by Jim Boyle
Now that the Minnesota Wild are back in the business of playing hockey, the NHL organization has also resumed its efforts to locate Hockey Day Minnesota 2014.
Community leaders from Elk River continue to court the Wild for the right to call the Handke Pit stadium home for the January 2014 event, but the team has yet to make any announcements.
The 2013 event, held in Grand Rapids, culminated on opening day for the Minnesota Wild’s condensed 2013 season.
“This will be big for the community if we get it,” said Superintendent Mark Bezek.
The Elk River Area School Board took steps Monday in the event Elk River is awarded the 2014 event. The School Board agreed to be the signatory of the event, which includes a fund drive and seeks sponsorships.
“If we get it, we want to be able to jump on it,” Bezek said.
The Elk River City Council at a Jan. 22 meeting was asked if they wanted the district to continue to pursue the event — as there will be some financial obligations — and the consensus was to continue, according to City Administrator Cal Portner.
The Elk River Chamber of Commerce and Elk River Youth Hockey have also been partners to date.
Local officials believe Elk River has the idyllic setting in the Handke Pit. The goal of their quest is to take advantage of the glacier-formed bowl stadium that has been home to thousands of hockey players. That list includes four NHL hockey players who laced up skates there as a kid.
“We are the iconic hockey town,” Debbi Rydberg told the Star News for an earlier report on the community of Elk River’s quest. “Hockey is in our veins! Between Handke stadium and the success of our hockey program producing NHL players, we are powered by hockey.”
Portner called the Handke Pit a storybook setting. Hockey Day Minnesota takes the State of Hockey back to its origins, just like the Handke stadium harkens Elk River back to its own early days.
Dedicated in 1925 and enlarged as part of the New Deal, the Handke Pit (located adjacent to the former Elk River High School) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
District representatives along with Elk River Youth Hockey, the city of Elk River and the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce made a pitch to Fox Sports North, one of the main sponsors of the annual event.
Minnetonka had the event in 2012 on Lake Minnetonka and Grand Rapids had the 2013 event at Pokegama Lake this past month. Under normal conditions, the site of the 2014 venue would have already been announced, but planning had to be put on ice during the NHL lockout so the decision had to be delayed.
There are costs associated with hosting an event, but there are opportunities to come out way ahead in the long run, Bezek says.
“Communities get out of it what they put into it,” Bezek said.
Hockey Day Minnesota includes more than 16 hours of consecutive hockey-related programming designed as a celebration of the game from peewees to pros.
The day includes three high school games, a Minnesota Golden Gophers game at Mariucci Arena and a Wild game at the Xcel Energy Center.