Bemidji State outdoor game is the coldest college hockey’s in modern era

The Bemidji State men's hockey team watches from the bench during the first period of their outdoor game on Friday, Jan. 18, against Michigan Tech on the Minnesota Hockey Day rink on the shores of Lake Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Forum News Service)
The Bemidji State men's hockey team watches from the bench during the first period of their outdoor game on Friday, Jan. 18, against Michigan Tech on the Minnesota Hockey Day rink on the shores of Lake Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Forum News Service)

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- College hockey is unlikely to ever again see a game as cold as the one last Friday night, Jan. 28, along the south shore of Lake Bemidji.

The men’s hockey game that night between Bemidji State and Michigan Tech is the coldest outdoor game in college hockey’s modern era. Temperatures dropped to as low as 15 degrees below zero by the end of the game, setting a new record.

“You don’t think about those things. All you know is that it’s going to be extremely cold,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “But both teams have to battle the elements.”

A packed crowd of 4,200 fans braved the elements and witnessed Bemidji’s own Dillon Eichstadt score the game-winner in the Beavers’ 4-3 overtime win during Hockey Day Minnesota weekend.

“The people of Bemidji, they came out in droves,” Serratore said. “The fans weren’t going to be denied because of the weather.”

The chilly weather shattered the previous record set Jan. 17, 2014, at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The mercury dropped to 6 degrees that night as the Gophers defeated Ohio State 1-0.

The modern era of outdoor hockey games is considered to have started at the NCAA level with the 2001 “Cold War” game between Michigan and Michigan State at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich., according to College Hockey Inc. The coldest it got during the Oct. 6, 2001, game, a 3-3 tie, was 36 degrees.

Since then, 35 NCAA Division I men’s teams have played in 36 outdoor games at 14 different venues. Low temperatures for each game are according to archival records from Weather Underground.

The frigid conditions at Lake Bemidji rival the coldest outdoor game in NHL history.

The 2003 Heritage Classic saw temperatures hovering around zero degrees Fahrenheit at puck drop with severe wind chill that made conditions inside Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium feel even colder. The coldest temperature in Edmonton on the evening of Nov. 22, 2003, was 13 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, according to Environment Canada.

The first regular-season game played outdoors in league history saw the host Oilers fall 4-3 to Montreal.

The players on Friday likely endured the toughest conditions of anybody.

“The players will tell you right now it was not easy for them to play in those games,” Serratore said. “They didn’t have the layers that we had on the bench either. You have to sit there and respect what they went through.”

“It was different for sure. I’ve never experienced that cold,” said BSU freshman forward Ross Armour, who recorded three assists in the game. “But it was fun. It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it.”

Considering some programs used to play all their home games outdoors -- like Bemidji State did in the 1960s -- it is difficult to determine if Friday’s contest is definitively the coldest outdoor game ever in college hockey history.

But in the modern era, the game will go down in the record books. And that makes it all the more memorable for those involved.

“To me the game was a celebration of hockey, and it was something special that was created by our fans,” Serratore said. “The fans and the volunteers made that night the way it was. They made that a memorable night. … Winning the game in those unpleasant conditions made it that much more gratifying.”