Gophers men's, women's hockey teams to host on-campus outdoor games
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MINNEAPOLIS - After years watching their Big Ten hockey rivals host outdoor games in stadiums, and being fairly non-committal about when they would do the same, officials from the University of Minnesota finally took things outside on Tuesday.
It was sunny and close to 80 degrees when the formal announcement was made near midfield at TCF Bank Stadium. That will surely not be the weather report on the evening of Friday, Jan. 17, when the Gophers host Ohio State at the Bank. On Tuesday they were already predicting a sold-out crowd of more than 50,000 for what is being hailed at the 2014 Hockey City Classic.
Unlike the much-disputed "Hockeytown" the moniker "Hockey City" apparently moves from year-to-year. Gopher fans will recall their team's loss to rival Wisconsin last winter at Soldier Field in Chicago, in what was billed as the first Hockey City Classic.
Don Lucia and his cohorts in the U of M athletic department have long been open to an outdoor game in Minneapolis, but openly expressed concern about the cost. At one point they were even prepared to host an indoor version of the stadium game, as the Gophers and Minnesota-Duluth considered playing hockey on a temporary rink at the Metrodome.
Instead the Gophers watched as Wisconsin hosted games at Lambeau Field and Camp Randall Stadium, Michigan and Michigan State played hockey at both Spartan Stadium and the Big House, and Ohio State skated at Progressive Field in Cleveland. After last February's game in Chicago -- despite warm conditions that made the ice conditions problematic -- Lucia came away with a feeling that his team would be playing outside wearing the home sweaters soon.
"We had an outstanding experience in Chicago, and came away thinking it wasn't a question if we'd host an outdoor game, it was a question of when," Lucia said on Tuesday.
Enter Intersport, the Chicago-based sports and entertainment agency that organized the game at Soldier Field, and was willing to assume the fiscal risk associated with putting a rink down atop the TCF Bank Stadium turf. Drew Russell of Intersport, on hand for the Tuesday announcement, said it will cost more than $1 million to get the football field hockey-ready, and that tickets will go on sale Oct. 22 at a starting price of just $15.
"We want this to be a celebration of hockey here in the State of Hockey and we're going to be open to a lot of different teams," Russell said.
The main event on that Friday will be a college hockey twi-night doubleheader, with the Gophers women facing Minnesota State-Mankato before the men take on the Buckeyes, but Russell said that the ice sheet will be used for a "winter festival" at least a week long, which could include corporate outings, youth hockey events, high school games and even small college games. Lucia joked with one reporter that the famed Warroad-Roseau high school rivalry should play one of its games outdoors at the Bank.
Despite being 0-1 playing outdoors, the Gophers said that things will definitely be different playing at home, with a sizeable crowd on their side.
"Last year was great, but it was a different experience having to walk 50 yards to get to the locker room," joked Gophers co-captain Nate Condon. "I think it will be great having our home crowd and 50,000 people cheering for us. I think it's going to be pretty cold out here."
A video played on the stadium's gigantic screen noted that it's been more than 80 years since the Gophers last hosted an outdoor hockey game, in the formative days of college hockey when most teams practiced and played on outdoor rinks.