Hockey Day Minnesota at Handke takes national stage

• Eighth annual event today in historic Elk River venue will be first time HDM has been on national television

by Bruce Strand

Sports Editor

The State of Hockey has taken up residence in the Handke Pit along Main Street in Elk River today, Saturday, for the much-anticipated Hockey Day Minnesota 2014.

This photo taken by Bruce Schmidt, an Elk hockey alum and Hockey Day Minnesota volunteer, shows the rink built in the Handke Pit during a youth hockey game last week.
This photo taken by Bruce Schmidt, an Elk hockey alum and Hockey Day Minnesota volunteer, shows the rink built in the Handke Pit during a youth hockey game last week.

Keynote games for local fans are the Elk boys taking on Stillwater at 1:30 p.m. and the Elk girls facing Anoka at 4 p.m. Around 3,000 fans are expected for a major happening, which Mayor John Dietz says transcends hockey.

“I’ve said from the beginning that this is way more than about hockey,” Dietz said. “It’s about the whole community of Elk River coming together to put on a first-class event and show that we can do something like this. I think this will be one of the greatest community events that’s ever happened in Elk River.”

Dietz credited school district Superintendent Mark Bezek for proposing this idea and getting the ball rolling more than a year ago, and the school, city, businesses and individuals for answering the call.

“Hundreds of people have donated countless hours to make this happen. I am amazed at what they have done.”

That includes, the mayor said, building an outdoor rink which, with rented bleachers tents, and lights, is a first-class facility, along with selling $100,000 worth of sponsorships, and close to 3,000 advance tickets (at $25 for adults) as of Wednesday.

“Even the casual hockey fan is interested because this is more of an event than a series of hockey games,” Dietz said.

Elk River youth hockey teams, Elk alumni and the Rogers girls and boys teams have already played at Handke this week, providing the drum roll for today’s nationally televised high school games from Handke followed by Minnesota Gophers and Minnesota Wild games. FOX Sports North, in conjunction with the Wild, recently announced that HDM will be televised nationally for the first time.

Dietz lauded the good publicity Elk River is getting through FSN (“They mention Hockey Day during all the Wild games”) and metro news outlets for hosting the event.

Here in Elk River, the action will be up close, live and personal. Tickets are available at the gate, and there will be shuttle buses running to and from the Sherburne County Fairgrounds to bring people to the downtown Elk River venue.

Among fans eagerly awaiting the event is Bill Hudson, WCCO TV veteran reporter and former anchor who was an Elk goalie from 1971-74. Hudson is involved in the coverage, too. He interviewed the original Elk coach, Walt Schumacher, and two 1960s players, Grub Thomas and Bruce Schmidt, for a report that aired Wednesday.

“Hockey Day is a big event that’s like an all-ages hockey reunion,” said Hudson, while watching the Elk boys practice Wednesday after he and his crew wrapped up their work. “I’m expecting about 15 of my teammates to be here. I’ve never been able to go to Hockey Day, because it’s usually out-state, so I am really looking forward to being here Saturday.”

Hudson has fond memories of the venue, as do almost all Elk River natives who skated.

“Handke is where I learned how to skate,” Hudson said. “In fact, my grandmother skated here when it was still just a pond.”

The stadium is on the National Register of Historic Places.

This is the eighth annual Hockey Day Minnesota. Previous sites were Baudette Bay (2007-08), St. Paul (2009), Hermantown (2010), Moorhead (2011), Lake Minnetonka-Excelsior (2012) and Grand Rapids (2013).


Hockey Day Minnesota

Boys: Rochester Lourdes vs. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, 10 a.m.

Boys: Elk River-Zimmerman vs. Stillwater, 1:30 p.m.

Girls: Elk River-Zimmerman vs. Anoka, 4 p.m.

Minnesota Gophers men vs. Ohio State, Mariucci Arena, 5 p.m.

Minnesota Wild vs. Dallas Stars, Xcel Energy Center, 8 p.m.

All games will telecast on FOX Sports North live, except the girls game, which will be tape-delayed. In Minnesota, blanket coverage starts 9 a.m. on FSN while the rest of the country can watch on Fox Sports 2, which will also be streamed to Fox Sports GO for iOS devices. The Gopher game will also be streamed live on BTN2Go.