MINNEAPOLIS- The experience of playing an outdoor game last year led the University of Minnesota to bring the Hockey City Classic to Minneapolis. For the men's team, learning from those experiences is something this time around.
Gopher head coach Don Lucia and co-captains Nate Condon and Kyle Rau were on hand Tuesday at TCF Bank Stadium for the announcement that the football field would host a college hockey doubleheader on January 17th, 2014. The team plays Ohio State at 8 p.m. CT following the Gopher women's team taking on Minnesota State at 4:30 p.m.
Minnesota participated in the inaugural Hockey City Classic this past February at Soldier Field along with Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Miami. The Gophers lost in Chicago, 3-2, to Wisconsin. However, the team still came away from the game enjoying it.
"Last year we had a phenomenal experience in Chicago," Lucia said.
That experience helps for another outdoor game and understanding how to play there against the Buckeyes. Despite out-shooting their opponents 15-6 in the first period, Minnesota fell into a 3-0 hole against Wisconsin before late goals by Seth Ambroz and Zach Budish made things close. The Badgers did a better crashing the net and making Gophers goaltender Adam Wilcox work.
"The big thing (about playing in Chicago) was that it was like playing on a pond. There's just bumps on the ice. It doesn't set as well because you're outside," Condon, a senior forward, said about adjusting to the conditions. "You don't have the perfect conditions so you have to play kind of a grinder style, a different style of hockey then you're used to."
Another change is the atmosphere. Rather than having four teams converge on a neutral site, the Hockey City Classic will be played in front of a partisan Gopher crowd at TCF Bank Stadium.
"I think it'll be great having a home crowd and 50,000 people cheering for us instead of a mix and match we had in Chicago," Condon said.
Besides being the first outdoor hockey games in Minnesota during the modern era, getting the crowd to stay for both games is easier with both the men's and women's teams playing. At times in Chicago it looked like a parade of Miami and Notre Dame fans leaving as Minnesota and Wisconsin fans entered the stadium. That led to plenty of empty patches throughout the announced attendance of 52,000.
Fans will also be closer than at Soldier Field, where players had to walk 50 yards to get to the locker room.
Still, the biggest new experience for Minnesota against Ohio State is making a different result on the scoreboard. Outdoor hockey is an enjoyable event on its own, but as junior forward Kyle Rau put it this time around, "winning would be more fun."
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Nathan Wells is a college hockey reporter for SB Nation and College Hockey News. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate