Twenty below.That’s what the forecast reads for Friday night in Bemidji, Minn., when Bemidji State is scheduled to take on Michigan Tech in the first game of a WCHA series.Normally the highs and lows on a particular weekend don’t much matter for hockey games — they’re usually played inside, which nice, climate-controlled temperatures and no wind howling as you skate.But Friday night’s game won’t be a normal, indoor hockey game.In what is a first for the event, the Beavers and Huskies will skate outdoors Friday night on a rink adjacent to Lake Bemidji as part of the annual Hockey Day Minnesota event. Saturday’s game will be back in the Sanford Center like normal.“It’s all about the event, and we’re fortunate enough to be part of it,” Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said. “It’s exciting to have a team like Michigan Tech involved in it with us. They have a long history, they’re a charter member of the WCHA, they’re close by and they have a lot of Minnesotans on their team. I’m glad we can share this with Michigan Tech. It’s exciting to be part of a game like this.”It’s just the fourth-ever outdoor hockey game featuring current WCHA men’s teams, and the first time the Beaver men’s team has played in one. Michigan Tech participated in the 2013 Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park in Detroit, which was played outdoors. The BSU women’s team, which will play Minnesota State in an outdoor game Saturday afternoon, played at Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium in 2010.The difference between the 2013 GLI and this one, though, is significant as Friday night’s game in Bemidji will be worth conference points.And for a pair of teams each trying to establish a foothold in the top half of the league standings, any points gained or lost on Friday could be crucial. The Huskies, currently 11-11-2 overall and 10-5-1-1 in the WCHA, are in fourth place in the conference with 32 points while the Beavers, 10-11-3 overall and 8-7-1-0 in the league, are in sixth place with 25 points.“This is about winning. We’re playing this like any regular-season game,” Serratore said. “It’s not about making sure everybody gets ice time. We have to worry about winning a hockey game, and Tech’s gotta worry about winning a hockey game. We just happen to be playing a conference game outdoors. The NHL plays league games outdoors. It’s just the way it is.“We’re not going to prepare any differently. The biggest thing is, it’s going to be a little bit of the elements, a little bit of the conditions. Guys have to simplify their games.”The cold will be the biggest X-factor on Friday night. The high for Friday is -4 and the low is -20 — and it could be colder with the wind chill.Serratore said they’ve got a contingency plan for that. Both teams will have heaters on their benches and in the penalty boxes. Also, the league agreed to extend intermission for a few extra minutes just to allow the players to get a little warmer in between.“Then the rest of it is just old-time hockey,” Serratore said.Hockey Day Minnesota, which started in 2007 as a partnership between the NHL’s Minnesota Wild and broadcaster FOX Sports North, has evolved over the years from being a single high school game on an outdoor rink to now having multiple games being played over multiple days. Last season’s women’s game between St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth on Lake George in St. Cloud was the first time a college team of any kind played on the outdoor rink for the event. This season’s game between the Beavers and Huskies will be the first time a men’s team is participating.“I’m excited for that — just to be part of hockey day, to be part of an outdoor game, it’s one of those things that most guys on our team have never been a part of,” said Seratore, who has eight Minnesota natives on his roster. Michigan Tech, meanwhile, has five Minnesotans. “It’s turned into a kind of celebration of hockey that weekend in the state of Minnesota. It’s become a big deal. to have it in our hometown and to be part of it, it’s exciting. We’re proud to be playing in it.”The Huskies took five of six points from the Beavers when they met back in October and November in Houghton, Mich.“At the end of the day, you prepare like any other game,” Serratore said. “There’s going to be some elements that are a little different: the cold, the wind, the snow potentially. You’re going to have to adapt to that, but both teams are going to have to adapt to that. Both teams have to deal with the elements in the same way. If the conditions are a little crazy, you might have to simplify your game a little more. but at the end of the day, both teams just have to play.”We’ve gotta go out and play, and Tech’s gotta go out and play.”
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