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2014 Hockey City Classic: What outdoor hockey means to Minnesota players & coaches

For many players and coaches, the outdoor hockey doubleheader at TCF Bank Stadium is a chance to return to their roots.

TCF Bank Stadium, site of the 2014 Hockey City Classic
TCF Bank Stadium, site of the 2014 Hockey City Classic
Nathan Wells - SB Nation

When it comes to the University of Minnesota men's and women's hockey teams, sophomore Brook Garzone is unique. Garzone, a native of Sand Springs, Oklahoma (just outside Tulsa), is the rare Gopher that did not grow up on a pond playing outside. In fact, she didn't skate outdoors until coming to Shattuck-St. Mary's in Fairbault, Minnesota.

"The first time I actually skated outdoors was my high school. I think it was my junior year and I had so much fun," she said. "I had never experienced anything like that."

Now Garzone and the rest of the Gophers get the chance to play outdoors Friday afternoon and evening with the 2014 Hockey City Classic at TCF Bank Stadium. The Minnesota women's team (20-1-1, 14-1-1 WCHA) faces Minnesota State (9-15-0, 4-14-0 WCHA) at 4:30 p.m. CT. Meanwhile, the Minnesota men's team (15-2-3, 5-0-1-0 Big Ten) plays Ohio State (11-6-1, 1-2-1-0 Big Ten) at 8:00 p.m. CT in the first largescale outdoor games of the modern era in the "State of Hockey."

Despite that fact and outdoor games getting bigger and more frequent (the men's team played outdoors in the Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field last year), this weekend is a return to many roots.

"It will be nice because although we did have a few Gopher fans who came down to Soldier Field, this will be a little bit more intimate setting," Minnesota men's hockey coach Don Lucia said. "I think the field is a little closer than what Soldier Field was. Then you had fans from the first game that didn't necessarily stick around for our game, as for now the focus will be on the Gophers for the men and women.

Thousands of Minnesotans have spent winter months outdoors strapping skates to their feet, knowing the feeling of sucking in cold air while going what feels a thousand miles per hour. Outdoor hockey may not be as prevalent in 2014 yet it remains a rite of passage.

Nothing changes that. Not even the temperatures Friday, which look to hover in the single digits at gametime. That may not be the best for Garzone, whose family is coming up to Minneapolis for the game a few days after temperatures in Oklahoma were in the 60s.

"They're a little scared because they don't know what to wear exactly," said Garzone, who has wanted to cross playing in an outdoor game off her bucket list. " I'm like ‘just find every piece of clothing and put it on.' I'm just going to find as much clothes as I can and put it on. We have a lot of gear so that's nice."

At the very least, it's a story. Every Minnesota player and coach seems to have one. Prior to the Hockey City Classic, here are several experiences in their own words.

Growing up:

Seth Ambroz (Junior forward/New Prague, MN): "Obviously we had the outdoor rinks back home and skated on the lakes and ponds, which was a lot of fun. We would have practices out there too because we never had....we only had the one ice sheet growing up. So sometimes we would have practices growing up outside."

Michael Brodzinski (Freshman defenseman/Ham Lake, MN): "It's always been the starting point for me, so it's going to be fun getting back to the outdoor game. It's going to be a great experience for me and the entire team."

Bethany Brausen (Senior forward/Little Canada, MN): "A lot growing up and stuff like that, (John Rose) Oval practices were always the fun practices everyone was always looking forward to. So it's an atmosphere I'm very used to and very excited to get the chance to play in a professional setting."

Brad Frost (Women's Head Coach): "Just out on the ponds and on the rinks growing up back home in Canada. I didn't do a lot of it quite honestly, but since I've been in Minnesota for the last 20 years we've been doing it quite a bit with my kids and those types of things."

Adam Wilcox (Sophomore goaltender/South St. Paul, MN): "I have a lot actually because I had a rink in my backyard since I was a pee-wee. Usually most of the time I skated as a player actually, but it was getting used to that outdoor ice. When we had good weather, (we knew) it's going to be crisp ice. It's just fun being outdoors. I grew up around it my whole life."

Hudson Fasching (Freshman forward/Burnsville, MN): "One of my buddies' dads made this huge rink on a pond in his backyard and I'd always go over there. Especially on winter break. Being on winter break right now, it is one reason why to skate outdoors and go and develop there."

Don Lucia (Men's Head Coach): "Just as a youth player, that's how I started to play the game on outdoor ice. It was the neighborhood rink and as I've said before, powerskating when I grew up was shoveling off the outdoor rink. Sometimes you didn't want to wait for the plow so you had to get out there and get shovels, the scoop shovels, and get (the snow) to the boards and toss it over the boards. But that was the fun of it."

Playing outdoors:

Ambroz: "It's always fun going out there, playing some shinny hockey with your friends and just enjoying hockey the way hockey kind of started. That's going to be a fun experience again this year and hopefully we'll come out on top."

Jake Bischoff (Freshman defenseman/Grand Rapids, MN): "We had one rink up there (in Grand Rapids) so you had to fight for ice time when you're in mites and squirts. Two or three times a week we'd be out on the outdoor rink."

Rachel Ramsey (Junior defenseman/Chanhassen, MN): "We had a park right down the street. Very fond memories out there skating with my brother, and having my dad (NHL legend Mike Ramsey) come down and honk the horn and flash a light to try to get us off and we never would until he would actually come down there and drag us off the ice.

Frost: "It just depends on where. Obviously with all the lakes and the rinks in parks and things like that here in Minnesota it's a pretty big deal. Back where I grew up just outside of Toronto we had a couple ponds that would freeze over, but we didn't have any of those outdoor rinks like they have at the parks here."

Wilcox: "We had 3 rinks in South St. Paul where I played so we actually had a few games in squirts and pee-wees that were outside and that was always fun for me. It's kind of nice to keep the tradition going every year."

Temperatures and Weather:

Brausen: "When you're little, and so used to playing outside, you get all those practices. I think by now we've kind of lost that touch. I think it's good that we're going to go out there and get a couple practices in here (before Friday's game) and get a feel for the ice and all that, but it's definitely going to be a different game.

"There's going to be a lot more factors out of our control. You look at things like the weather - is it snowing? Are the pucks bouncing? Things like that."

Frost, who is growing a beard for the game and planning on wearing a toque: "That's the great unknown (weather-wise). I think for us it's just a matter of getting out there and trying to experience some of those elements and play them as best as we can.

"When you play in the outdoor rinks as a kid, you have your snowpants on and a sweatshirt or something like that versus all your equipment and those types of things. It's certainly going to bring them back to their youth and again, the opportunity to play outside in a big environment like this is pretty cool."

Bischoff, who played in a blizzardy 2013 Hockey Day Minnesota for Grand Rapids: "The wind is the biggest factor, at times the wind was going from one goal to the other goal."

Brausen: "I think that some of the players are dreading the cold a little bit and stuff like that. Growing up in Minnesota, I loved that."

Wilcox: "I'd rather freeze than have too much stuff on, so I think I'm going to keep it light."


Dani Cameranesi (Freshman forward/Plymouth, MN) during her break: "I was weightlifting and obviously played a lot of pond hockey with my brother (UMD sophomore Tony Cameranesi) and a lot of my friends, which I think helps a lot, working on my hands and everything.

Fasching: "I think it's just part of growing up and going back to the roots a little bit. At its purest point in hockey is outside. There's no coaches, it's just kind of free playing and it's a lot of fun. You just see all the Minnesota guys here and there's just a little more creativity out there."

Ramsey: "I grew up playing on the ponds, grew up playing in the park, but we were definitely blessed when I played for Minnetonka to play on Hockey Day Minnesota (in 2009) my sophomore year against Stillwater. That was quite the experience."

Lucia: "I think the kids go back to it - I doubt there are many kids on our team that haven't played on outdoor ice, maybe (junior forward) Sam (Warning) growing up in St. Louis - but all of our Minnesota kids. Whether it was not necessarily at the high school age, but growing up on the outdoor rink, it's something that they've all done and it brings you back. Just like pickup basketball or pickup hockey outside, that's the roots of the game."

Bischoff: "It's definitely cool. It's cool for the players to experience and I feel like the fans enjoy it too. It's just different. You get to go outside and be outdoors with how hockey started, so I think that's pretty cool."

Ramsey: "Great memories growing up playing outside."


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation and College Hockey News. You can also follow him on Twitter --