TCF Bank Stadium turns to ice

The football arena will host the state’s first outdoor professional hockey game Sunday afternoon.

Crew members work to set up the hockey rink that will be used for the upcoming NHL Stadium Series game between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks inside TCF Bank Stadium on Feb. 21.

Maddy Fox

Crew members work to set up the hockey rink that will be used for the upcoming NHL Stadium Series game between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks inside TCF Bank Stadium on Feb. 21.

Emily Polglaze

After waiting eight years, 12 stadiums and 13 games, Minnesota will finally get its chance to host an outdoor NHL game on Sunday.
 
 
The Minnesota Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks will play at 2:30 p.m. at TCF Bank Stadium, with an alumni game featuring former players from both teams taking place the day before.
 
 
The two-day event will mark the first time the football stadium is transformed into a hockey rink since the Gophers’ men’s and women’s teams played there on Jan. 17, 2014.
 
 
“There’s a lot of pressure, but you have to have fun with the guys,” said Dan Craig, senior director of facilities operations for the NHL, which handles all aspects of construction and setup for the Stadium Series instead of the University’s regular crew. “Just like a hockey team, we create a team of our guys.”
 
 
Each venue poses its own challenges, but the setup process takes about the same amount of time everywhere, said Executive Vice President of Events for the NHL Don Renzulli, who has worked on every Stadium Series game so far.
 
 
By last Tuesday, the NHL crew had begun work on the stadium, putting down a layer of aluminum decking over the field’s AstroTurf that will be used with the cooling system to balance temperatures.
 
 
A second layer of decking was then added to provide a foundation for the rink before the ice sheet is built.
 
 
The rink’s framework and boards started to go up late last week, but flooding the rink is a slower process. 
 
 
“We take our time. We can really get it done in three days, but we take five,” Craig said. “Because the same people that are building it are here for team skates, the alumni game, rehearsals and the main game. We have to make sure the staff is healthy and ready to go.”
 
 
The finishing touches include hanging banners and painting the ice, which happened early this week.
 
 
The crew had to battle cold temperatures last week as it built the rink, but an ice system will keep the rink in good shape, as temperatures will likely creep above freezing Sunday.
 
 
To keep the ice at a cool 20 degrees at all times, a refrigerated truck pumps fluid through the decking underneath the rink as warm air travels back to the truck to be cooled and compressed like a standard refrigerator. 
 
 
While temperature rarely poses an issue for the crew, Craig said, wind can.
 
 
Gophers head coach Don Lucia said he still remembers the wind when his team played outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium in 2014. 
 
 
“I’m sure the NHL is going to do a great job to get the best ice sheet that they possibly can,” Lucia said. “I think more than anything the ice will be fine. It just depends what kind of day you’re having. The wind plays into it more than anything else.”
 
 
Former Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly skated at TCF Bank Stadium in 2014 and will have a chance this weekend to play outdoors with the Wild, which signed him in July. 
 
 
The former All-American has played in the team’s last four games after being called up from the AHL.
 
 
“You grow up on the ponds, so in a sense it’s nothing really new or difficult to you,” Reilly said at a press conference for the event in August. “You kind of feel at home playing outdoors.”
 
 
The NHL will also oversee a free spectator plaza outside Gate A of the stadium with games and live music and the chance for fans to skate on the ice Tuesday night starting at 7 p.m.
 
 
The arena will then have to return to being a football stadium, but Renzulli said all the hard work will pay off in the end when outdoor 
professional hockey comes to Minnesota for the first time.
 
 
“Over the years, I think players like to come out and see 50,000 people. They don’t get that experience all the time,” Renzulli said. “They’ve all remarked about that and have said, ‘This is cool. This is once in a lifetime.’ ”