Lace up those skates, we have a reputation to uphold

The Minnesota Wild received an early Christmas present courtesy of Hockey Hall of Fame writer Michael Farber when he tabbed St. Paul as the new "Hockeytown U.S.A." in the Dec. 5 issue of "Sports Illustrated."...

The Minnesota Wild received an early Christmas present courtesy of Hockey Hall of Fame writer Michael Farber when he tabbed St. Paul as the new "Hockeytown U.S.A." in the Dec. 5 issue of "Sports Illustrated."

Why, I ask, doesn't this surprise me?

As a hockey fan, forgive me if I revert to school-yard antics when I say "Nah, Nah, Nah [blows raspberry]" toward former North Star owner Norm Green.

In the spirit of the Christmas season, Green played the proverbial Grinch. When that last moving van left the Twin Cities in 1993 for Dallas, Green thought he broke our spirit when he stole the North Stars away from us. Excuse me while I stifle a laugh. Green apparently forgot about how much hockey is part of this state.

You could say a familiar scene across this great state of ours plays out like a nostalgic Terrence Fogarty painting. On any given day or night, thousands of children and adults can be found scattered in the warming houses of arenas, outdoor rinks, frozen ponds, rivers or even backyard rinks. From west to Fargo-Moorhead area to the original hockeytown Warroad to the north, Red Wing to the east and Austin to the south, Minnesota has its roots in hockey.


From the first time a child laces up his or her skates, the love affair of this marvelous winter pastime begins.

Sometimes the politics of dealing with sports coverage or even being a hockey parent catches up with me. Once in awhile I need to remind myself of the passion for hockey and what better than to take in a mighty mite practice at our local arena.

These pint-sized kids on skates may not look pretty to a novice observer but to me, it is a beautiful sight. All I need to see is the look of joy and passion on the children's faces as they learn to play hockey. My four-year old nephew Chad is one of those pint-sized terrors on skates.

The other day, Chad came over to our house after visiting grandma. I guess he found some cardboard pieces lying around at my mom's and made himself make-shift goalie pads out of them. He even made a cardboard blocker. When I first saw him shuffling into our home, I asked him if he was playing Transformers.

Oops, my bad, as my shin can attest.

He spent most of the afternoon wearing my son's old goalie helmet and playing hockey in the house. I think it's a remarkable thing to experience first-hand a child's love for the game. It can be contagious.

The first time I was on assignment covering the Minnesota Wild in the press box, I found out one of the reasons why fans continuously sell out Xcel Energy Center. It starts with a simple gesture of a child skating out to center ice to plant the Minnesota Wild flag during pre-game introductions. Farber describes it as a "nightly goose-bump moment." It's a high you get when you share a similar passion for a sport with your neighbor in the seat next to you for three hours. The deafening roar of the crowd continuously ebbs and flows until the final horn. I like that feeling -- hockey is like a feel-good drug you never want to come down from and a sold-out crowd of 18,000 Minnesota Wild fans can attest to that night after night. I have yet to cease being amazed by the Wild's professionalism towards both the fans and press members alike.

But nothing compares to the ultimate high when I took in the "big show" back in 2004 when our local team made the state tournament. Minnesota is home to the leading state high school hockey tournament in the nation. I thought I had died and went to hockey heaven that season.


Throughout the hundreds of hockey associations across the state, there is one such dedicated group that compares to no other. Coaches, referees and opposing players fear them. You can't miss them; they are usually decked out in handmade team-colored scarves, wearing photo buttons of their kids and all those free trinkets they get from attending tournaments. Plus, they move in packs and usually converge to a section of the bleachers screaming like a bunch of wild banshees.

I've always admired hockey moms and their ability to whip up a meal in 30 minutes, juggle their kids' practices and games and yet still somehow establish a sane, functional family unit. I chuckle when I think about my son's bantam team last year. The boys had a vote to find out who had the hottest hockey mom on the team. Suffice it to say, my lovely wife didn't quite make the cut.

While the moms hog all the glory, the dads have the coolest job on the planet. We get to drive the Zamboni. Forget duct tape, "The Red Green Show" has nothing on hockey tape. If you're a dad, you've got thousands of uses for it.

Ice time to a youth player is more precious than gold. I've heard of players getting up as early as four in the morning to practice and staying out as late as 10:30 p.m.

I can go on and on about the dedication and passion for hockey in this great state of ours. The bottom line is that everyone plays a role in sharing their love for the sport. Whether you are a rink manager, concession worker, coach, referee, parent or just a fan, it all adds up to make hockey the greatest game on ice.

It's quite an honor to be named the new "Hockeytown U.S.A" by Farber, but I say let Detroit keep that title they stole from Warroad. We don't need to advertise something we already know.

Yes, my dear readers, we are truly the State of Hockey. Now lace up those skates and hit the ice, we have a reputation to uphold.

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