By Ross Forman
Colin Kronforst, a diehard Green Bay Packers fan, will be as proud as an Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass when he skates onto the ice at … Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears.
On Saturday, Feb. 7, one of the biggest rivalries in college hockey takes center stage in Chicago when the University of Michigan battles Michigan State University at Soldier Field in the Hockey City Classic.
The puck drops outdoors at 7 p.m.
And Kronforst will be the one dropping that puck.
Kronforst, 27, who lives in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, and works as a Media Associate at Spark SMG, is one of the four on-ice officials for the battle. He is a 2005 graduate of St. Viator High School in north suburban Arlington Heights who graduated from Northeasterm Illinois University in 2010 with a business management degree.
This is his 15th year as a hockey referee.
“Anytime you’re selected to work a Michigan-Michigan State game, it’s pretty cool. The fact that the game is in my hometown, (played) outdoors in the elements at Soldier Field, that makes it that much better,” said Kronforst, who learned just before Christmas that he would be skating at Soldier Field.
This is Kronforst’s second year officiating in the Big Ten hockey conference and his fourth year officiating NCAA Division I Hockey. He worked the CCHA the two years prior to the Big Ten.
This is the third time Michigan and Michigan State have battled outdoors over the past 10 years – and this game will be nationally televised on the Big Ten Network.
“This will definitely be one of the coolest games that I have been a part of in my career,” he said. “From an outdoor standpoint, I think the only game that would trump this is Minnesota/Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, (particularly) since I am a diehard Packer fan. Then, of course, being selected to work the Frozen Four/National Championship in years to come would obviously be most important to me the same way any National Championship is important to a player or coach.”
Kronforst said his mental approach to the Michigan-Michigan State tussle won’t change based on the setting or his surroundings. “I’m just hoping it’s cold and snowing with a quality ice surface so that these kids can display their unbelievable skills and talents,” he said.
Kronforst will be joined with orange bands by referee Barry Pochmara, who lives in Detroit. The linesmen will be Ed Moberg (Green Bay) and Dan Carey (Milwaukee).
“I won’t do really anything differently,” in preparation for the game, he said. “Barry and I always throw a football around in an open area before every game we work together, but for this game, we’ll have part of a football field there for us to utilize. Not a bad change of scenery considering we normally just throw it around in the tunnels by the locker rooms.
“Other than that, it’s just another game to me once the puck drops. Maybe I’ll bring some hand warmers, so I can keep my hands warm during TV timeouts.”
Kronforst, who also officiates local high school games during the season, has officiated multiple Junior National Championships. He also was on the ice at the United Center for the Illinois High School Hockey State Championship game in 2012. Last year, he worked the first Big Ten Championships in Minneapolis, as well as the Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park in Detroit last season.
“I think for every player, coach, and official, being part of an outdoor hockey game at a venue like Soldier Field is something that you always hoped you’d get to experience at some point in your career,” he said. “I definitely love the idea of hockey being played outdoor in the elements once a year. It’s becoming a phenomenon for hockey fans around North America and I’m very humbled to be a part of the Hockey City Classic between Michigan and Michigan State.”
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Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.