Hockey Day was my idea

The Duluth East and Lakeville North junior varsity hockey teams played an outdoor game at Bayfront Park in Duluth Feb. 5.
The Duluth East and Lakeville North junior varsity hockey teams played an outdoor game at Bayfront Park in Duluth Feb. 5.

I don’t want to brag but I invented Hockey Day Minnesota.

Hockey Day Minnesota has become an incredibly popular event played out on statewide television every winter. Professional, collegiate, high school and youth hockey games are aired one-after-the-other and cheered all-day by tens of thousands of fans.

It’s a brilliant event.

I’m glad I thought of it.

Duluth has been selected as host city for this, the 10th annual Hockey Day Minnesota.

Serving as the host city is a big deal. It means the centerpiece for Hockey Day Minnesota will be built in your front yard: An outdoor hockey rink. And on this outdoor ice rink high school hockey teams will face-off in front of television cameras, news crews, pizza vendors, and hundreds of fans wearing enough Thinsulate to stop a slap shot.

The outdoor high school hockey game part? The part that holds Hockey Day together? Makes it special for everyone?

That was my idea.

You can look it up. The proof is buried somewhere in the White Bear Press archives.

About 25 years ago, before the Internet, I wrote a column for the White Bear Press that described this foolish, deranged and completely irresponsible idea of kids playing hockey outdoors. The idea was to flood a rink off the shores of White Bear Lake, put up some boards, plexiglass, a few bleachers and hold a hockey game.

Before I wrote the column I pitched the idea to the President of the White Bear Hockey Association.

“It would be great,” I said. “Kids battling it out in the elements, playing hockey the old-fashioned way – outdoors – like God intended it.”

Hockey fans would love it, I said. Hockey is inherently an outdoor game. Real fans know the best place to play and watch the sport is outdoors. The idea of not only defeating your opponent but conquering the cold, it goes all the way back to tailgating at Met Stadium before a Viking game. My idea was guaranteed to draw thousands of people to the community and win cheers from hockey fans far and wide.

The guy looked at me like I just requested a rule change permitting two goalies in the crease. He just shook his head and said: “It can’t be done.”

He had all kinds of excuses: time-consuming rink maintenance, uncooperative coaches and players, unpredictable weather, on and on.

The column was published anyway and no one paid any attention to it. My idea died like a puck in a snow bank.

Then in 2003 the National Hockey League held the Heritage Classic. The Edmonton Oilers hosted the Montreal Canadians outside in a football stadium. 57,000 people showed up despite below zero temperatures. It was a revelation.

The League turned the outdoor game into an annual event. Now millions of fans anticipate it each year. Teams fight for the right to play outdoors; and cities beg for the privilege to host it.

Just like Duluth did this year.

Close to 5,000 people are expected to attend Hockey Day Minnesota at Bayfront Park in Duluth on Saturday. Fox Sports North will broadcast the event like it was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup and hundreds of hockey players and fans will have a life long memory.

If only White Bear would have listened to me.

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