Postcard: A State of Bliss
I got an offer I could
not refuse. Two hockey games in two cities on one day. Is there
a better way to spend the day after Thanksgiving? Couldn't think
of one, so I decided to embark on the doubleheader. The day would
start in St. Paul, where the Minnesota Wild hosted the Colorado
Avalanche, and conclude in Minneapolis, site of the Minnesota-Michigan
Even as a Minnesota native,
I'm sometimes put off by the attitude the state's residents have
toward the game of hockey. The game wasn't invented in the Land
of 10,000 Lakes, but I get the sense the people here feel they perfected
it. And they're not afraid to tell you that.
The pervasiveness of
this five-holier-than-thou mantra slaps you in the face as soon
as you walk into the Xcel Energy Center, the home of the Wild. (As
a side note, every hockey fan should take the opportunity to visit
this arena. If there's a nicer rink in the country -- no, the world
-- I would like to see it. If P. Diddy built a hockey arena, it
would be the "X".)
Anyway, upon entering
the facility, one becomes extremely familiar with the phrase "State
of Hockey", the centerpiece of the Wild's marketing campaign.
The slogan not only refers to how the game is woven into the fabric
of life in Minnesota, but also alludes to the collective belief
of Gopher Staters that they're on the cutting edge of hockey progress.
It occurs to me Michigan,
home of the defending Stanley Cup champions, seven Division I teams
and more players registered with USA Hockey than any other state,
could claim the similar title as could Massachusetts, which boasts
the storied Bruins, as slew of Division I teams and a top-notch
high school system. But Minnesota got it first, so there.
Walking the concourse,
visitors can peruse oversized photographs of area rinks from the
1930s and '40s, read newspaper accounts of state hockey tournament
championship games from the 1960s and gaze at sweaters from each
of the state's prep teams. After a home team goal, a deep horn blows
and fog billows from a lighthouse high above one corner of the rink
as its beacon dances around the rink, a nod to Lake Superior, a
little more than two hours to the north. I get it -- "State
of Hockey", nice tie-in. But it's still a marketing ploy, right?
There were a lot of families
at the Xcel Center, at least it seemed that way. Kids of all ages,
wearing not just Wild gear, but Gopher jerseys and sweaters from
their high school or youth teams, places like Duluth, Red Wing and
Apple Valley. Granted, it was an afternoon game, but it was a welcome
change of pace from say, Joe Louis Arena, where the demographic
is primarily drunken octopus-tossers, or Denver's Pepsi Center,
which is usually filled to capacity with nouveau-riche Coloradoans
who don't know the difference between Paul Kariya and South Korea.
Kids were also
featured on the video that played on the scoreboard as the team
took the ice, as was the state's hockey history. The crowd cheered
as if attending a game at their hometown high school rink -- let's
go WHY-UHLD!!! Then, during the first intermission -- the one featuring
a mascot hockey game, as local mini-mites skated during the second
break -- came the
Rock and Roll Part II
this ain't. Set to a tune that sounds like a German drinking song,
this ode to Minnesota's hockey greatness features such verses as
"The day they try to take this game, Is the day the gloves
come off" and "We took our knocks, In the penalty box,
Our mother was the referee." Corny as 200 acres of Iowa farmland,
it was hard to tell how many fans were actually singing along. But
it seemed like the ditty was the state's version of "Kumbaya".
The game had its moments.
A 2-2 tie, the contest featured a monster glove save by Patrick
Roy 16 seconds into the first period, an Avalanche power-play goal
on which the scoring summary (Forsberg from Blake and Sakic) read
like a Hall of Fame induction list and a pretty game-tying tally
by Antti Laaksonen of the Wild early in the third period. The former
University of Denver star picked off a sloppy cross-ice pass in
the Colorado end and beat Roy with a backhand.
Before leaving the Xcel
Energy Center after the game to make my way to Mariucci, I spent
about 15 minutes watching the aforementioned mite team go through
a short instructional teaching session with a member of the Wild
organization, followed by a scrimmage. The kids were having the
time of their young lives, especially during a drill in which the
coaches were forced to skate end line to end line if they failed
to hit the net from the other end of the ice.
Nice touch, I thought
as I departed. I don't know many NHL teams placing that type of
emphasis on giving back to youth hockey. Maybe this "State
of Hockey" thing isn't as hokey as it seems.
Perhaps the meaning of
the game to the state of Minnesota was most accurately -- and unwittingly
-- summed up by Wild forward Richard Park, who was born in Seoul,
South Kariya...I mean, Korea.
"We are a very close-knit
team," said Park, who scored his squad's first goal. "and