It started 13 years ago on a bitterly cold — even by Minnesota's standards — January afternoon in the extreme northern part of the state.
An outdoor rink was carefully crafted on Baudette Bay for a regular season boys high school hockey game between Lake of the Woods and visiting St. Paul Johnson.
It wasn't just any regular season game, though. It was the start of a special event that has not only become tradition for hockey fans across Minnesota, it's become a holiday.
Hockey Day Minnesota turns 14 on Saturday, when it will be held at Parade Stadium in Minneapolis for the first time.
Fox Sports North will televise the three outdoor games being played at Parade Park, near the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the Walker Art Center and the Parade Ice Garden.
Hockey Day Minnesota 2020 is more than just a one-day celebration, though. Festivities begin tonight with a pair of girls high school hockey games — Minneapolis vs. Holy Angels, and Grand Rapids-Greenway vs. Blake. An NHL alumni game and a women's all-star game are scheduled for Friday.
FSN picks up television on coverage on Saturday and will broadcast a pair of boys high school games — Warroad vs. Minneapolis (9:30 a.m.) and Blaine vs. Blake (1 p.m.) — as well as the 4:30 p.m. women's college game between the No. 1-ranked University of Minnesota and No. 5-ranked Ohio State University.
JM, LOURDES HAD TURNS IN SPOTLIGHT
Hockey Day Minnesota has been held at a dozen different locations throughout its history. Rochester teams have twice been a part of HDM games broadcast by Fox Sports North.
HDM was held at Baudette Bay for its first two years, in 2007 and 2008. The following year it was held in the Twin Cities for the first time, at historic Phalen Park, in the neighborhood where legendary coach Herb Brooks grew up.
On a calm winter morning, with light snow falling, Rochester John Marshall made the first HDM appearance by a team from south of the Twin Cities metro area, falling to St. Paul Johnson 4-0.
Five years later, Hockey Day was back in the metro area, at Handke Stadium in Elk River. Rochester Lourdes played the first game of HDM 2014 against Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, falling 4-1.
But for both the Rockets and Eagles, the opportunity to be part of Hockey Day Minnesota wasn't about the outcome of the game.
"Just the atmosphere, the experience of playing in Hockey Day Minnesota ... when we pulled up here on the bus, it gave me the chills," Lourdes goalie Jack Burkel said that day, Jan. 18, 2014. "We just absorbed it all, came in walked around and looked at everything.
"I think we realize it's a big deal, but as time goes on, I'm sure we'll realize that it's bigger than we thought it was."
John Marshall players had the same thoughts five years earlier.
“This is a once in a lifetime thing," then-senior forward Nate Polansky said after JM's game against Johnson on Jan. 17, 2009. “When I’m 48, I’ll be telling my kids I got to play in this — the third Hockey Day Minnesota, and it will be bigger by then."
Four players from southeastern Minnesota will be part of HDM 2020 this weekend.
All of them will be in the final televised outdoor game of the day, when the Gophers' women face Ohio State.
Rochester Lourdes graduate Rebecca Freiburger is a senior on the No. 5-ranked Ohio State team, while Minnesota's roster features former Red Wing star Taylor Heise, Dodge County's Katie Robinson and Rochester Mayo graduate Makayla Pahl.
Ohio State and Minnesota split a two-game series at OSU early in the season, with the Buckeyes winning 4-3 on Oct. 25 and the Gophers winning 4-2 the next night.
The teams will play at Ridder Arena at 7:07 p.m. Friday, then finish their series outside at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.