MINNEAPOLIS — The State of Hockey will soon become the State of Outdoor Hockey.
The University of Minnesota, along with Intersport, announced Tuesday that it will host a pair of outdoor hockey games at TCF Bank Stadium on Jan. 17, 2014 as part of the Hockey City Classic. The Gophers women’s team will open with a game against instate rival Minnesota State at 4:30 p.m., followed by the men’s team hosting Ohio State under the lights at 8 p.m.
The Gophers men’s team played in last year’s inaugural Hockey City Classic against Wisconsin at Soldier Field in Chicago. This year, Minnesota has the home field, er, home ice advantage.
“We came away from that looking at TCF Bank Stadium and saying, ‘It’s not a matter of if we’re going to have an outdoor game, it’s a matter of when,'” said men’s coach Don Lucia. “When we had the opportunity to play a game this year, I know as a coaching staff we were ecstatic.”
Minnesota lost last year’s outdoor game 3-2 to rival Wisconsin in front of a mixed group of Gophers and Badgers fans. Despite the loss, the Gophers talked after the game about how memorable the experience was to play in that environment.
Now, they get to do it all over again. And for the two-time defending national champion women’s team, January’s outdoor game will be a first in the program’s history.
“To be able to be involved in this event and have it here at beautiful TCF Bank Stadium is going to be a huge thrill, not only for ourselves but for Minnesota State and their team as well and certainly the fans also,” said Gophers women’s coach Brad Frost. “There’s only a few things as you go through your college career that really stick in your memory that you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and this is certainly going to be one of those occasions.”
TCF Bank Stadium opened in 2009 as the new on-campus home of the Gophers football team. The 50,720-seat stadium has since hosted several concerts and one NFL game, but has yet to be the site of a hockey game until now.
Last season’s game at Soldier Field drew more than 52,000 fans for a pair of games. Minnesota is hoping for a similar turnout in January, even though the temperatures for a night game in Minnesota may be well below freezing.
“Last year was great. The outdoor game was a lot of fun for us,” Gophers captain Nate Condon said. “You’ve got to walk 50 yards to get to the locker room and all that stuff, but I think it will be great here having our home crowd and having 50,000 people cheering for us instead of a mix and match because we were down in Chicago. It’ll be great having home field.”
For many Minnesotans, the game of hockey was learned from a young age on outdoor rinks. The Land of 10,000 Lakes becomes the Land of 10,000 Hockey Rinks when the lakes freeze in the winter.
When the Gophers played at Soldier Field last season, that childhood notion was a common theme. Now that the game will be held in many of the players’ home state, the nostalgia of an outdoor game should have an even wider appeal to Gophers fans.
“That’s how I started to play the game, on an outdoor rink down by my elementary school,” Lucia said. “I would be willing to venture that most hockey fans in our state, that’s how they started to play the game. I think having the opportunity to come to the outdoor game, it brings you back to when you first started to play the game and the love of the game being outside on a pond.”
Tickets go on sale to the general public on Oct. 22 and start at just $15 for both games. Fans with season tickets will be guaranteed a ticket to the event.
Buzz about an outdoor hockey game — either the Gophers or the Minnesota Wild — has been going on for quite some time. Many fans are still hopeful that the Wild will one day host the NHL’s Winter Classic.
Lucia believes that will eventually happen. For now, though, it’s his team’s turn to be in the spotlight — and the bright lights of TCF Bank Stadium.
“I want to see the Wild have an outdoor game. I think they will sooner rather than later,” Lucia said. “But it’s a good dry run as far as that is concerned. I think we can show that TCF is a great venue to have an outdoor game. I think for the fans, the seating will be as good or better than any outdoor event that’s been held. We’re just excited to be a part of it.”