Outdoor hockey: Cold air and bumpy ice are 'dream come true

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 16, 2013 - 9:53 PM

This time the Gophers would have practiced all day.


The Gophers (20-5-4) take on the Wisconsin Badgers (12-10-7) at Soldier Field on Sunday.

Photo: Foster Snell, Dml - Foster Snell

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CHICAGO - Save for their surroundings, the Gophers felt as if they had been transported back to their boyhood Saturday. They were having such fun playing hockey outdoors that they didn't want to leave the rink built atop the turf of Soldier Field after their one-hour practice for Sunday's Hockey City Classic.

The ice was bumpier than usual, which will force them to keep it simple in their game against WCHA rival Wisconsin. The temperature hovered around 19 degrees, so they wore caps under their helmets, extra gloves and warmer undergarments than usual. But just as they did when they were kids, they barely noticed the chill, as they skated in an empty 61,500-seat stadium.

It's predicted to warm up to 30 degrees Sunday when the No. 2 Gophers play outdoors for the first time in their program's modern era. About 50,000 fans are expected to attend the two-game event, which begins at noon with a game between No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 3 Miami (Ohio).

The main objective for the Gophers in Saturday's practice was to familiarize themselves with the venue, the rink and the weather. That allowed them to get the "wow factor" out of the way and become comfortable with the logistics, so they can concentrate solely on playing the game Sunday.

With two important points at stake in the WCHA race, junior center Erik Haula said they will be all business when the puck drops. Saturday, it was all about having fun and relishing a unique and memorable experience.

"I could have stayed out there all night," Haula said. "The weather is perfect, and it's a great atmosphere. It was a great feeling skating out there.

"This is a dream come true. It's a huge setting, and it's going to be fun, especially since we're playing our rival."

The team brought lots of extra cold-weather gear so players would be prepared for any conditions. Coach Don Lucia wore a stocking cap with a 1970s-style Gophers logo, pulled down tight over his ears on a frosty day.

A few weeks ago, Lucia talked to Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson -- who was on the bench for outdoor games during 23 seasons as an assistant at Michigan -- about how to prepare. The Gophers had tried to schedule an outdoor practice at home but were unable to do so.

Pearson told Lucia that as long as the players got on the ice the day before the game, they would be fine. The 18th-ranked Badgers, who practiced just before the Gophers, brought out a football and tossed it around. The Gophers checked out the heated benches, which are surrounded by plexiglass to protect against the wind, and an ice surface rougher than their usual glassy indoor sheets.

The bumpy ice, Lucia said, means the Gophers must be prepared for crazy bounces. That, in turn, means they will have to keep their strategy simple.

"We have to start the game with the mindset that if you think you're going to make a bunch of pretty plays, it's not going to happen," Lucia said. "It'll have to be a little more chip-and-chase. The first 10 minutes will be absolutely critical to try to get off to a good start and keep our focus."

There will be plenty of distractions, including the cold, the wind and the novelty of playing in an open-air NFL stadium. Haula said he believes the Gophers will lock on the task at hand.

"Our team does a good job of handling the big stages," he said. "We'll make sure everyone is focused on the game and getting those two points."

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Cincinnati 0 Top 7th Inning
Pittsburgh 0
Minnesota 0 Top 6th Inning
Baltimore 8
NY Yankees 0 Top 7th Inning
Toronto 1
Philadelphia 1 Bottom 7th Inning
NY Mets 1
Boston 8 Bottom 4th Inning
Tampa Bay 1
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Atlanta 0
Cleveland 1 Top 3rd Inning
Kansas City 0
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Chicago WSox 1
Texas 1 Top 3rd Inning
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LA Angels - J. Weaver
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ULM 17
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(18) Ole Miss 35
Tulane 31 FINAL
Tulsa 38
Rutgers 41 FINAL
Washington St 38
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Vanderbilt 7
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Western Ky 21
TX-San Antonio 8:00 PM
Colorado State 8:00 PM
UNLV 9:30 PM
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
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(22) Nebraska
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(6) Auburn
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(12) Georgia
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(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
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(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
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(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
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Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
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Boston College
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Ottawa 3 0:15
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Minnesota 9:00 PM
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pm
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pm
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. TBA
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA




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