Jamie Plunkett is in his 26th season at the helm of the Meadville Bulldogs hockey team. He’s seen quite a bit during the hundreds and hundreds of games he’s been on hand for.
Yet, Wednesday’s game against Bethel Park will be a first even for him.
That’s because Plunkett and the rest of the Bulldogs will have nothing but the nighttime sky above them as they take on the Blackhawks.
The venue for the match is the Penguins Pond at SouthSide Works, an outdoor ice rink located at the intersection of 26th and Sidney streets in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood. The venue was opened by the Pittsburgh Penguins in mid November and it will stay open until Jan. 8, offering public skating along with competitive hockey games between high school programs.
“Jim McVay, who is the head coach at Bethel Park, he contacted me about a month ago to see if I had any interest in playing down there,” said Plunkett. “They had just opened that facility. And I said we were. So, we were just going back and forth trying to settle on a date that worked for both clubs.”
The Bulldogs’ varsity team faces off with Bethel Park at 8:30 p.m. And before that, Meadville’s JV squad will take on Pine-Richland at 7 p.m.
“What’s going to be neat is on Nov. 19 we had a JV-varsity doubleheader against Pine-Richland,” said Plunkett, “but the ice (at the MARC) was so bad we were not able to play on it. But the guys from Pine-Richland asked (Meadville JV coach) Chuck Claspy if our JV team would be able to play their JV at the same complex on the same night as the Bethel Park game. So it gives our whole program a chance to play at an outdoor venue.”
Now, all Meadville needs is the weather to play along, a factor that most hockey teams need not consider.
As of Monday night, the forecast in Pittsburgh, according to www.weather.com, called for a 50 percent chance of rain in the morning and early afternoon. But the showers are scheduled to stop by the evening, leaving cloudy skies and temps in the low 40s.
“I guess there was a game the other night ... and it was kind of raining,” said Plunkett. “That just doesn’t lend itself to great ice conditions. So hopefully the weather cooperates.”
Wednesday’s matchup is a non-conference one for Meadville. Still, it’s a big game. Bethel Park has been a rival of the Bulldogs’ for years. And, besides, the Meadville program, which enters the game with a record of 12-7-2, is looking to keep its current three-game win streak rolling.
“Yeah, I think the guys are really excited,” said Plunkett. “The facility, to my understanding, is only open for seven weeks. I feel pretty fortunate that we were invited to do this. And Bethel Park has been a longtime rival.”