But the NHL and Minnesota Twins, the Major League Baseball team that runs Target Field, are ready to help keep fans, workers, and teams as comfortable as possible.
There will be 40,000 hand warmers, plus places to warm up and soup at concession stands. The penalty boxes will be hot seats in more ways than one. Even the ice is being heated.
Yes, ice. This is an NHL game in the regular season and the conditions need to be the best they can be.
“Minnesotans know what to do,” said Matt Hoy, Twins’ senior vice president of operations. “They just have to follow common sense and make sure they prepare for the cold and everyone wants to feel good.”
The NHL has hosted 32 outdoor games, with temperatures ranging from 0 to 65 at face-off. The coldest was the 2003 Heritage Classic, the first outdoor game, between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens before 57,167 at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.
When the NHL planned this Winter Classic, it knew Minneapolis could be cold. It was minus 6 at kickoff, as the Minnesota Vikings hosted the Seattle Seahawks in an NFL wild card game before 52,090 at TCF Bank Stadium on January 10, 2016, the coldest game in Viking history and the third coldest in NFL history.
“We had a lot of people here in Minnesota who also told us how tough a Minnesota fan is, and that was definitely a factor in getting here,” said NHL Chief of Staff Steve Mayer.
The NHL ordered the hand warmers months ago. NHL executive vice president of events Dean Matsuzaki said the league is still discussing distribution plans, but if fans need some, they can request them from guest services. Carpets will be allowed.
Target Field already has radiant heat in many areas at all levels, but the twins have added radiant heat in the concession stands to the workers. The bars will be open to the public, and stairwells and elevator lobbies will be open and heated as a refuge for fans.
“Ask any guest service person and they can refer you to a place where you can warm up,” Hoy said. “We’re all used to it, but that does not mean people should not be careful.”
Delaware North, which runs food, beverage and retail at Target Field, will offer special concessions including chili, ramen, soups and Tater Tot Hot Dish, a Minnesota delicacy of minced beef, whipped cream soup, winter vegetables and crispy Tater Tots.
“We know Minnesota residents can handle everything Mother Nature throws at them, but we wanted to offer additional comfort through our food and beverage program,” said Kurt Chenier, chief chef for Delaware North at Target Field.
Players will be provided with balaclavas and long underwear.
Heating the benches is standard operating procedure for outdoor games, but the NHL planned to test the equipment on Wednesday, where the highest was 7 and the low minus 9, to ensure it could withstand the cold and decide if more was needed. The league has added more heat than usual to the expulsion boxes.
“In the past, we’d look at it as’ Hey, that’s a punishment. You’re going to be a little cold, “Matsuzaki said with a laugh.” But now, with this cold, from a security standpoint, we’re also bringing heat to the penalty benches. “
Then there is the ice itself. The optimum surface temperature for an NHL caliber plate is between 22 and 24 degrees.
“Once we get too cold, we may have some issues with it being brittle or skate marks where it tiles away, so we’re really trying to control that temperature,” said NHL senior facilities manager Mike Craig.
The skating rink floor is made of 283 aluminum ice buckets. A mobile refrigeration unit pumps glycol through pipes to the pans and back to the truck to transfer heat. Craig has an app on his phone that gives him real-time data from eight sensors embedded in the ice and other sensors in the system.
When the air temperature is above the optimal ice temperature, the glycol and aluminum pans transfer the heat from the ice. However, when the air temperature is below the optimum ice temperature, it transfers heat to the ice. The NHL has previously used a custom-made inline heater to heat the glycol in the pipes on the way to the floor, but here it will for the first time use two inline heaters, one by the refrigerated truck and another in the field. The crew can calibrate the temperature to half a degree.
Really, for the most part, this is business as usual.
The optimum temperature for NHL game puck is 15-17 degrees to prevent them from jumping. In arenas, they are stored in freezers for at least 24 hours before matches and transferred to freezers in penalty boxes.
Office officials in the penalty boxes use stopwatches. If two minutes pass with the same puck, they replace it with a new one at the next stop to ensure that the puck in play has the right temperature.
Someone joked that the NHL would not need a freezer to puck here.
“I said, ‘You definitely need it, because if you just have them sitting out in the cold, you can not control the temperature,'” said JR Boyle, NHL senior director of venue and facility operations. “Yes, it’s cold outside, but we can not control it within our range. If we use the freezer, we still stay within our range and within our standards.”
That said, special paint on the puck makes the NHL shield purple when frozen.
“I think because it’s so cold here,” Boyle said, “it can just stay purple all the time.”