CHICAGO — Playing in their first outdoor game in the modern era, the Gophers learned Sunday that it’s nearly impossible to erase a three-goal deficit outside.
Wisconsin defeated the No. 2 Gophers 3-2 at Soldier Field — the football stadium for the Chicago Bears — in the second game of the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic.
More than 50,000 fans were announced in attendance for both games, although many only attended one. Notre Dame defeated Miami (Ohio) 2-1 in the first game.
The atmosphere was a hit for the fans. The crowd was evenly divided between Minnesota and Wisconsin fans for the late-afternoon game Sunday.
“It was amazing,” University of Minnesota alumnus Jake Thomson said. “A lot of fans traveled from each school.”
Thompson said he bought his tickets as soon as they went on sale and looked forward to the game all season.
Outside the stadium, fans from all four teams tailgated before and during the games, despite a lack of parking due to Soldier Field’s downtown location. The temperature hovered around 30 degrees all day.
“It’s great. I love it,” said fan Jeff Eberlein, who lives in Minneapolis. “I wish they would have more outdoor hockey.”
Eberlein drove from Minneapolis to Chicago on Saturday and attended both outdoor games Sunday.
Though the fans were happy to be outside, the Gophers didn’t look like they were. Minnesota, which beat Wisconsin 3-2 on Friday in Madison, Wis., battled different conditions throughout Sunday’s game.
The Gophers (20-6-4, 12-6-4 WCHA) got goals from sophomore Seth Ambroz and junior Zach Budish at the beginning and end of the third period, but they couldn’t overcome the three-goal deficit.
The condition of the ice quickly dropped off after the beginning of each period.
“When we first came out in the first period, I thought the ice was pretty good,” junior defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “As the game went on … it started getting choppy.”
The Gophers outshot the Badgers in the first period, but Wisconsin got three pucks behind freshman goalie Adam Wilcox in a span of 3:19 in the second.
Minnesota, a team built around speed, struggled to enter its offensive zone at times. Wisconsin didn’t.
“In a situation like this, you’re not going to get pretty goals,” Gophers head coach Don Lucia said.
The Badgers’ goals weren’t pretty. Kevin Schulze scored on a wrist shot that got a piece of Wilcox, John Ramage scored by deflecting a shot off Minnesota defenseman Mike Reilly and Sean Little made it 3-0 on a rebound goal.
“Those are the types of goals that you need to score,” Schmidt said. “Ours just came a little later than when we wanted.”
Power play sparks Friday win
Minnesota’s power play helped it beat Wisconsin on Friday in Madison.
The Gophers got power-play goals from sophomore Sam Warning, junior Nick Bjugstad and Ambroz and held off a late charge by the Badgers.
Minnesota went 3-for-4 with the extra man, and Wisconsin went 0-for-1. The Badgers didn’t get their power play until the third period.
“We do a pretty good job of not taking unnecessary penalties,” Lucia said. “It wasn’t going to be a penalty-filled game. The difference was we were able to convert on our chances.”
Despite peppering Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel with 20 shots in the first period, the Gophers ended the first tied 1-1.
“It was a tough first period for us,” junior forward Nate Condon said. “We got a lot of shots, but I don’t know if they were good, quality chances.”
Despite cooling off from their 60-shot pace after the first period, the Gophers outshot Wisconsin 43-30.
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