DENVER -- Playing hockey under the lights on a rink built above a baseball diamond was a definite hit Saturday.
A Coors Field crowd of 35,144 helped create a festive atmosphere during the University of Denver's 4-1 win against archrival Colorado College in a National Collegiate Hockey Conference game at the home of Major League Baseball's Colorado Rockies.
Call it a tuneup for when the Colorado Avalanche play the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 27 in the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. The teams' alumni play Feb. 26.
"When we went out for the first period and you look out and you see 35,000 people, it was such a special experience," said Denver captain Grant Arnold, who is from Centennial, Colo., where the Avalanche practice. "It was just an amazing experience, especially being a Colorado kid and a Rockies fan. Going out today was pretty cool.
"I still have a lot of emotions from the game, but tonight when I'm relaxed ... to be able to look back on this in 10, 20 years, you kind of smile and know you won this Coors Field game. It's awesome."
The Denver Pioneers and Colorado College Tigers played in relatively mild conditions -- temperatures dipped into the mid-40s in the third period -- not unlike what the Rockies can expect when their season gets underway in April.
"I'm here with my buddies, and the atmosphere is great," said Jack Corriere, an Avalanche fan who lives in Denver. "There's nothing like some outdoor hockey, especially college hockey, to see the passion from both sides. It's an amazing turnout, honestly. I didn't expect this many people to come out for a college hockey game. It's awesome. The weather's sweet, couldn't have picked a better night for February."
Denver coach Jim Montgomery, a Montreal native, spent parts of six seasons in the NHL, most recently with the Dallas Stars in 2002-03, yet he was taken aback by the crowd and overall mood.
"When you hear 'Livin' on a Prayer,' the whole crowd was singing it," he said. "You don't get that at a hockey game in a hockey arena. That was something ... a Super Bowl atmosphere. I think memories for us will last a lifetime."
Jarid Lukosevicius and Colin Staub scored 1:33 apart in the first period to give Denver a 2-0 lead. Colorado College drew within 2-1 on Cole McCaskill's goal in the second period, but Denver regained control on third-period power-play goals by Danton Heinen and Dylan Gambrell 15 seconds apart in the third.
Denver (17-8-5, 13-5-2 NCHC) outshot Colorado College (6-23-1, 4-15-1) 47-25.
"It's not the outcome we wanted, but the overall experience was amazing," Colorado College coach Mike Haviland said. "That was an amazing crowd, an amazing feeling. It says a lot about the state of hockey in Colorado to see a great rivalry played in front of that many people. I know our guys absolutely loved it."
The rink stretches across the outer portion of the infield, just above the pitcher's mound. By the time the Avalanche and Red Wings play, large team logos will have been installed on platforms in the outfield surrounding a smaller, auxiliary rink for youth hockey. Wooden framing has been constructed to resemble the Rocky Mountains when finished.
"Great atmosphere, fun game," said Patrick Neff, an Avalanche fan from Golden, Colo. "Outdoor game, it's sweet. The one going on in Minnesota has got to be fun too. I'm going to the NHL game next weekend and I'm really looking forward to it. That should really be fun. Hopefully, they'll finish up the scenery a bit more, but it'll definitely be fun to see the Avs and Red Wings out here."
Chris Henley, who wore a Colorado College sweatshirt, made the trip from Colorado Springs to attend the game with his family.
"It's definitely an awesome atmosphere," he said. "Everyone's really into it, so it's a great night. I've never been to something like this before and I didn't really know what to expect. It's definitely a ton of people and everyone's pretty into it and having a good time. Other than the score, I'm really glad I came."