that was awesome,” said Bears sophomore Joey Lieder, the game’s hero who scored the winner with just 41.6 seconds remaining in the third period. “It took a while to get used to everything and adjust to the sunlight and the ice and so on, but it really was awesome. I think everyone enjoyed it.”

In the weeks leading up to the game, Fleming and Reed both spoke about their early days in the game of hockey, namely where everything was played.

“Growing up, you played on lakes or ponds, or flooded fields at the local park; it was just something you always did,” Fleming said earlier this month. “Kids don’t get to experience that anymore today, at least not as much as we did. … It kind of takes you back to the roots of the game.”

Whether it was players donning eye black or fans bundled in every piece of winter attire available, the afternoon was certainly enjoyed by all.

“I think this is something everyone enjoyed,” Fleming said. “I know the coaches and players had been looking forward to it for so long. The parents and fans, and everyone else involved seemed to have a great time.”

Thanks to Schwalb’s two goals, and another by senior Austin Ramin, Bloomfield held a 3-1 lead midway through the second period. Berkley began chipping away, however, and before the end of the second, and thanks to goals by juniors Cody Schraffenberger and Bradley Zucker, had tied the game 3-3.

It remained a dead heat until the final minute, when Lieder pounced on his own rebound and lifted a backhand into the net.

“I guess the only bad part of the whole day was the result,” Reed said with a smile. “But it really was awesome. I know we’ve talked about making this a tradition between our programs. I certainly hope it’s something we can do every year.”

With that, Reed returned to his team’s locker room, heading in to defrost an otherwise frozen body. Fleming had already done the same.

A day that had been planned last summer, when it “was in the 90s every day,” Fleming recalled with a laugh, had finally come to an end.

Two teams, two rivals and two good friends had battled to the final seconds, all the while braving the cold, dealing with the glare and adjusting to sightlines, which included a background of trees, roads and the Ambassador Bridge.

“Just a great time,” Schwalb said. “We were all happy to be part of it.”