When Hockey Day Minnesota arrives in Mankato later this month, most southern Minnesota residents are likely to be a little startled.
The 15-year-old event has grown to the point that its name is now about two-thirds misleading.
Sure, Hockey Day Minnesota still takes place in Minnesota.
But while “hockey” remains the centerpiece, Mankato’s version of the extravaganza will include much more than the three dozen matches to be played on the temporary outdoor skating rink at Blakeslee Stadium. And the “day” will last more than a week.
For diehard puck fans, 16.-23. January evoke a state of euphoria. For the rest of the community, organizers are looking to create a unique midwinter outdoor party with a Hockey Day Village complete with wood stoves, ice skates for family ice skating, food and beverage vendors and a massively heated tent with Hockey Day memorabilia and three nights of live music.
“We know hockey is not everyone’s first love, but it’s going to be a winter festival vibe,” said David Wittenberg, co-chair of the local organizing committee. “… It should be a fun experience for the community.”
Wittenberg laughed when he told that the first Hockey Day Minnesota – an event in 2007 in Baudette – had a reported operating budget of $ 30,000. The budget for the 2022 version is $ 1.4 million when sponsorships, tickets, food and beverage sales and other income and expenses are included.
“I’m just so proud and humbled by the generosity,” Wittenberg said of the corporate donations, crediting the initial financial support from the Orthopedic and Fracture Clinic as the catalyst that led to dozens of additional sponsorships. “… We have once again been overwhelmed by a community and a region that always finds a way to say ‘How can we help?'”
Created as a partnership between the NHL’s Minnesota Wild and Bally Sports North (a regional television network formerly known as FOX Sports North), Hockey Day Minnesota had already been screwed up in scale by host communities in recent years after starting small with Baudette in 2007 and 2008. Subsequent hosts were St. Paul, Hermantown, Moorhead, Lake Minnetonka / Excelsior, Grand Rapids, Elk River, St. Paul, Duluth, Stillwater, St. Cloud, Bemidji and Minneapolis.
Mankato was selected to be the first location in southern Minnesota in 2021, though the region had to be patient after the event was pushed back a year by the pandemic.
The first one-day event in 2007 featured only a single outdoor high school match at Baudette Bay, followed by college and pro matches at the traditional home arenas of the Minnesota Gophers and the Wild in Minneapolis and St. Louis. Paul. The games were only associated with the live broadcasts on FOX Sports North.
A pair of outdoor games between high school teams for boys became the standard in subsequent years with a third game involving high school teams for girls added in 2012. When St. Cloud hosted in 2018, the temporary ice rink on Lake George hosted five games, including Hockey Day Minnesota’s first outdoor collegiate competition – a face-off of St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth women’s teams. St. Cloud was also the first to add live music concerts.
Now Mankato comes and pushes the event into new territory.
The puck falls for the first time at Minnesota State University’s football stadium at 9 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 16, with Squirts from the Mankato area and New Ulm testing the ice. Seven youth games follow that day, along with evening games for adults. Monday and Tuesday, another nine youth matches follow together.
On Wednesday, January 19, it is Hockey for Her Night that culminates in a nightly rivalry match between Mankato East and the West girls teams.
All of these games offer free access to the ice rink and Hockey Day Village. Parking costs $ 10.
Thursday brings Community Night and the first entry at $ 10. The Blakeslee ice rink will host the Minnesota Wounded Warriors Game with military veterans and a Southern Minnesota Celebrity Game followed by a 20:30 concert in the entertainment tent by the Johnny Holm Band.
Friday Night Lights on January 21st brings an entry fee of $ 20 to the East-West boys’ match, an MSU Alumni Game and a concert with IV Play.
Then comes the big day – the official hockey day in Minnesota – on Saturday, January 22nd. Participants giving over $ 65 for a full-day pass will have a chance to start the day by watching a flag ceremony and a flyover hosted by North Star Aviation and then a lot of hockey.
The day starts with two high school matches between teams outside the region, followed by what will undoubtedly be the most visited match – between MSU’s top-ranked Mavericks and the University of St. Thomas at 16:30. The final high school game and Mavericks competition is scheduled for live broadcasts on Bally Sports North. That night’s wild game against the Chicago Blackhawks from the Xcel Center will be shown on big screen TV in the entertainment tent while the Shane Martin Band performs.
Family Day on Sunday 23 January will once again offer free admission to a mix of youth, adult and alumni games at Blakeslee, highlighted by a 1pm competition between MSU and St. Thomas women’s team.
Along with campfire sites, participants will have the opportunity to warm up in the Entertainment Tent, which will have a capacity of 1,700 to 2,000. A number of food and beverage suppliers are planned. Another tent for company sponsors will be in an elevated position overlooking the Blakeslee course.
The motivation behind the ambitious series of events and facilities was to showcase southern Minnesota and the strong hockey culture that now exists here – along with giving a boost to the hospitality industry after two difficult years.
“We really wanted to make sure this was about economic impact,” Wittenberg said. “… We hope to help hoteliers and restaurants – some of the segments that were most hurt.”
Hosting Hockey Day Minnesota will also bring significant media exposure to Mankato. Bally Sports North will broadcast features on hockey in southern Minnesota throughout Saturday’s all-day broadcast from Mankato. Twin Cities TV stations are also expected to have live coverage of Mankato.
And sports talk radio station KFAN is bringing its “Power Trip Morning Show” to the entertainment tent, which broadcasts live from 5: 30-9 a.m. on the morning of January 21st. As it’s a Friday, regular listeners can be thrilled with the prospect of attending the show’s popular weekly quiz – “Initials Game” – live and in person.
Leaders from The Wild are more than happy with what’s on the schedule, Wittenberg said.
“They are blown away by what we have created here. They think this is literally going to be a very special hockey day.”
About 11,000 tickets have already been issued, the city’s top row of hotels is being filled up and organizers are hoping for a large turnout. All net proceeds from the event, which has the Mankato Area Foundation as its tax agent, will be used to support hockey in the area, including possible contributions to a new sheet of indoor ice cream.
“We feel we want to be able to make a meaningful impact by investing in ice cream and hockey,” Wittenberg said.