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Hockey is returning to its roots – sort of.
On Friday night, Blackhawk legends Tony Esposito and Bobby Hull helped kickoff the Hockey City Classic Winter Festival at Soldier Field with a 'Light the Lamp' ceremony on the newly installed ice rink inside the Chicago Bears' home.
The opening ceremony is part of an almost three-week long festival culminating with a college hockey double-header featuring Notre Dame against Miami and
Wisconsin versus Minnesota on the 17th.
"When we were kids we didn’t have indoor rinks out in the country and the rural areas,’’ Hull said. "We had to find a pond and shovel snow off of it if it needed it.
Until I was the age of 14, I only played one hour a week underneath a shelter. The rest of the time I was out on the ponds. We would have 25 or 30 guys out there and we would throw one puck and go get it.’’
Represented at the opening ceremonies were inner-city children who are learning to play hockey. Despite the freezing cold, not one of them left the ice for shelter.
"They’re our future NHL’ers and they’re our future leaders,’’ Hull said. "We were there once and here we are waiting for someone to grab the torch and lead for us again.’’
"The kids out there, that’s what makes it happen,’’ Esposito said. "I grew up on ice like that. I have a lot of memories of how it was - loving every minute of it. Those kids were just loving it. They weren’t cold at all.’’
While today’s youth gets to experience playing outdoors, they will be playing on a regulation rink cleaned by a Zamboni machine. Still, they will have to face the elements. Oh, and they will be playing in a large stadium.
It was an idea first generated by the NHL with its annual Winter Classic which caught on with fans. The Blackhawks participated in the 2009 event against Detroit at Wrigley Field.
``Chicago always seems to be on the edge,’’ Esposito said. ``You have a double-header college hockey game coming here. Chicago is always a step ahead of a lot of cities.’’
The festival will also be book-ended with free skating sessions to the public on Feburary 2nd and 18th and will feature two days of high school hockey on February 8th and 9th. Some of the top teams in the area will be featured, including Fenwick, New Trier Green, Loyola Gold, St. Rita and Benet.
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