Thousands Attend Hockey Day Minnesota at MSU | Local News
MANKATO — Thousands of people turned out for Hockey Day Minnesota on Saturday to watch a slate of games on an outdoor rink, enjoy an outdoor village of food vendors and fire pits, and take refuge in the warmth of a huge tent where live music crowned the evening.
“I’m impressed with the heated tent, the fire pits and all the facilities,” said Val Altendorfer, who along with her husband Tim was on a day of hockey games. The Faribault couple, who are huge Wild fans, attended a hockey day in Duluth years ago and said the Mankato event built on tradition with additions such as live music and more amenities and events.
Temperatures moderated into the teens after a week of freezing cold, and late afternoon saw the start of a few inches of snow at the Minnesota State University Mavericks game.
Hockey day at MSU’s Blakeslee Stadium kicked off with a bang on Saturday morning. The Warriors hockey team, made up of injured veterans, unfurled a huge American flag for a flag ceremony. The opening ceremonies included a flyover by the Minnesota State University Aviation Team, with assistance from North Star Aviation.
Tim Altendorfer played hockey growing up in Hastings and coached bantam hockey for years. He said watching Saturday’s games on an outdoor rink was the epitome of hockey.
“When I played, we played outdoors. We didn’t have indoor games. We practiced on golf course lakes or ponds.”
Apple Valley’s Michael Gilmore was with his son Weston, 4, inside one of the many tents lining the hockey village, in turn playing a game of ‘knockout hockey’, where people were knocking hockey pucks on a screen to score as many points as possible in a limited time.
He had attended a hockey day a few years ago and said the Mankato organizers had done a good job at their inaugural event. “This one is awesome.”
MSU varsity junior Mevaeh Braucks and her friend Kate Woeste, both from the St. Cloud area, were warming up around one of the fire pits between games. Braucks attended her first hockey game when she arrived at MSU and was hooked.
“I’m a huge hockey fan. I’ve been to every Mavs game since I came to MSU. It’s so full of energy and it lets me express my aggression by watching it,” said she said laughing.
For Woeste, who came to visit her friend, Saturday was her first experience watching hockey. “It was a lot of fun. I just wish I could skate like them.”
Andy and Niki Hedlund, along with their son Will and daughter Stella, have been attending Hockey Day events since Thursday. Andy took part in the MSU alumni game on Friday night. Now living in Maple Grove, the family stayed in a house they rented near MSU through Airbnb.
“It was great here, great fun,” Niki said.
Beyond all expectation
The local Hockey Day committee was unsure how many tickets would sell for Saturday, the main event of what has been transformed into an eight-day celebration, co-chair Michelle Schooff said.
“We exceeded our expectations. Our target for Saturday was 8,000 and we exceeded it (in ticket sales) earlier in the week, so we increased our capacity and security.” Final figures for Saturday were expected to be around 9,000.
The event required 500 volunteers.
“They do everything from supervising auxiliary rinks where little kids skate, to storing firewood in fire pits, taking out the trash, leading people to the bleachers, keeping people out of the glass so that everything the world to see, and just overall crowd management,” Schooff said.
Tim Gulden, retired St. Paul Sheriff’s Department commander and now private security consultant, oversaw paid and volunteer security for Hockey Day.
He coordinated efforts between Mankato Police, MSU Security, the Minnesota Wild and Bally Sports, which provides all live coverage of Hockey Day games.
“It’s just about ensuring the safety of all guests and being prepared for any emergencies that may arise,” Gulden said of putting in place the substantial security efforts.
Beyond paid professional security on site, volunteers helped keep tabs on large crowds.
“Things went really well. No problems,” he said.
The first ticketed event was on Thursday night when the Johnny Holm Band performed in the 18,000 square foot tent.
Friday featured the Mankato East vs West High School game and the Minnesota State University Alumni Game, followed by music from IV Play.
Saturday included high school games for boys and girls, the MSU Mavs vs. St. Thomas, a youth skills challenge, live streaming of the Xcel Energy Center’s Wild game on jumbotrons and live music.
Sunday wraps up the festivities with MAHA teams, an MSU Women’s Alumni Game, MSU Women vs. St. Thomas, Steele County Blades vs. Minnesota Mullets, the first-ever junior game as part of Hockey Day Minnesota and the adult league. (hockeydaymnmankato.com).
Anna Thill, president of Visit Mankato, said Hockey Day is a boost for the region.
“It puts us on the map. It gives us a real tool to attract people. It’s a gem to have in our community, especially at this time of year,” Thill said.
While it will be some time before Thill has detailed information on the number of out-of-town visitors Hockey Day has drawn, she knows the appeal is significant.
East Grand Forks alone brought a large contingent to its high school game on Saturday. The school booster club purchased 400 tickets, with the East Grand Forks team, family and fans arriving.
Dan Nowacki was one of the East Grand Forks fans on Hockey Day and was impressed with the Mankato venue.
“They keep building on it. It’s really good. Your local brewery even has a Hockey Day beer,” he said. The Mankato Brewery produced a “Hockey Day MN Cross-Czech Pilsner” beer to celebrate the event.
Thill said the local committee had done a great job.
“It’s a great story to have it in southern Minnesota for the first time and all the things the committee added to it. Southern Minnesota raised the bar,” Thill said.
Schooff said the committee wanted to make the event special.
“This is the first time it’s been held south of the metro area and we wanted to make our region proud – to show that this is how we play hockey in southern Minnesota.”
Fireplaces are successful
With below normal cold, the dozens of fire pits around the main tent were a big draw.
The steel pits were one of the many things donated by area businesses and individuals for Hockey Day.
“We designed and cut them on our lasers and formed them,” Jones Metal’s Dave Richards told Mankato.
“It was a pretty big project. They’re big and there’s a lot of steel in them,” he said.
“I’ve heard good comments about them. They were probably well used in this cold.”
Fireplaces are one of a number of donated items that are auctioned.
“There are the fire pits, plus two larger fire elements that Kato Manufacturing made that we’re auctioning off,” Schooff said. “And there are jerseys signed by former NFL stars, and there are custom tables and bars built by RW Carlstrom.”
Dozens of businesses and organizations donated items, time or money.
Earlier in the week, the Crystal Valley Co-op stepped in to help with the freezing cold.
“Crystal Valley donated all the propane we need for heating. It’s so cold we need a lot for the big tent and the other heated tents and benches (for the players). It would have been a big expense that we don’t have now, so that was very generous,” Schooff said.
“Once we’ve covered our expenses, any remaining money stays in town and stays in a Mankato Area Foundation fund, which is our fiscal agent.”
Schooff said the money will be used to grow hockey locally. “It can be scholarships for young people or maybe expansion of the ice. That’s why we all wanted to participate in this.
The hotels are full
Hotels in the area began to be booked shortly after the Hockey Day location was announced.
“We are fully booked Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” said Chris Crowell, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn.
“A while ago we knew it was going to be big. Everyone in town is sold out,” he said.
“It comes at a good time. We had a relatively good November and December, but we’ve had a small number of bookings canceled recently due to omicron. It’s affected things but nothing like the year last,” Crowell said.