It didn’t take much to convince University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler to bring outdoor hockey to his campus. A trip to Chicago in February for the inaugural outdoor Hockey City Classic assured Kaler this event belonged in Minnesota. More specifically, TCF Bank Stadium.
The president’s vision will be fulfilled Jan. 17. The Gophers athletic department announced Tuesday afternoon that it will play host to the Twin Cities’ first Division I college or professional outdoor hockey game in the modern era. Two games — Gophers women’s hockey, followed by Gophers men’s hockey — will be played above the turf of TCF Bank Stadium and in front of what men’s coach Don Lucia expects to be a sold-out crowd.
The announcement was made in an outline of what will be the outdoor rink, surrounded by a Zamboni and other materials covered with the Hockey City Classic Minnesota logo. Goals were positioned at each end of the model rink.
The men will play Ohio State in a Big Ten game under the lights at 8 p.m., preceded by the Gophers women facing WCHA rival Minnesota State Mankato at 4:30 p.m. Tickets will go on sale to the general public Oct. 22 and start at $15. Beer and wine will be available at the games.
“It’s only fitting we host this great event,” Lucia said. “Come January, we’re going to get 50,000 people here in the first outdoor game. We get to drop the puck before it happens anywhere else. This is something we’ll remember the rest of our lives.”
Rumors of such a game have been swirling around the Gophers athletic department since Kaler, athletic director Norwood Teague and other athletic staff visited Chicago for the men’s outdoor matchup against Wisconsin, a game the Badgers won 3-2.
Gophers associate athletic director David Benedict said that before the group even returned home, Kaler looked at his athletic staff and said, “I want to host this event next year.”
This isn’t the first time the athletic department has considered outdoor hockey. The Gophers planned to play Notre Dame at TCF Bank Stadium in 2011, but the risk of bad weather creating massive unexpected costs nixed the idea.
In stepped Intersport. The Chicago-based sports entertainment company played host to the inaugural Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field in Chicago and will coordinate this season’s event.
Intersport’s experience of successfully holding such events and its willingness to be responsible for more than half of the funding convinced Kaler this relationship was the right fit. Intersport estimated the Hockey City Classic will be a seven-figure expense. The university’s investment should be around $400,000 to $500,000.
“Outdoor hockey is part of the fabric of the state,” Benedict said. “Kids grow up playing on ponds, homemade rinks. The opportunity to bring this event to the Twin Cities is something the university leadership felt strongly about.”
The event won’t be only two college hockey games. Intersport has plans to make Hockey City Classic Minnesota a winter festival lasting 10 or more days. It could include high school, youth and adult hockey games, private events, public skating and more.
The men’s game also will be nationally televised, the Gophers and Intersport confirmed. It’s likely the Big Ten Network will air the game as part of what could become regular Friday hockey coverage, though no official announcement has been made.
The Hockey City Classic won’t be associated with “Hockey Day Minnesota,’’ the Fox Sports North event that is scheduled for Jan. 18. Benedict said he hopes the university’s event will help add to the excitement of Hockey Day instead of competing with it.
“Last year, it was amazing that we got to play in an outdoor game. But to be able to play one here at home, I couldn’t have imagined that” Gophers senior captain Nate Condon said. “I don’t think there is any doubt we pack the football stadium.”
The women’s hockey team won’t be jealous of the men’s outdoors endeavors anymore. Junior defenseman Rachel Ramsey noted that her team actually will be the first to take the ice on Jan. 17.
“It’s a really awesome opportunity to play here on our own turf, literally,” she said.