Did this really happen? YES.
Like many Minnesotans, I devoured a double-helping of Hockey Day Minnesota this weekend, emerging with a newfound appreciation for the event. Here are ten reasons why Hockey Day Minnesota rates as one of the best days of the year:
10) For starters, it’s more than a day.
With the Gopher Vs. Badgers alumni facing off among multiple outdoor games on Friday night, and the Wild playing back-to-back hosting Nashville on Sunday, Hockey Day in Minnesota felt more like a triumphant three-day weekend than a single day. I highly recommend the Friday night festivities. I attended the alumni game and was able to take in the entire experience without battling the Saturday crowds. Having seen the venue up close and trekked through Stillwater, my wife and I had the added bonus of being able to say, “Hey, we were just there!” and share Lowell Park logistics while watching twelve hours of Fox Sports North coverage with our friends on Saturday. I’m not going to lie; it gave us a bit of status to nonchalantly say, “Yeah, we were down there last night checking things out.”
9) It feels good to cry.
Admit it—you felt that lump in your throat watching all of those brilliantly crafted Fox Sports North video vignettes on Saturday. Not since the Olympics has more melodramatic content been launched into our living rooms in one day. Hockey players from Haiti! Goalies playing in memory of their late uncles! It was an emotional onslaught, making this exchange commonplace across the State of Hockey this weekend: “Dad, why is mom crying?” “Because hockey is the best sport ever, son; you’ll understand when you’re older.” Even if those heart-wrenching stories didn’t actually push a tear down your cheek, they were a wonderful reminder that it feels good to feel, and Fox Sports North did a brilliant job showing us just how often this beautiful game lets us do so.
Hockey Day is more than one day!
8) Because this happened (See Above)
I don’t know who this kid was—it looks like he came off the Thief River Falls team bus. I believe he’s paired a maroon smoking jacket with a dirty mullet, complete with stripes shaved into the sides. It’s like Hugh Hefner had a child with Patrick Kane. I can only hope he left his pipe and hardcover book on the bus, and that there might be elbow patches on the jacket not visible from this view. Mahtomedi might have won the early game, but it’s safe to say this Thief River beauty stole our hearts.
Hockey Day in the fish house...
7) Hockey Day makes us all more Minnesotan.
I don’t know what it is about Hockey Day in Minnesota, but it’s slowly morphing into our version of Canada’s Boxing Day. It’s an opportunity to basically major and minor in Minnesotan, and it feels good. We get to put on our flannel shirts and warm socks, and when Marney Gellner from Fox Sports North tells us Stillwater is the birthplace of Minnesota, we look up from our Pioneer Press and say to our spouse, “Did ya hear that, honey? Stillwater is the birthplace of Minnesota. Who knew?”
6) It’s superb for session drinking.
Even novice hockey parents know that a few barley pops mix perfectly with any hockey game. The more experienced hockey parents know that it takes precisely 12 minutes for the Zam to do the ice between periods, giving you just enough time to grab a Coors or Michelob Golden Light (bottle) at an attached rink bar or pickup truck flatbed before returning to the stands without missing a minute of the action. Well, Hockey Day Minnesota is more like that first Thursday of March Madness or the first couple days of the State Tournament, with a seemingly endless string of games. So, whether it’s Bloody Marys or beers or Captain Cokes, the Hockey Day Minnesota lineup is like a puck pub crawl as you take it all in. For me personally, the family read the paper and had breakfast watching the early outdoor game, we watched the second game before heading to a bar (for a Junior Gold cheeseburger basket sale fundraiser, I might add) to watch the Gophers play Wisconsin. We then decided to change things up and head to the White Bear Lake Vs. Roseville high school boys’ game with a beer or two mixed in, before heading home to watch the Wild’s come-from-behind victory. It was like a Dagwood sandwich of hockey with toothpicks barely holding things together, and it was delicious.
A hockey themed pull tab....only in Minnesota
5) Hockey is still happening for all of us, too!
Unlike the Stanley Cup playoffs or even the State High School Tournament, brilliant events of their own, there is something great about Hockey Day Minnesota happening while we’re all still in season. Hockey Day Minnesota validates our favorite sport, making us all scream, “Damn, I love hockey!”—only, unlike the year-end tournaments, we’re able to do something about it. For me personally after being inspired by Hockey Day Minnesota on Saturday, I went to watch my nephew, a Mite in St. Louis Park, have a “game day” on Sunday. This came complete with the National Anthem and my personal favorite moment—watching a scrum of 6-year-olds battle for the blue puck while Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blared from the St. Louis Park Rec Center speakers. “Exit: light. Enter: night. Take my hand. We’re off to never-never land.” Wow, talk about teaching ‘em young?! But in all seriousness, it is nice to be able to say, “I love hockey” when we’re still able to act on it during our own seasons.
4) We’ve gotten really, really good at the outdoor ice thing.
Gone are the days of playing outdoor hockey in a puddle. After a decade of Winter Classics, Stadium Series, not to mention giant coil-cooled outdoor facilities opening in Edina, St. Louis Park and elsewhere, we are now better equipped and more experienced than ever to make great ice outside, no matter what challenges Mother Nature tosses our way. This weekend was unseasonably warm and by all accounts it didn’t make a difference as everyone was raving about the ice conditions.
Stillwater's Seth Eisele with the eye black
3) Eye black
I mean, seriously, what is it about the eye black? I’m guessing there’s no real benefit to wearing the stuff, but if you’re playing outside, it somehow turns hockey players into glam rock stars. . . “Alice Cooperalls!” I think I might just start wearing eye black when I play regular pickup hockey outside just to see what it feels like to be a big-timer.
2) The walk out.
Why is hockey 34% better when you can see players walk out onto the ice? Back in the day you used to get this effect at the old State Fair Coliseum when you watched the teams walk down the rubber mats single-file on their way to the ice. The Winter Classic has made it even more iconic; we’re now accustomed to seeing the best hockey players in the world walking out flanked by torches. Some of the Winter Classics have even had designated skate guard removers just so our puck gladiators aren’t burdened with bending over needlessly. And Hockey Day Minnesota was no different; Fox Sports North generously showed us the players walking on plywood and wood chips while taking their sweet time making their way to the ice. Just like the eye black, there’s something magical about that stroll.
1) It takes a village
Finally, Hockey Day Minnesota is quite an undertaking. It takes money and it takes “mayors.” I don’t literally mean you need multiple mayors, but in a world where there are a few people who do things, and lots of people who complain about how things are done, being the host city for Hockey Day Minnesota takes a village. You need the people to raise the money, to organize the events, to handle logistics and plan the after-party—and when it’s warmer than you thought, you need the folks to bring in more wood chips to cover up the mud. Yes, it takes a village to host Hockey Day Minnesota. Kudos to Stillwater for pulling together and hosting a wonderful event that is fast becoming one of my favorite holidays (hockey or otherwise) on the calendar.
Only at Hockey Day does this feel right