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08/28/2019, 10:45am CDT
By Kevin Kurtt

Countless Minnesotans call themselves hockey players, coaches or fans, but when you live in the State of Hockey, it’s easy to forget all of the activities that everyone should add to their bucket list.

The State of Hockey is just that – a state full of hockey and hockey-related activities. Minnesota is chock-full of players, teams, rinks, games, homegrown legends, and playable lakes, ponds and rivers. 

Around every corner, there’s a new and exciting hockey activity, no matter what part of the state you find yourself in. But there are a few experiences every Minnesotan who loves hockey should add to their bucket list. 

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1. Visit the Hockey Capital of the United States

The small Northern Minnesota mining town of Eveleth came to be known as the capital of American hockey due to its incredible ability to produce elite players in the first half of the 20th century. The sport of hockey is estimated to have been played in Eveleth since 1902. 

Today, the Iron Range town of under 4,000 residents is home to a trio of iconic hockey landmarks – the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, the Big Stick and the Eveleth Hippodrome.

Opened in 1973, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Museum (above) chose Eveleth for its unique hockey history and incredible contributions to the sport. The facility is driven to preserve the rich history of ice hockey in the U.S. while recognizing the extraordinary contributions of select players, coaches, administrators, officials and teams.

Just down the road from the museum is the Big Stick, the world’s largest free-standing hockey stick. Checking in at 110 feet long and 10,000 pounds, the Big Stick (and a 700-pound hockey puck) stand guard in Eveleth’s Hockey Plaza on the corner of Monroe Street and Grant Avenue.

Just a few blocks away stands another Minnesota landmark, the Eveleth Hippodrome. Since the first day it opened its doors in 1922 to the 3,000 spectators who witnessed the Eveleth Reds defeat the Duluth Hornets, The “Hipp” has been regarded as an icy masterpiece and was recognized throughout the state as the “Madison Square Garden of the Northland.” The Hippodrome is still in service today, and is the proud bearer of seven Minnesota State High School Hockey Championship banners.

Photo: University of Minnesota

2. Have a conversation with a Minnesota hockey legend

While in Eveleth, do your darndest to find one of the state’s best players to hit the ice, John Mayasich (above). A four-time high school state champion at Eveleth (1948-51), a two-time Olympic medal winner (1956, 60), the only player to have his number retired at the University of Minnesota and the owner of several scoring records that stand to this day, Mayasich is a living hockey legend who has been known to make appearances at local events and talk hockey.

If you can’t find Mayasich, the state is full of Minnesota hockey legends like Lou Nanne, Henry Boucha, Mike Antonovich or Krissy Wendell who would be happy to regale you with tales from days on the ice gone by.

Photo: Nick Wosika

3. Experience the boys’ high school state tournament

In Indiana, it’s basketball. In Texas, it’s football. In Minnesota, it’s hockey. High school hockey is truly something special. And nothing is more special than the annual boys’ hockey state tournament in St. Paul. The Xcel Energy Center is jammed to the rafters with die-hard hockey fans watching Minnesota’s top high schoolers battle for state supremacy. 

If you can get your hands on tickets, soak in the atmosphere with bands, student sections and groups of nervous parents creating a buzz unlike anything else the state has to offer. Make sure to arrive early on day 1 to watch the on-ice introductions of the players, coaches, cheerleaders, mascots and officials, and stay until the very end late on Saturday night when one team jubilantly tosses its helmets, sticks and gloves in the air while the other team is overcome with the agony of defeat.

Not to be forgotten is what happens next door on the final two days of state tournament weekend – the Let’s Play Hockey Expo. Billed as the largest consumer hockey show, the Expo is a must for every hockey-loving family.

Let’s Play Hockey photo by Mike Thill

4. Attend a high school section final

If you’re concerned about not getting state tournament tickets, simply attend one of the prior week’s section championship games at arenas across the state. For many, nothing matches the passion and emotion on display in these games to determine who earns a trip to St. Paul and who stays home.

Photo: Tim Kolehmainen

5. Go to a Roseau vs. Warroad game

You don’t have to wait for the playoffs to get a sense of what high school hockey means to many communities across the state. Perhaps nowhere is that passion more evident than in the home of the state’s northernmost hockey-mad cities, Roseau and Warroad. Separated by just 22 miles and just minutes from the Canadian border, Roseau and Warroad are Minnesota’s quintessential hockey towns (with Warroad billing itself Hockeytown USA). Twice each season, the Ram and Warrior boys’ and girls’ hockey teams battle in “The Game” for Mariucci Conference (boys) or Greater Minnesota Conference (girls) bragging rights. The contests in both towns are intense and regularly played in front of capacity crowds. If there’s one high school game you need to see at some point in your lifetime, make this the one. Beware, however, it’s a six-hour drive from the Twin Cities to Roseau or Warroad.

6. Take in the full downtown St. Paul hockey experience

Prefer to get your hockey fix in the Twin Cities? Minnesota’s capital city might have just what you need. First, get your hands on some Minnesota Wild tickets and head to downtown St. Paul a couple hours before the game. Make sure to have dinner at either Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub (a hangout jam-packed with hockey memorabilia) or Herbie’s on the Park (a restaurant inspired by the legacy of Herb Brooks). Speaking of Herbie, make sure to get your photo taken with the Herb Brooks statue just outside the doors of the St. Paul RiverCentre before you head into the X. Once inside, don’t head to your seats. Instead, take your time checking out all of the historical displays, Minnesota high school jerseys, trophies and photos throughout the arena. But don’t be late getting to your spot for the game. You don’t want to miss yelling “Let’s! Play! Hockey!” just moments before the opening faceoff.

Photo: Christine Wisch

7. Catch a Minnesota vs. Wisconsin or North Dakota game

Not a big NHL fan? No problem. Just a few miles down the road sits 3M Arena at Mariucci, a 10,000-seat maroon and gold shrine to University of Minnesota men’s hockey. Though attendance has dipped in recent years, that’s not a problem when archrivals Wisconsin or North Dakota come to town. If you can somehow nab some pricey tickets, get to the game early to check out the team photos and murals from the nearly 100-year history of Golden Gopher hockey. Before finding your seats in an arena that has nothing but good ones, watch the band march around the concourse, then spell out M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A after every goal against the hated Badgers or Fighting Hawks.

Let’s Play Hockey photo by Mike Thill

8. Attend a Golden Gopher road game

Perhaps you’d rather cheer against the Gophers. If that’s the case, head to Bemidji, Duluth, Mankato or St. Cloud when the U of M rolls into town. All four of those cities boast some awfully nice arenas of their own, and the seats are usually pretty full when the Gophers are the opponent. Historically, Minnesota has dominated its in-state rivals, but recent years have seen the tables turn as the Beavers, Bulldogs, Mavericks and Huskies own a 22-7-1 record vs. the Gophers since the start of the 2014-15 season.

Let’s Play Hockey photo by Mike Thill

9. Go to a Minnesota vs. Wisconsin women’s game

The State of Hockey is blessed with a nation-leading number of girls’ hockey players. And the best of those players commonly end up wearing the “M” at the University of Minnesota or the “W” at the University of Wisconsin. At least two times each season, the Gophers host the Badgers at Ridder Arena, one of the nation’s first and only facilities devoted to a women’s college hockey program. The regular season games between Goldy and Bucky are always competitive and are often a preview of postseason match-ups that inevitably help decide which team will be in the driver’s seat to earn conference and national champion honors.

Let’s Play Hockey photo by Mike Thill

10. Head to TRIA Rink for a Minnesota Whitecaps game

Want to see some of the world’s best women’s hockey players face off, but don’t want to fly to the Olympic Winter Games? You’re in luck. Just head to the 1-year-old TRIA Rink in downtown St. Paul – the practice home of the Minnesota Wild – to take in a Minnesota Whitecaps game. The defending NWHL champions feature a slew of past, present and future national and Olympic team members, battling for women’s pro hockey supremacy in front of capacity crowds.

Photo: T.E. Morris/TeMo Photo

11. Take in a night of Da Beauty League

Hockey fans in Minnesota really are spoiled. Where else can you spend $10 to watch three games in a night between teams filled with current and future NHL stars? In the State of Hockey, you simply head to Edina’s Braemar Arena on Monday and Wednesday nights in July and August to watch the spectacle that is Da Beauty League. Serving as a training ground for players as they prepare for their upcoming pro and college seasons, Da Beauty League  games are fast-paced with tons of goals. But the action doesn’t stop on the ice. Before and after each game, fans line up outside the arena to catch a glimpse, autograph or selfie with one of the many NHL beauties that dot the rosters.

Photo: Christine Wisch

12. See the Stanley Cup when a Minnesotan inevitably brings it to his hometown each summer

Every summer at a pair of cities across North America – just not St. Paul yet – the Stanley Cup Final is contested to determine who gets to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup. And, almost annually, a Minnesota native is a member of each season’s NHL champion and is awarded with a day to spend with the 34-pound trophy. What that means is that, although the Wild is yet to win hockey’s biggest prize, the Stanley Cup is likely to make an appearance somewhere in the State of Hockey. Usually, the player will bring the Cup to his childhood hockey arena, allowing the public a chance to get their picture taken with the 3-foot-tall trophy.

Photo: Christine Wisch

13. Watch a random youth hockey game

Those homegrown Stanley Cup champions got their start in hockey as Mites, Squirts, PeeWees and Bantams at rinks across Minnesota. Stop in any one of those arenas to see the next generation of possible NHL stars playing the game they love with their neighborhood buddies. There’s never a cost to attend and you’re sure to be impressed by the skills displayed by even the youngest of skaters. 

Photo: Christine Wisch

14. Help coach a youth hockey team

Do more than just watch Minnesota’s youngest hockey players, and give back to the game by coaching one of the many youth teams in the State of Hockey. The community-based associations are always in need of coaches with a love and knowledge of the game, and even if you didn’t grow up playing hockey, there exist countless resources to learn to be an awesome youth hockey coach. 

15. Attend one of the massive youth hockey tournaments in the area

Click here and take a look at the astounding number of youth hockey tournaments offered across Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. Although each of those events offer a chance for young hockey players to earn some hardware, there’s one that stands out for its sheer size and scope – the Squirt International just across the border in Fargo, N.D. Held over three weekends in February, the International is billed as the largest Squirt hockey tournament in the world. The first two weekends, featuring Squirt B and B1 teams, include 80 teams each, while the final weekend has 64 Squirt A teams. While the games between teams from around the state and country are great, the real entertainment begins before the tournament with a Thursday-night skills competition, open skate and the beginning of a weekend filled with pin trading.

Photo: Brian Nelson

16. Go to a Minnesota Hockey State Tournament

Across the state every March, Junior Gold/19U, Bantam/15U and PeeWee/12U teams battle for the right to be called state champions at one of 14 Minnesota Hockey State Tournaments. It’s the culmination of a five-month season of early-morning practices, late-night games, off-ice training, road trips and team camaraderie. Over three days, eight teams at each level face off to determine who is the king of community-based hockey in Minnesota.

17. Experience Hockey Day Minnesota

One of the hockey world’s most unique events takes place outdoors every January somewhere in the North Star State. Originated in 2007, Hockey Day Minnesota (HDM) exists to celebrate the game that has made Minnesota the State of Hockey. HDM has turned into a huge event that now stretches over three days and features  public open skates, alumni games, youth hockey games, high school games and college games, all played in the great outdoors. Minneapolis will host the 14th annual statewide hockey celebration at Parade Stadium on Jan. 16-18, 2020. 

18. Play pick-up hockey outside

There is perhaps nothing as pure in the game as heading to your local pond or park to take part in the age-old tradition of pick-up hockey. You lace up your skates in the warming house or in a snowbank, head out onto the rink and throw your stick at center ice where a kid with a toque pulled over his eyes tosses sticks in either direction to determine the teams. From there, it’s fun, creative hockey where the score doesn’t really matter, coaches are non-existent and lifting the puck is strictly prohibited. Can’t find a game at your local outdoor rink? Or perhaps it’s a little too warm for a game of pond hockey? No problem. Head to Roseville’s Guidant John Rose MN Oval which features the largest artificial outdoor skating surface in North America. Head there during any public skating time from November and March, and you’re sure to find a pick-up game. 

Photo: Christine Wisch

19. Play in a pond hockey tournament

So you’ve honed your game at the park or the pond to the point that you’d like to take it to another level. You’re in luck. Minnesota offers several pond hockey tournaments where you and your buddies can test your mettle against teams from around the state and nation. Chief among the outdoor hockey tournaments is the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, contested each January on Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis. If you can’t make it to Nokomis, there are several other options around the state, including tournaments in Excelsior (on Lake Minnetonka), Grand Rapids (on McKinney Lake), North Mankato (on Spring Lake) and Fairmont (on Sisseton Lake).

Photo: Vintage Minnesota Hockey

20. Experience a game in one of Minnesota’s coldest arenas

You haven’t experienced “cold” until you’ve watched a hockey game in one of the state’s most frigid ice arenas. Try Minnehaha in Minneapolis, Fryberger in Duluth or Bronco Arena in International Falls, to name a few of many.

Photo: Vintage Minnesota Hockey

21. Watch a game in an old Minnesota hockey barn

Once you’ve thawed out from watching a game in a cold arena, shift your focus to watching a game in an old arena. The oldest are a couple of 1920s-era Hippodromes in Eveleth and White Bear Lake and a 1935 gem in the Hibbing Memorial Building. 

22. Play beer league hockey

Hockey is far more than a child’s game in Minnesota. It’s a lifestyle with deep roots, and it is increasingly becoming a lifetime sport. The State of Hockey now boasts over 10,000 registered men and women players over the age of 18. Many of those players play what is commonly called beer league hockey where adults pay good money to play at odd hours, and where it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s whether you brought the beer. 

23. Get your skates sharpened at one of many small shops around the state

If you’re going to play the game, you better make sure your skates are sharpened. And why not take your skates to a place where the person sharpening your blades knows your name? While there are plenty of options, there’s something special about taking your skates to a local mom-and-pop shop.

24. Tour locations from “The Mighty Ducks”

One of the most famous movies filmed and set in Minnesota, “The Mighty Ducks” was shot in locations throughout the Twin Cities. Sites include Mickey’s Diner and Rice Park in St. Paul, Peavey Park, Parade Ice Garden, Theodore Wirth Park and Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis and New Hope Arena.

25. Grow out your hockey hair

Can you really call yourself a Minnesotan if you’ve never had a mullet?

Tag(s): State Of Hockey  Youth  News  College  Pro  Kevin Kurtt