- Associated Press - Thursday, December 9, 2010

ANN ARBOR, MICH. (AP) - At the edge of a hockey rink surrounded by tens of thousands of empty seats, Michigan’s Louie Caporusso paused to try to imagine the dazzling scene that awaits him.

“I keep thinking about it,” said Caporusso, a senior on the Wolverines. “I’m like: ‘Are they actually coming, or is this just a joke? Are they actually going to fill these stands? Because it’s a lot of people.’”

That’s true. On Saturday, Michigan and Michigan State will play a hockey game inside the cavernous confines of Michigan Stadium and the plan to set the sport’s world attendance record seems like a certainty. The stadium’s listed capacity is 109,901 and the event is a sellout.

Earlier this year, Germany hosted a game at the world championship in front of 77,803 in Veltins Arena.

“We’ve tried not to think too much about this game, but it has kind of dominated everything,” Michigan State coach Rick Comley said. “I would think, if they really draw the people they say they’re going to draw, that it will be a record that’s going to be really, really hard for people to touch.”

It’s being called “The Big Chill at the Big House,” and although this is hardly the first event of its kind, the huge fan turnout should make this outdoor hockey game unique. It’s fitting that Michigan State will be the opponent. In 2001, the Spartans hosted Michigan in a hockey game at their football stadium in front of 74,544 people.

Since then, the idea has been copied both at the college level and by the NHL.

“When we did it, I kind of equated it to the Apollo,” Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. “It’s a heck of a lot easier now, with the technology that they have in place. … From our end, every time we see another one happen, we feel pretty good about it, that we started that at Michigan State.”

Playing outdoors requires plenty of adjustments. With snow very much a possibility, the ice might not be in great shape.

And then there’s the wind.

“You’re skating into the wind sometimes, and you feel like you’re going really slow,” Caporusso said. “You’ve just got to tell yourself you haven’t gotten any slower. It’s just the wind.”

For Michigan forward Luke Moffatt, the experience already seems a bit surreal. He grew up in Arizona.

“I didn’t exactly play a lot of pond hockey,” he said.

The game starts at 3 p.m., and the university recently approved a $1.8 million project to add permanent lights at the stadium, which will host its first night football game next year. The school has been using temporary lights for football games that ended after dusk.

The hockey game will give Ann Arbor a chance to enjoy one more big gameday before the end of the year.

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