The long walk to the ice gave the Gophers plenty of time to soak it all in.
As the frigid air pierced the players’ skin, TCF Bank Stadium erupted in a roar. It got louder as they walked down the 75-foot pathway surrounded by snow.
Their destination was the 200- by 85-foot ice rink at the center of what is usually a football field. The stadium never had looked so good to the Gophers and the announced 45,021 fans not afraid of the cold.
Everything was perfect for the first outdoor Gophers hockey game in more than 80 years Friday night under the lights. The Hockey City Classic delivered what it promised with the largest crowd to ever see hockey in Minnesota filling the stadium.
The result for the state of hockey was just as good: Gophers 1, Ohio State 0.
“That was pretty special. We felt like the football team out there when they get huge crowds,” said Gophers goaltender Adam Wilcox, who recorded his third shutout of the season with 21 saves. “You expect that from Minnesota fans being tough up north. I know the team was really excited to get 45,000 fans. … I got lucky to be the goalie and get to go out [on the ice] first. There's not a feeling like that.”
Taylor Cammarata was credited with the lone goal at 4 minutes, 20 seconds of the second period, assisted by Kyle Rau and Justin Holl. The only offense was aided by Ohio State goaltender Matt Tomkins, though.
Rau fed Cammarata on a rush and the freshman’s attempt had just enough on it to get behind Tomkins. The puck didn’t pass the goal line, but got away as he reached for it and crossed the line.
Fans stood and bounced for most the game attempting to keep warm. At the end of the second period it was 6 degrees and felt like minus-3.
The players were trailed by their breathing clouds and their spit froze as it hit the ice.
Conditions on the heated and cooled surfaces were good. The speed of the game wasn’t affected and the hits into the board were just as loud. The glass and boards rattled more after each hit.
Players from both teams stood instead of sitting on the heated benches. The coaches’ faces scrunched as the cold air pierced their only exposed skin.
Shots, goals and penalties replaced yards and downs on the stadium’s ribbon. For a night, it was TCF Bank Arena.
“It’s something different for us playing in front of 45,000 people. Having that many people cheering for us is something I’ll always remember,” Gophers forward Nate Condon said.
Wilcox made up for any sloppy play the cold conditions created. He stopped a shorthanded breakaway by Ryan Dzingel and pulled in an open look midway through the second period on a sluggish line change.
The teams traded scoring chances in the first period as they adapted to the chilly conditions. The Gophers had eight shots on goal, the Buckeyes seven.
The Gophers grabbed the edge in the second period but were unable to create many quality chances despite outshooting the Buckeyes 14-9. Both teams only got off five shots each in the third period.
Weather likely had an effect on the offensive output. The Gophers and Buckeyes entered the game as the Nos. 2 and 3 scoring teams in college hockey. They scored a combined 14 goals last weekend.
“It was pretty difficult for both teams [to score]. The normal things you could do on normal ice were a little harder for me,” Dzingel said. “The 1-0 score reflected how tough it was with the wind and the snow.”
The football atmosphere added nice effect to the hockey experience. Fans joined forces in chants usually intended for football and basketball stadiums. The constant low roar kept energy up throughout the game.
“It seemed like a very festive environment as far as the fans were concerned,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “It was the type of game we expected it to be. You’re going to have to chip and chase … but we did enough to get the one goal … and obviously Adam did the rest. … I’m sure our players will always remember this game.”