Well, today’s the day. After a long and exciting lead up over the past few weeks, the NC State Icepack finally gets their chance to do something not many ACHA teams can claim: play in an outdoor hockey game… in North Carolina, no less. To add the cherry on top, the Icepack will take on the bitter rival UNC Tar Heels in their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity under the big lights.
The Icepack and Tar Heels walk into this highly anticipated matchup feeling good about themselves following dominant performances in their spring semesters. The Icepack recovered from a shaky first half of the season, ripping off an 8-game win streak and a 10-3 record overall in the second half. The Tar Heels come into the outdoor battle on a heater of their own, boasting an impressive 6-1 record in the spring semester. Their lone loss came at the hands of NC State at home just two weeks ago.
There’s certainly some good home team juju in Carter-Finley Stadium for the Icepack, as teams that play host in the venue are 7-1 this season. This includes the hometown Carolina Hurricanes dismantling the visiting Washington Capitals by a score of 4-1 on Saturday night in the 2023 NHL Stadium Series. However, road games have not been an issue for the visiting Tar Heels, a team who’s gone 3-0 against the Icepack in away games.
Neither the Icepack nor the Tar Heels are strangers to playing on NHL ice, especially against one another. This will be the second game this season the two teams have played each other on an NHL-regulated ice surface, the first being the Governor’s Cup at PNC Arena at the conclusion of the fall semester. UNC took this game by a score of 4-2, securing their first Governor’s Cup victory since its inception. The Icepack holds the all-time upper hand in this area, notching a 5-1 overall record in games on NHL surfaces.
There’s a clear winner of this outdoor feat, regardless of which team comes out victorious: the growth of hockey in North Carolina. North Carolina, and specifically the Greater Triangle area, has become a hotbed for youth hockey, in large part due to the advancement of the club collegiate programs in the state over the past decade.
Two ACHA teams playing under the lights of a football stadium is something few North Carolinian hockey fans would have predicted just a few short years ago, and there’s no doubt a spectacle such as this will only continue to grow the game for years to come.