Sunday is Free at Hockey Day Minnesota; Steele County Blades Play in Mankato
Sunday's games are free to attend at Hockey Day Minnesota in Mankato. Use the money you save to purchase a few more hand warmers to stuff into your pockets and boots for what will be a chilly experience at Blakeslee Field at the Minnesota State University-Mankato campus.
The Steele County Blades junior hockey club, based in Owatonna, will make history by playing in the first-ever junior game to be featured at the annual Minnesota celebration of all things hockey. Steele County will face the Minnesota Mullets in a 4:30 pm face off Sunday, January 23.
The Blades roster features players from around the world, cold and warm climates. Quite a few, but not all, of the players have skated or played outside. Goalie Jacob Snyder, featured below in an interview, spent plenty of time on outdoor ice while growing up in Duluth, "It's my favorite part of growing up, playing outside with the boys...I'm glad I get to do it here with my new family that I've found here in Owatonna."
Even though he enjoys playing outside, it doesn't mean he likes the cold, "Once you start sweating there's nothing really you can wear. You just got to get used to it." Then there's the ice conditions, "The skaters have to get used to all the bumps and everything in the ice. You can't get the ice perfect like indoors."
The Mullets roster is also filled with Minnesota players, including several from The Range, who might find Sunday's temperatures balmy.
Mullets forward Elliott Van Orsdel from Eveleth said in a story from the Mullets website early this season, "What a tremendous opportunity. We've very fortunate to be a part of something as special as HDM. As a homegrown Minnesota kid, I know how important this day is here."
Jacob VonTersh, Mullets defenseman from Luverne, expressed excitement, "As soon as I found out, I was thrilled. To be able to carry on one of the biggest traditions in the State of Hockey with all of my teammates is going to be an unreal experience."
Steele County forward Jack Stock, of Minneapolis, played in the last Hockey Day Minnesota in 2020 when the event was at Parade Stadium, "Which had a beautiful skyline view of the city. It was real nice. It's not as bad as it seems for the players. We got a heated bench. The fans might get a little cold. It was a spectacular moment. You and the boys just playing outdoors in a real game. It was just amazing.":
The team has been skating this week at Morehouse Park in Owatonna to get a feel for the flow of play, while trying to keep feeling in their extremities. Players have been talking about how to stay warm and how many layers to wear. Watch the Blades practice with this video from their Facebook page.
Assistant coach Wilson Anderle is looking forward to the experience, despite the chilly forecast, "Some guys have been talking about what types of layers they're going to have to wear underneath. If they're going to wear a shield underneath to cover their face." Some have wondered if their visors will fog up.
"It's exciting. The guys are super excited. I know they're pumped. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them. Win or lose it's something they're going to remember for the rest of their lives," Anderle stated
Players have expressed excitement over the opportunity to be part of this tradition since it was announced last summer that the Blades would play in the game.
Connor Lee from Australia commented about the concept of the outdoor game early this season, "I'm stoked. When I heard it this summer, I was cheering beyond words. I was so happy. I actually didn't believe it at first, really...I'm really looking forward to it" He says it might be cold enough up in the mountains for ice in Australia, but "They won't make an ice sheet."
Mullets coach Chris Walby commented, "Competing in Hockey Day Minnesota is one of those bucket list items that several coaches have. We're so excited...Our boys and I sincerely appreciate the opportunity of play in this venue and thank the Blades ownership and my friend (Blades head coach) Nick Adamek for providing the opportunity."
The Blades and Mullets get a (warm) dress rehearsal with a game Friday, January 21 at 7:30 pm at Augsburg University in Minneapolis.