The subzero double-digit windchill tested the winter wardrobe of the hardiest of Minnesota hockey fans who showed up early and enthusiastic for the NHL’s Winter Classic outdoors Saturday at Target Field.
Rachel Herdt of Moorhead bought tickets to the game for her husband, Aaron, as a Christmas gift. “I didn’t know it was going to be this cold, but we’re big hockey fans and it’s in Minnesota so I said, ‘We have to go,’ ” she said.
Even for Minnesota in January, it was cold Saturday with single digits below zero and a minus twentysomething windchill. The sun was gone long before the 6 p.m. puck drop and the temperatures were sinking throughout the night.
Nevertheless, fan fever ran hot in a game billed as a salute to the state of hockey. They lined up before the doors opened at 4 p.m., then stood in long lines to buy special NHL Winter Classic jerseys and caps.
Minnesota Twins territory was transformed, and many said they came for the unique experience of seeing NHL hockey outdoors in a baseball park covered in snow and ice. The NHL rink was at the center of the action, with eight smaller rinks ringed by colored lights in the outfield for high school players to experience.
The Herdts, each carrying a fleece blanket, were ensconced under an overhead heater in the Truly On Deck bar near their seats on the lower level in left field.
“I figured we’d get in and see what it’s all about,” Rachel Herdt said. Her husband liked the the log cabin look of the warming house in centerfield. “It reminds me of northern Minnesota,” he said, taking in the bonfires, Adirondack chairs, deer replicas and simulated ice fishing holes set up in the outfield.
Like the majority of the estimated 38,000-plus fans expected for the event, their seats would be out in the cold. They came prepared with layers upon layers upon layers of clothes, hand warmers and foot warmers.
Friends Tyler Niemela, 22, and Nate Hillstrom, 19, both from Cokato, were in their seats in right field more than 90 minutes before game time.
“Gotta get here early enough to see everything. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime” experience, Niemela said. He was already wearing his Winter Classic Joel Eriksson Ek jersey.
They were pleased with their seats. “With all the little rinks here, it’s going to be a prime spot,” Hillstrom said.
Their seats also had a prime view overlooking the pregame lumberjack face-off in right field that involved saws and tree trunks, As to whether they would be able to stay warm during the game, they shrugged and said, “Oh, yeah.”
According to NHL.com, the coldest of the league’s 32 modern outdoor games was played in November 2003 in Edmonton, Alberta, where the temperature at puck drop was zero.