Last Sunday at Solider Field in Chicago, many including myself came to full realization why hockey is played indoors — it’s damned cold outside.
The organizers for the first Hockey City Classic announced a crowd of 52,000 and change, a nearly 85 percent capacity of the stadium. Yet shots from the game showed less than half of those seats filled by the start of the third period in the latter game between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
What the cameras didn’t show was the hundreds if not thousands of people huddled inside of the Soldier Field concourse, deciding to stay warm instead of braving the cold to watch what was at the beginning of the final period of a 3-0 game.
Despite having the luxury of viewing the game from the press box where it was heated and best of all, indoors, I decided to venture around the stadium and even to the field level to get all the perspectives of the game.
From the field, right on the glass, the crowd was audibly chanting for the Gophers to make a run at a three-goal Badger lead. But scanning the stadium from field level, it was a pathetic sight to see how few fans there were in the stands.
It made me think why Solider Field was chosen as the venue as none of the four schools that participated in the games had their campus within a few hundred miles.
I had heard from the organizers that Chicago was a central location for the schools and that a large alumni base in the area made it a pristine location for the event. I found this to be true to the best of my knowledge, yet it wasn’t enough to fill the stadium to a respectable size.
Frankly, the attendance at the Hockey City Classic made it look more like a Gophers football game at TCF Bank Stadium than what the event was supposed to be.
One attendee who also noticed the thin crowd brought up how the ticket he bought for the game was for attendance to both contests. Surely there’s little reason to stay in the cold to watch two hockey teams you don’t have anything invested in if you’re a Miami or Notre Dame fan.
Kicking everybody out of the stadium between games is probably a task that won’t make many friends, but I’m nearly positive half of the fans wearing Notre Dame gear or Miami red would have booted themselves out anyways given that they’ve already sat through a few hours in the cold.
While I’m not an event organizer nor do I have any experience in bringing together thousands of people for an event on the scale of the Hockey City Classic, splitting the two games to two different tickets would not only make money for the event planners, but ensure there are more tickets to sell.
The University of Minnesota Gopher sports box office sold out tickets at a discounted rate for students weeks before the event as many found out. More of these tickets need to be made available so more students can attend at a price more suitable to a college student’s budget.
And where was a student section? College games need the support of the students, but breaking them up by seat assignments is one way to kill the vibe among rival schools, especially with the bad blood flowing between Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Roping off a section just for students and charging general admission seating would have made the experience better for everyone — the players on the ice would have somewhere to look for support for their home crowd and students could be together, working up nasty Badger chants and causing havoc like they should be doing.
Finally, where was Goldy? Where was the student band? Hell, where was Minnesota? As a Gopher fan, it was incredibly dejecting to see Buckey the Badger and even Swoop the Redhawk make appearances but not the top mascot in the country.
From my perspective, while the event organizers could learn from the inaugural Hockey City Classic, the University of Minnesota half-assed their involvement.
When Minnesota is awarded one of these open-air outdoor hockey games in the near future (and it will happen) whether it’s at TCF Bank Stadium or Target Field, I expect these kinks to be worked out and that the stadium will be to capacity, as it should be in the State of Hockey.