The last time we saw Gophers hockey captains Nate Condon and Kyle Rau at TCF Bank Stadium, they were sporting shorts and flip flops. They’ll be layered up a little more than that when they return to the field-turned-rink on Friday night.
On a warm, sunny September day, the Gophers athletic staff gathered on the turf to announce big-time outdoor hockey would return to Minnesota. That return comes with the Hockey City Classic on Friday at the transformed — and frozen — TCF Bank Stadium.
The cold, crisp outdoor elements, however, are preferred by the Gophers. Their memories of playing outside often include a mention of frigid temperatures.
Outdoor hockey is part of the DNA of Gophers hockey. Most of the players and coaches learned to skate in open air. They will revisit those roots for the Gophers’ first outdoor hockey game in the modern era.
“It’s just going to be a lot of fun. I think we’ll have good fan support and it’ll be a good experience for everyone,” Gophers forward Seth Ambroz said. “It’s special to play [outside] in front of your home fans right across the street in TCF.”
Before they make new memories on Friday, the Gophers’ favorite outdoor hockey moments include …
Gophers head coach Don Lucia
“As a youth player, that is how I started to play the game, on outdoor ice. Power-skating, when I grew up, was shoveling off the outdoor rink. Sometimes you didn’t want to wait for the plow, so you had to get out there and get the shovels and get the [snow] to the boards and scoop it over the boards. But that was the fun of it.”
Sophomore defenseman Mike Reilly
“Our house is right next to [a lake] and we have an [ice rink] area out front that we play on. My dad freezes over the sport court. There’s also a bunch of outdoor rinks by our house, so we can drive five minutes and play with our buddies. To look back on playing squirts, peewees, bantams, high school and college [outside], it’s pretty special.”
Sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox
“I grew up around it my whole life. We had three rinks in South St. Paul where I played. We actually had a couple games in squirts and peewees every year outside. … It’s kind of nice to keep the tradition going in each year.”
Senior defenseman Justin Holl
“It’s basically where I learned to skate. I have a ton of memories of Christmas Day [outside] where we play family hockey games. It was right down a hill onto the lake.”
Freshman forward Hudson Fasching
“Maybe peewees or bantams [age], we got 30 or 40 kids from Apple Valley and all went down to the community center and had a huge 4-on-4 tournament. It was like an all-day thing and our parents would run by and bring a huge thing of McDonald’s for all the guys. It was freezing cold. … But it was a great day.”
Junior defenseman Ben Marshall
“My dad always built a rink outside our house and we’d go out there and play pipe. I shot the puck [once] and it went off the crossbar, came back and hit my brother in the face. That was the end of him showing off his skating skills. He went back to putting the [goalie] pads on outdoors. We went old-school, socks on our heads, so no face protection.”
Freshman defenseman Jake Bischoff
“Looking around up in Grand Rapids and just seeing everyone there bundled up [for Minnesota Hockey Day 2013]. … It was like a blizzard and really cold. … It was probably 30- or 40-miles per hour wind gusts. … Skating into the wind you could barely move at times.”
Senior forward Nate Condon
“We had a hockey rink about a mile or so away and my brothers and I would always walk over to it. We always had to carry goalie pads, skates and everything ’cause it was always one forward, one defenseman and one goalie. My parents would drive over and picks us up, thankfully, ’cause we wouldn’t have been able to make it back.”
Associate head coach Mike Guentzel
“Going home from school as fast as I could to change and go to the outdoor rink and get there for sunlight. I just loved that every day. I’d go down two blocks to the city rink and if it needed to be shoveled, we’d shovel. If not, we’d just drop the puck and play. … I’d go home at 5:30 for dinner and be right back there at 6:30. For me that was a ritual every day.”