A longtime vision of many Gophers fans and officials is close to becoming a reality.
The Hockey City Classic, featuring a Jan. 17 outdoor hockey doubleheader with the Gophers men’s and women’s teams at TCF Bank Stadium, feels very real after a news conference Thursday on the actual ice surface players will skate on next week.
“It’s been a yearlong process of process of putting it together … and it’s nice to see it come to fruition,” Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague said. “The ice looks great. It fits here. It’s a lot different than it was a couple months ago when we were playing football out here on the turf.”
Teague finished his remarks and then shuffled carefully over to a spot near an empty goal, where he shot a ceremonial first puck into the net along with Gophers players and coaches.
The Gophers hope to fire a lot more pucks into the net in the two outdoor games. The Gophers women play host to Minnesota State at 4:30 p.m, while the Gophers men take on Ohio State at 8 p.m. Both teams are ranked No. 1 in the country. Tickets start at $15 and are available at www.mygophersports.com.
Gophers men’s coach Don Lucia spoke of playing outdoor games as a youth hockey player in Grand Rapids. Two captains — Kelly Terry, a senior on the women’s team, and Kyle Rau, a junior on the men’s team — talked about how excited they are to play meaningful games on an outdoor rink. Rau said he grew up with a backyard rink and has great memories of him and his friends playing outdoors. Plenty of others, though, have the chance to skate on the TCF Bank ice first. A group of Gophers hockey alums skated in a fundraiser Thursday night after the news conference.
On Saturday, five high school hockey games — the first starting at 10 a.m. and the last at 8 p.m. — will give the ice a good test. On Sunday, ice skaters will take over the rink.
The main event, though, is the Hockey City Classic — the first outdoor games in the modern era of Gophers hockey. The long-term forecast calls for a high around 15 and a low approaching zero on Jan. 17.
“As far as the temperature is concerned, we wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Drew Russell, vice president of Intersport, the Chicago-based agency helping to organize the event.