With nine rinks installed on the playing field and subzero temps in the forecast, Saturday’s Winter Classic at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, should be an event to be remembered.
We’ve seen NHL games regularly played at outdoor venues since the launch of the Heritage Classic in 2003, followed by the Winter Classic debuting on Jan. 1, 2008, at what was then Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Since them we’re seen the NHL institute the Stadium Series as well, with the Minnesota Wild hosting the Chicago Blackhawks at the University of Minnesota’s Huntington Bank Stadium on Feb. 21, 2016.
But hosting a Winter Classic game—a showcase event for both the stadium and the NHL—was always on the agenda for both the Minnesota Wild and the Minnesota Twins. Minnesota is a state that embraces an outdoor lifestyle, whether it be traditional events like the ice castles and parades at the St. Paul Winter Carnival, Hockey Day in Minnesota, the abundance of outdoor events across the state, or the Great Northern Festival. Landing the 2021 Winter Classic was a big deal for the Twins and Wild; postponing it for a year due to COVID was heartbreaking, but here we are on the cusp of the long-awaited game.
If you tune in on Saturday night—or, better yet, were lucky enough to snare a ducat—be prepared for a great event. We’ll begin our look at the game like every good Minnesotan: checking out the weather forecast in the spirit of Bud Kraehling. The two teams should be in for a solid ice surface: no temps above 23 degrees for the remainder of the week, and no pesky sun to fight. On Saturday, the Minneapolis forecast calls for a low of -15 degrees and a high of -1, with the sun peeking through a mostly cloudy day. (Wild owner Craig Leipold should transition to weather forecaster: “…It’s going to probably be zero degrees,” he said back in September, during a press event showing where the rink will be located, above.) That means looking at an extra layer if you’re headed to the game, and it also means wearing your heaviest socks and boots as well: you’re going to be spending hours standing on cold concrete. Today we’ll see some snow, with the chances of precipitation tapering off this week until gametime (7 p.m. Eastern, TNT in the U.S.; Sportsnet, CBC and TVA Sports in Canada).
Target Field was built for an event like this, with plenty of heated places if you don’t want to battle the cold and plenty of sheltered spots on the concourses should you want to wander the ballpark during the course of the Winter Classic. The winds are forecast to be coming from the northwest—basically, past the third-base line—so avoid a exposed perch down the first-base line and instead take advantage of the SRO spots in CF or the right-field corner.
This will be one of the most unusual Winter Classics in terms of the field setup. Besides the main rink set up over second base, there will be eight additional rinks set up in center field, used for pond hockey. The name pretty much tells you what a playing surface will look like: it’s a section of a pond that’s been cleared and smaller than a traditional hockey sheet. (We use the term “rink” here loosely.) No boards (the playing area is defined by snowbanks), no checking, and not always featuring a net, either, though the playing surfaces at Target Field will more closely resemble a traditional rink ice surface. There are plenty of pond-hockey tourneys throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin, and adding pond hockey to Target Field was a nice touch. We’ll see the pond hockey rinks used thoughout the day and at intermissions.
If you do end up watching the game, expect to see plenty of remote shots of Minnesotans enjoying themselves outside, even if it’s just folks sitting around a fire ring and quaffing a few beers at a local microbrewery. Though COVID surely accelerated the trend toward outside drinking and dining, that trend was well underway before March 2020 in Minnesota, where it was common to find ice bars, outdoor fire pits and cold-weather seating. The Winter Classic will be a celebration of that spirit, both inside Target Field and in area watering holes and other venues.
Photo courtesy Minnesota Wild.