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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Preparing for Outdoor Hockey

The patches Minnesota State will wear for the 2014 Hockey City Classic. 

Outdoor hockey is all the rage right now as evidenced by the 15 men’s and women’s NCAA Division I games that have been played at venues like Fenway Park in Boston and Comerica Park in Detroit this season. Over 105,000 spectators turned out for the National Hockey League’s annual Winter Classic between Toronto and Detroit on New Year’s Day at Michigan Stadium, and five more outdoor affairs remain on the NHL docket this season.

However, there has yet to be an NCAA Division I or NHL contest played outdoors in the State of Hockey. That will change this Friday when the Minnesota State women’s hockey team takes its game outside to take on top-ranked Minnesota as part of the Hockey City Classic at TCF Bank Stadium. But what does it take to prepare a 22-player roster for outdoor hockey in January?

We sat down with women’s hockey equipment manager Ian Kronberg to find out just that.

With a high of 11 degrees and an 11 mile-per-hour wind forecast for Friday in Minneapolis according to weather.com, one of the first concerns is keeping players warm throughout the game.  Kronberg ordered enough Bauer cold gear - including leggings, long sleeve shirts, and long socks - to fit the team two times over to allow players to change their cold gear between periods if it gets too sweaty. To keep the goaltenders warm, Kronberg must modify the team’s winter hats to allow the fabric to stretch completely over the helmets before using the helmet’s screws on the front and back to ensure it remains in place.

Ice conditions, potential snow, and glare from the sun can also create headaches for Kronberg and the players. With opening faceoff set for 4:37 p.m., plenty of eye black was ordered to help combat the setting sun on the west end of TCF Bank Stadium. The current forecast claims a 0% chance of snow, but on the off chance some flurries are in the air, players who wear a clear facemask may opt to change to a cage instead. However, it will more than likely be ice conditions that will be the biggest adjustment for both sides.

“If it turns out to be soft ice, I'll reduce the sharpening hollow. This means there will be less bite on the edges, but with softer ice that extra bite to the edges isn’t necessary.” said Kronberg. “If the ice is harder, we’ll go for a deeper groove to get a stronger edge. It’s something we’ll get a feel for during practice Thursday evening and pre-game skate Friday morning.” 

Another dynamic about playing at TCF Bank Stadium that can keep an equipment manager up at night is the fact there is no equipment room readily available from the bench. 

“Most of the planning for this game came from thinking about anything and everything that could go wrong during the game, then trying to prepare for that,” Kronberg added. “You try to ensure you’re prepared for everything. But it’s different because if someone breaks a skate, you need to travel halfway across the stadium to the equipment room to fix it.”

Kronberg has an extra set of steel sharpened and ready to go for every player to try and get ahead of this potential problem and will have each player’s two or three extra sticks readily available on the bench as well.  He also ordered skate guards with a reinforced bottom that won’t ruin the blades for the team to wear on the longer than normal walk from the bench to the rink.

 “The intermission times have been increased to 18 minutes from 15 to solve any ice issues so it will be slightly different logistically, but we can’t wait to play outdoor hockey in what should be one of the best atmospheres ever for women’s hockey,” Kronberg stated.

A crowd of 8,263 saw Wisconsin and Bemidji State battle in the Camp Randall Hockey Classic on Feb. 6, 2010 marking the largest in NCAA Division I women’s hockey history. With limited seats available inside the 50,805-seat venue, that record may well fall Friday evening.

By: Luke Steckler, Graduate Assistant Athletic Communications

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