It's finally here Wild fans! Yes, Hockey Day Minnesota is tomorrow and Fox Sports North will provide all-day coverage of hockey for all you folks that just can't get enough of the game. While it won't get the national play that New Year's Day bowl games get, or even Super Sunday, but like those days, HDM is one of those types of days that you can and should probably sit in front of the television and watch hockey from sun-up to sun-down.
In year's past, HDM has been held at multiple sites all over Minnesota. It's been held on Baudette Bay on Lake of the Woods, Hermantown, Moorhead, Lake Phalen, Lake Pokegama, and last year and Handke Pit in Elk river. Since 2007 in HDM's inaugural year in Baudette, weather has played in interesting role for the outdoor games. Who could forget the wickedly extreme cold in Baudette? Or how about the strong winds blowing snow across the lake in the distance during the Grand Rapids Thunderhawks and Benilde-St. Margaret's on Lake Pokegama? What about the pristine outdoor conditions that Handke Pit had last year? Yes, Hockey Day Minnesota has featured the best and worst Minnesota weather conditions throughout its history, but the kids continued to play no matter how beautiful, cold, or treacherous it was on the ice.
The day, while it prominently features the game at the high school level, also is capped off by the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey game, and the Minnesota Wild. The Wild have gone 6-2 since the inaugural HDM and have won the last five. Some Minnesota-born players have been big players on this day too. Nate Prosser, an Elk River native, scored a goal last season. Eden Prairie's Chad Rau had his first goal of his NHL career in 2012's edition. Matt Cullen from Moorhead, MN, got a goal in that same game against Dallas Stars.
The Gophers have featured many WCHA rivals from North Dakota, Denver, and St. Cloud State. Last year they hosted Big Ten Conference foe, Ohio State, and beat them handily behind Sam Warning's natural hat trick. This year, the University will host a border battle with the Badgers of Wisconsin. It will be the first time Minnesota hosts Wisconsin for HDM.
I used to create my own little Hockey Days when I was a freshman in high school. I used to walk to the Shakopee Community Center and watch the varsity squad take on a Missota conference rival, then head home to watch the Gophers and Wild play. I spent a whole Saturday of my youth watching hockey rather than hang out with friends like every other high schooler did.
I remember when the Wild hosted the Islanders in 2008. My wife, then girlfriend at the time, went out to Buffalo Wild Wings in Chanhassen and walked in right when Brent Burns scored the overtime winner. The whole place went nuts. Even in its second year, the day was resonating with hockey fans across the state.
When the weather is nice like this weekend is supposed be, I even try to get out on the ice myself and find some kids and try and start a pick-up game. Just free, organic, and spontaneous competition playing hockey with people of all skill types can sometimes be the most fun. Some of my favorite memories included skating as much as I could and playing hockey with my friends at Lion's Park or the community center. Hockey Day Minnesota, for me, brings some of that back - memories of fun people, myself when I was actually in shape, and the crisp, cold air deepening the lungs with every breath. That's what the kids playing outside at Holman Field are going to be reminded of.
The day is a celebration of hockey at all levels and the way it is intertwined with life in Minnesota. Go out and celebrate it!