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After a long wait, Minnesota hockey fans relish their Winter Classic chance

The on-ice product, and the on-ice results, were less than Minnesota hockey fans hoped for, but when the State of Hockey finally got to host the NHL's marquee regular season event, the 2022 Winter Classic proved to be a celebration of the sport, even if the bitterly cold temperatures meant many fans didn't stick around until the bitter end.

NHL: Winter Classic-St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild
Hockey fans arrive outside before the 2022 Winter Classic ice hockey game Jan. 1 between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues at Target Field.
Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS – It has been said that after Thanksgiving, blaze orange is added as the Green Bay Packers’ unofficial third color, as plenty of deer hunting gear is seen among the normal green and gold in the stands at Lambeau Field when the weather gets cold.

There was plenty of blaze orange seen, along with a great deal of the latest advances in ice fishing gear, seen among the 38,000-plus that ventured out on a bitterly cold Saturday night to experience the coldest game in NHL history.

It was officially -5.7 Fahrenheit at the opening faceoff for the 2022 NHL Winter Classic on a spot roughly where second base sits when the Minnesota Twins play at Target Field and it is 75 degrees or more warmer on average at first pitch.

While Minnesota fans, and a good-sized contingent cheering for St. Louis, were dressing up, the Blues took the opposite approach. They left their team hotel in shorts and tank tops, dressed for a day at the beach, just to add some fun and team bonding to the evening.

“Walking off that bus, that’s the quickest I’ve ever woken up for a game,” said Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly, after the game.


Most fans lingered under the heat lamps in the ballparks concourses during the pregame celebration of Minnesota hockey. The half-dozen pond hockey rinks set up in the outfield featured kids from the Herb Brooks Foundation, members of the Minnesota Warriors hockey program which provides playing opportunities for injured members of the military, prep players from Duluth East, Grand Rapids, Mankato East and Mankato West, and seven members of the Minnesota Gophers men’s team who spent a good 90 minutes getting in a little extra ice time prior to their Sunday exhibition game versus St. Thomas.

“It was outstanding,” said Gophers defenseman Ryan Johnson, the team’s lone southern Californian, who seemed oblivious to the cold as the team members headed to their seats before the start of the second period.

The stands were mostly packed for the first 20 minutes of hockey, which featured regularly scheduled stoppages to shovel the accumulating snow from the ice surface. The Winter Classic has become a highlight of the NHL season, but playing outdoors is not always conducive to great hockey. Previous games have involved rain, fog, and mushy ice from bright sunshine. The bitter cold of Minnesota made for snowy ice and a bouncy puck, making it an adventure when, for example, the forwards passed back to the defense, risking a turnover and an odd-man rush.

NHL: Winter Classic-St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild
Minnesota Wild left wing Marcus Foligno (17) skates with the puck against St. Louis Blues defenseman Scott Perunovich (48) in the second period Jan. 1 of the 2022 Winter Classic ice hockey game between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues at Target Field.
Jeffrey Becker / USA TODAY Sports

After the opening 20 minutes of ice cold ice hockey, it was clear that the actual hockey had become a secondary attraction for many fans with other interests – most notably getting warm. The ballpark’s enclosed club section was packed as hundreds sought refuge from the cold. Scores more got their credit cards out to commemorate their attendance at the event. A bundled-up Minneapolis resident emerged from the merchandise store behind home plate with a bag filled with officially licensed Winter Classic swag just before the start of the second period. He had gotten into the snaking line midway through the opening period and said that the merchandise was significantly picked over.

The modern outdoor hockey movement began not in 2008 when Buffalo hosted the first Winter Classic, but in 2001 when Michigan and Michigan State played a college hockey game before nearly 75,000 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. Minnesota hosted a Stadium Series game in 2016, with the Wild beating Chicago at the Gophers’ football field but did not get awarded the showcase event until 2021, then had to wait another year due to the pandemic to actually take their turn in the spotlight.

By the start of the third, it was -9 on the thermometer and -4 on the scoreboard for the Wild, who trailed 6-2 and had replaced starting goalie Cam Talbot. The biggest cheers came when former Gopher Rem Pitlick scored in the second period, and when eight former Gophers and one former UMD Bulldog were officially named to the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team during the second intermission. By then there were notable banks of empty seats as many in the announced sellout crowd of 38,619 had opted to watch the rest of the game somewhere warm, or listen to it on the car radio.

They missed a partial comeback, as the Wild scored a few late, and pulled their replacement goalie, Kaapo Kahkonen, with eight minutes to play, but still fell 6-4. While the result was a disappointment, and the weather was a challenge, the consensus following the final horn was that getting the Winter Classic in the State of Hockey was worth the wait.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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