Winter Classic 2011: Feeling Minnesota

Blake BenzelCorrespondent IDecember 7, 2009

ORCHARD PARK , NY - DECEMBER 31:  Photo 186.5 hours into a nine day time lapse on the conversion of Ralph Willson Stadium from football to an ice rink for the 2008 NHL Winter Classic to be played on January 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, December 31, 2007 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images for the NHL)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

If you’re from the state of Minnesota, you know that hockey isn’t just a sport—it’s an institution.

There are towns like the one you see portrayed in Mystery, Alaska , where skates are slapped on kids literally as soon as they can walk.  There are rinks that litter the state, not to mention the ponds that turn into rinks and the outdoor rinks that get created in parks and backyards during the winter.

Since 1937, 200 Minnesotans have laced up their skates and donned the sweaters of NHL teams, the most of any U.S. state.  In fact, the 80 Minnesotans that have played in the NHL this decade are more than any state has ever suited up with the exception of Massachusetts and New York.

The Xcel Energy Center is filled on a regular basis in March for the High School State Championships and there is certainly no lack of interest in the Gophers either. 

Minnesota is a hockey-crazed state.  From the pros all the way down the line, we love our hockey up here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

The reason why I bring this up is not to laud the reasons why hockey in Minnesota is better than hockey elsewhere.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

No.  The reason why I bring this up is because Minnesota should be the site for the NHL’s 2011 Winter Classic.

Now this isn’t breaking news.  Minnesota has been considered for every Winter Classic since its inception.  But in 2011, it is actually a viable option for the first time.

Why wasn’t it before?

Well, quite simply, it’s like real estate.  The most important thing is location, location, location.

Before 2011, where would a Winter Classic have been held in Minnesota?  In the Metrodome parking lot?  Rice Park?  Maybe, if they wanted a true spectacle, Lake Minnetonka?

No.  Before 2011, there honestly was no true viable location for the state to host such an event.

Now though?  In one year, the state has gained two locations.

First, there is “The Bank.”

The home for the Golden Gophers football team, TCF Bank Stadium would be a tremendous venue to view an outdoor hockey game.  There are 80,000 seats in total in the stadium, and that’s not including any seats that may be added closer to the rink for such an event.  In fact, it’s completely feasible that the NHL could even pack 100,000 rear ends in the stadium—something that would be a financial boon for the NHL.

The downside to “The Bank,” however, is that there is a significant lack of parking around the stadium.  Since the stadium is now on the University of Minnesota campus, parking is a bear around the stadium.  A wealth of public transportation options, however, keep the stadium as a viable venue.

The other venue is the soon-to-be unveiled Target Field—the newly minted home for the Minnesota Twins.

While Target Field offers just half the seats that TCF Bank Stadium offers, it is much more accessible to the fans, being near multiple parking ramps, bus stops and a train station.  Not only that, but the field is boasting one of the closest seating bowls to the playing field in Major League Baseball, with roughly 18,500 infield seats.  In addition, the field also offers a number of heated areas throughout for fan comfort.

The downside for Target Field, however, are the limited seats.  With the amount of seats available in TCF Bank Stadium, the league would be crazy not to make that their first option in Minnesota.

In addition to the venues, the other thing that Minnesota offers over the rest of the NHL is the potential spectacle.

Every January, Minnesota hosts Hockey Day in Minnesota—a celebration of both the sport and its history in the state.  This day has featured, typically, two outdoor high school boys games, one outdoor high school girls game, a Golden Gophers game and a Wild game.

While this is likely a stretch, can you imagine the spectacle that could be created by national coverage of this event?  Starting around lunch time, the day provides a solid ten hours of hockey coverage at the very least.  Just imagine what the league could do with this—five hockey games, played outdoors with the final game(s) being completed under the lights?

Not only that, but a national audience could get a sneak peek at the league’s next Zach Parise or Phil Housley.

On top of all of that, it would allow the entire world a view into not only a state crazed about this sport, but a state where the sport has a history that is so unbelievably rich.

With a NHL front office that has proclaimed their intentions to promote the game in all areas of the United States, giving everyone an opportunity to enjoy the same passion for the game that Minnesota fans get to enjoy every night during the winter would be a great place to start.