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updated: 3/2/2014 12:53 AM

Hawks fans drink in outdoor game's special atmosphere

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  • Video: Blackhawks fans prepare

  • Tim Edwards from Rosemont tailgating before Saturday's Coors Light Stadium Series game at Soldier Field between the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins.

      Tim Edwards from Rosemont tailgating before Saturday's Coors Light Stadium Series game at Soldier Field between the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Leanna Van Ness with Ella, Lukas, Devan and Hannah Van Ness, all from Barrington try to stay warm before Saturday's Coors Light Stadium Series game at Soldier Field between the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins.

       Leanna Van Ness with Ella, Lukas, Devan and Hannah Van Ness, all from Barrington try to stay warm before Saturday's Coors Light Stadium Series game at Soldier Field between the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Vanessa Thompson of Lemont bundles up before the Blackhawks vs Penguins NHL Stadium Series Saturday at Soldier Field.

       Vanessa Thompson of Lemont bundles up before the Blackhawks vs Penguins NHL Stadium Series Saturday at Soldier Field.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Tailgaters party before the Blackhawks vs Penguins NHL Stadium Series Saturday at Soldier Field.

       Tailgaters party before the Blackhawks vs Penguins NHL Stadium Series Saturday at Soldier Field.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

It was perfect Penguin weather.

Dense, swirling snow and a temperature of 17 degrees at puck drop greeted a packed house attending the NHL Stadium Series game Saturday night between the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field.

"We are ready," said Leanna VanNess of Barrington, wearing a Denis Savard sweater and leading her kids Lukas, Devan, Ella and Hanna.

"We've got heat packs, long underwear, gloves, Turtle Fur, hats and coats," Leanna VanNess said, her eyes streaming in the cold.

What they didn't have was a tailgate. A healthy group of Schaumburg residents in the parking lot off adjacent McFetridge Drive brought all the food and drinks required to stay warm during the impending storm.

"We've done this before, this isn't our first (tailgate) -- but not for the Hawks," said Ryan Melligan, a 2008 Schaumburg High School graduate.

"We've got a little bit of everything, you know?" he said. "Chips and salsa, we've got the chili in the stovetop, burgers, dogs."

"Black bean burgers, can't forget about the vegetarian burgers," said the one self-described "oddball" among the Schaumburg contingent, Tom Anselmo of Lisle.

"I was a little terrified. I'm just hoping to make it out of the cold," he said. "Now I've got my handwarmers, and they're working phenomenally."

The lure of Stadium Series hockey, much like the 2009 Winter Classic held at Wrigley Field, is the cachet of simply attending a rare event in a historic setting and seeing the sport played in conditions, as television announcers like to say, close to the game's origins.

"I played one game when I was younger out in the cold. Other than that I wish I could have played in conditions like that, but I never got the chance like this," said Ryan Wolowiec of St. Charles, attending with his cousin Tyler Muth of Darien.

"Hawks-Penguins -- great rivalry, but just the ambience of it, being here with 60,000 fans, better than the United Center, being out in the cold, the elements," Wolowiec said. "Just the way everyone grew up playing it."

The opportunity comes with a price. A Forbes article reported the average price of a ticket for Saturday's game was $234 on the secondary market. The game's reported attendance was 62,921.

Fortunately for Fred Wikert, who flew in from Pittsburgh Friday night to attend the game with Geneva residents Hank Lutz and his son, Matthew, as a Penguins season ticket holder he paid only $150 each for the fourth-level seats.

"I wouldn't say the sky's the limit, but yeah, I would have paid a little more," Wikert said.

Former Marine Matthew Lutz, a Pittsburgh transplant like his father, appreciated the site's legacy as well as the contest. Lutz ended his service about a year and a half ago.

"For me it's just being a veteran, knowing what the stadium's here for," he said. "You guys have got a big monument with a bunch of veterans' pictures on it. That's what it's all about for Soldier Field. As as far as for today, it's the Penguins-Blackhawks rivalry."

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