An Outsider’s Ode To The State Of Hockey
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I was born and raised in a place where our wild isn’t a team, it’s a short walk from the front door: Alaska.
Growing up in Anchorage, my introduction to the Minnesota hockey scene was a weekly glimpse through my father’s subscription of “Let’s Play Hockey.” I couldn’t believe there was a newspaper dedicated to the state’s youth hockey.
“You mean they have a paper dedicated to local hockey?” I thought. “That must be some kind of hockey-crazed place.”
Although Alaska is massive in size, it’s relatively small in the number of hockey teams. The Anchorage North Stars and Alaska Allstars (at the time, the two youth teams you wanted to play for) can only play each other so many times a season. The natural opponents often found in geography didn’t apply to us in the Last Frontier. You had to fly to Canada or the Lower 48 (our term for the States) to face better competition.
Leafing through the pages of “Let’s Play Hockey” at the dining room table, it seemed like in Minnesota, you only had to travel to the next zip code for a better opponent.
Reading stories about the Duluth East Grayhounds, Edina Hornets and Hill-Murray Pioneers was like reading about our rivals. Even though we’d never face these teams, the competiveness of wanting to be the best, forced me to look for adversaries on a larger scale.
In the search for better competition, I moved to Vail, Colorado in high school to play for a Midget AAA team. It was a traveling team that played everywhere from Anaheim to Philadelphia.
During my senior year, our team scheduled a trip to Minnesota to play in a round-robin tournament, the Roseau Holiday Classic. I’d never seen so many Polaris jackets in my life.
I realized there was something different about this place when, the night before our first game, a carload of teenage co-eds in green and white jackets pulled up outside of our hotel. They were screeching, sounding their horn, generally making a ruckus, and waking us up like they were Paul Revere trying to warn the Colonials that the British were coming. They didn’t write about being woken up a midnight by a bunch of high school girls anywhere in “Let’s Play Hockey.”
It was a warm welcome to Minnesota.
In the final game of the tourney we faced the Rams, and we were both undefeated in tournament play. It seemed like the entire town was packed into Memorial Arena and the rink was buzzing. There is nothing that I can remember about the game itself – other than the fact Roseau won the game and, consequently, won the tourney – but the excitement in the crowd hasn’t faded from memory.
Two years later, I was playing junior hockey for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League. It was the team’s inaugural season and half the squad was made of players from Minnesota. Fresh from high school, their hockey talk rarely moved outside of the State Tournament and the Minnesota high school legends they were familiar with. They’re language was esoteric to us ‘foreigners’ and we dubbed Minnesota “The Island.” Funny thing is, a few of us that came up with the name ended up playing on The Island.
The summer before my second season in Sioux Falls, I trained for several weeks in Brainerd at Minnesota Hockey Camps. Anyone who knows me knows I have the same rapport with off-ice training that Alaska has with sunshine in the winter. However, there was something about that dewy, summer air that motivated those of us who broke out in hives when walking anywhere near a weight room. I went back to Minnesota Hockey Camps every summer while attending college.
When it came time to pick a college, I chose one right in the heart of the State of Hockey: St. Cloud State University. There were a handful of reasons why SCSU was the right fit – as I would find out later – but hockey was the motivation for choosing central Minnesota.
One of my fondest memories was from my freshman season, when we were the second-ranked team in the nation and had a home-and-home series with the Gophers, who were ranked number one. If the atmosphere in Roseau was electric then the air of the National Hockey Center and Mariucci Arena was nuclear. The passion and excitement from both fan bases was at a peak, and when the lights went out for the introductions at the NHC the cheers from the crowd made my ears ring and my goose bumps sprouted goose bumps. I couldn’t have chosen a better place to play college hockey and it was an honor to wear the Cardinal Red and Black.
Hockey has been a huge part of my life and I was able to play the best sport in the world for more than 20 years, go to college and even play for a few years in the minors. The game took me from the outdoor rinks in Anchorage, Alaska to places throughout North America I’d never even heard of, less imagined I’d ever live. Even with my playing days long gone, I still get go to the rink everyday as member of the Wild.com staff.
I’m still fortunate enough to work in the State of Hockey, and I'm proud to call it home.