Many things will be different between the Gophers’ game Friday at Wisconsin and their game Sunday against the Badgers. The two teams will be playing in a different city and wearing different sweaters.
And they’ll be playing outside.
After facing off inside Wisconsin’s Kohl Center on Friday, the border rivals will play outside at Soldier Field in Chicago as a part of the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic.
Though the outdoor game in Chicago is the highlight of the weekend, Gophers head coach Don Lucia was quick to point out that Friday’s game is important as well.
“We’re going to worry about the Chicago game on Saturday,” Lucia said. “I think the excitement will be there on Saturday when you get an opportunity to skate outside, but we just want to make sure we have a good week of practice.”
Junior defenseman Mark Alt said even though the emphasis has been on Friday’s game all week, it’s hard not to think about Sunday’s contest.
“Definitely still in the back of your mind you’re excited for [Sunday],” Alt said.
Saturday’s skate at Soldier Field will be the first time the Gophers practice outside. The team had an outdoor practice scheduled two weeks ago, but it was canceled.
Lucia said he had a conversation with Michigan Tech head coach Mel Pearson about the importance of practicing outside before an outdoor game.
Pearson told Lucia that the skate before the game would be enough practice.
Lucia said he’s never coached outdoors, but he reminisced about flooding the pond in his backyard when his sons were younger. He said that he learned hockey outside and that when he was young, all practices were outside, with games being held indoors.
“Back in the day, our power skating was getting a snow shovel and clearing off the ice,” Lucia said.
Finland native Erik Haula shared a story similar to his coach’s.
“In Finland, that’s kind of where you learn to play,” the junior forward said. “I remember having team practices outdoors, too, because there weren’t that many rinks where I was from.”
Sunday’s game throws a wrench in the Gophers’ typical road schedule, which usually includes Friday and Saturday games in the same city. Lucia said the adjusted schedule doesn’t scare him.
Alt said traveling Saturday will have an impact on the team.
“It’s going to be a grind of a weekend,” Alt said.
The two teams ahead of Minnesota in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will be idle this weekend. The Gophers are five points behind St. Cloud State and two behind North Dakota. Minnesota has played at least two fewer conference games than everyone else in the WCHA.
Minnesota will wear commemorative jerseys in Sunday’s game. The maroon jerseys are styled after the jerseys the team wore during the 1960-61 season.
The Gophers will auction off the game-worn jerseys to benefit Defending the Blue Line.
Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Miami will also wear special jerseys at the Hockey City Classic.