It may have taken more than 80 years to play an outdoor hockey game at the University of Minnesota, but it likely won’t take another stretch that long before the next.
At the end of the night on Friday, both the women’s and men’s team came out with victories, but Gophers players and coaches weren’t the only ones to come out a winner — it was the fans, the university, and college hockey that prospered from the event. You couldn’t have asked for a better combination of factors that came together to make the event a success.
Over 45,000 fans packed TCF Bank Stadium to set the record for the largest crowd to attend a hockey game in state history. Impressive, considering temperatures during the men’s game against Ohio State were hovering just above zero.
The evening started with game one of the doubleheader as the No. 1 ranked Minnesota women’s team made their way out to the ice as the sun was setting over nearby Williams Arena. Due to the early start time and the long night ahead, crowds were lower than expected for the opener, but improved steadily.
Fans continued to make their way into the building as the Golden Gophers were finishing off a 4-0 victory over Minnesota State-Mankato. Senior assistant captain Sarah Davis put on a show — earning a point on the team’s first three goals of the game.
Davis was named the game’s No. 1 star as the best team in the country put away the Mavericks. Goalie Amanda Leveille made 19 saves in the shutout victory and junior Rachael Bona added a goal and an assist.
The nightcap game with the Gophers and Buckeyes added to the allure of the new Big Ten Hockey Conference. It was a tight, physical, and hard-hitting game with all the pomp and circumstance you would expect from an outdoor event.
Fans were jovial and spirits were high, even with a low scoring game. Stadium operators kept up with many of the traditional in-game gimmicks that help make football games in the building enjoyable — though gave them a hockey-twist.
Concourses were packed in-between periods as fans scrambled for the warmth of bathrooms and any open corridor to escape the frozen air. The cold did help with the ice conditions as players and officials applauded the ability for the ice to hold up over the dozens of events held their over the week leading up to the games and a couple different snowfalls.
As TCF Bank Stadium is being retrofitted with heaters and many amenities that an outdoor stadium used in the winter would have, when the Minnesota Vikings move in for the next couple seasons, it would be hard to imagine that it would take long for the Gophers and the athletic department to push for another outdoor game on-campus.
Minnesota men’s head coach Don Lucia mentioned after the games that he thought that playing consistently outdoors would kind of tarnish the luster of the event, but he said he would welcome another outdoor game down the road.
As outdoor hockey continues to draw big television revenue, these featured games will continue to show up on hockey schedules in the future. Minnesota has received the luxury of back-to-back seasons of outdoor games — having lost to Wisconsin at Soldier Field in Chicago last season.
The national spotlight is never a disappointment for a college hockey program and the feedback locally has been nothing but positive. As the season progresses for both the men and women, they’re now past a major date on their calendar.
The good news is that both teams came out unscathed and earned a conference victory in the meantime. Hopefully everyone involved in the event will look back with fondness and excitement about the time the University of Minnesota put hockey under the lights of a football stadium and walked away without allowing a goal to the competition.
Pretty impressive with the nuances of unpredictable ice. Just goes to show the state of college hockey right now in the “State of Hockey.”