The Gophers will look around Parade Stadium on Saturday afternoon and snap a mental picture of the downtown Minneapolis skyline watching over the team as it plays outdoors in front of its bundled-up fans.
But they’re determined to end any wide-eyed wonder after warm-ups.
For the first time since Hockey Day Minnesota began in 2007, the Gophers women’s team will be part of the event’s television coverage in a 4:30 p.m. matchup against No. 5 Ohio State. First, those two teams will play their series opener on campus Friday at Ridder Arena.
In some ways, the No. 1 Gophers (19-1-3, 11-1-2-1 WCHA) will just have to “wing it” Saturday, as coach Brad Frost put it. The forecast calls for snow and strong winds. The team already had a Wednesday outdoor practiced canceled, meaning they will show up at Parade Stadium without any practice in the elements.
“We’ve just got to kind of roll with the punches that we have coming our way,” senior goaltender Sydney Scobee said. “… We’re ready to embrace what might happen out there, might see snow, I’m not really sure. It’s definitely going to be a little chilly. But I think we’re all just really excited.”
The Gophers won’t underestimate Ohio State (13-5-4, 8-3-3-1), especially considering Minnesota dropped the first game of the first series between the two teams earlier this season.
The Buckeyes will face the same uncertainties about playing outdoors — where it will need to be the perfect temperature to keep the ice in good shape but without any precipitation — which will level the playing field a bit. And Frost said he’s just trying to remind his team, with 16 Minnesota natives on the roster, that this is familiar territory for kids who grew up playing pond hockey.
Except it’s not just the neighborhood pals as friendly opponents.
“The unfortunate part for us is that it’s a conference game. There’s three big points on the line here,” Frost said. “And normally when you play outside in something like this, you want it to be an exhibition game. We weren’t able to swing that with our schedule … so you just make the best of it.”
Senior defenseman Patti Marshall said the Gophers welcome the balancing act between business and pleasure.
“It’s a challenge, and there’s a lot of, I think, distractions to go along with it because of the hype,” Marshall said. “It will be a lot of fun. But we have to remember that Ohio State — they’re playing in the same arena that we are. So we just need to focus more on our play instead of the outcome of the game and everything that’s going along with it.”
And if nothing else, this is a good primer for the Gophers’ sprint to the postseason. While they have plenty of experience playing for and winning titles, the Gophers are using the ramped-up intensity to launch themselves into the must-win part of the year.
After Ohio State, the Gophers travel the next weekend to No. 2 Wisconsin, their rival that beat them last season for the national championship. Then it’s No. 10 Minnesota Duluth. Then Bemidji State, a team just outside the top-10 rankings that already swept Wisconsin earlier this season. Minnesota State Mankato is the final foe ahead of the WCHA tournament at the end of February.
“I was just in talking with my roommates the other day, I’m like, ‘Guys, we have some fun weeks coming up,’ ” Scobee said. “But you’ve just got to kind of bring yourself back and be like, ‘You’ve just got to take it day by day.’ … We’re all really looking forward to it.”