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Only in Minnesota: What Makes Hockey Day Special

By Steve Mann, 01/23/24, 11:30AM CST


Happy Hockey Day 2024! One of Minnesota’s most beloved holidays is set for the weekend of January 25-27 with the state’s attention this time turned to Warroad, the small but powerful historic hockey town on Lake of the Woods.  

As towns such as White Bear Lake, Duluth, Mankato and Moorhead experienced previously, it's Warroad’s time to shine and promote its local hockey scene via this much anticipated annual event that keeps getting bigger and better.

A Holiday’s Humble Beginning

Hockey Day Minnesota began back in 2007, a creation of the Minnesota Wild and partners Fox Sports North (now Bally Sports North), Minnesota Hockey and a rotating local host community. Hockey Day Minnesota was an immediate success from year one, quickly becoming a day for generations of Minnesotans from all corners of The State of Hockey to connect and celebrate the sport that means so much to so many.

Wayne Petersen, Director of Community Relations and Hockey Partnerships for the Minnesota Wild, was on the original Hockey Day Minnesota committee and has been one of the key figures in the success of Hockey Day.

“Hockey Day Minnesota has grown significantly over the past ten years. What began in 2007 as a one-day event featuring two high school games has grown into a four- or five-day event featuring numerous girls and boys high school games. Some host communities have also featured a men’s or women’s college game.” said Petersen. “Additionally, Hockey Day Minnesota is much more than an ice rink and hockey games. It now features a Hockey Day Village, which includes live entertainment, video boards, food trucks, fire pits, merchandise sales, entertainment tents and more.”

Hockey Day Minnesota started as a relatively simple idea that drew some inspiration from our neighbors to the north.

“At the time, there was Hockey Day in Canada. Several of us working at the Minnesota Wild thought that something similar to Hockey Day in Canada could work just as well in Minnesota,” said Mike Snee, Executive Director of College Hockey Inc., who was on the Wild staff 17 years ago and was part of the group that helped conceptualize and plan the first Hockey Day Minnesota in Baudette. “My recollection is that it came together pretty quickly and easily. The community of Baudette deserves a lot of credit, as they were already preparing to host an outdoor high school game as part of a winter celebration. The first Hockey Day Minnesota was essentially based in Baudette, plus a Gophers men’s game in Minneapolis and a Wild game in St. Paul. It worked so well that quickly there were other communities inquiring about how they could host Hockey Day Minnesota.”

Baudette again hosted year two of Hockey Day Minnesota, and since then, the host communities have come from across the state. Although not even 20 years in existence, Hockey Day Minnesota is an integral part of the hockey experience in Minnesota. “I coach youth hockey, and almost every year on Hockey Day I’m at a rink to coach a game or practice,” said Snee. “I always make a point to listen to how many people greet each other at the rink with ‘Happy Hockey Day’ on Hockey Day Minnesota. It’s as second nature as saying Happy New Year on January 1.”

It’s about the “community”

Part of what makes Hockey Day Minnesota so unique is that the celebration doesn’t just take place in the host community. The event symbolizes how hockey in Minnesota is so rooted in the many towns across the state where hockey is not only played but cherished. “Hockey Day Minnesota has become an unofficial state holiday every January. It’s amazing how the great game of hockey is celebrated throughout the state and beyond on Hockey Day Minnesota and not just in the host community,” said Petersen.

The dedication and commitment of the host communities – from fundraising to securing volunteers to building a specially constructed outdoor venue, creating an old-time, pond-hockey-type atmosphere on the ice, and the carnival-like atmosphere around it – is really what makes Hockey Day special, according to Snee. “Hockey Day Minnesota celebrates the connection between hockey and the community,” he said. “That connection is the foundation for hockey’s success across the entire state.”

The Best is Yet to Come

This week, the fun will begin in Warroad. On the ice, boys and girls from Warroad, nearby Roseau, Lakeville, Moorhead, Wayzata, Waseca, Thief River Falls and other teams will battle on the ice. There’s a Warroad-Roseau alumni game planned, a college game, concerts including Martin Zellar of ‘I wanna drive the Zamboni’ fame, sledding, merchandise, food trucks and more.

While the spotlight is Warroad’s this year, expectations increase every winter to make Hockey Day even more of a spectacle in the next host community. With the announcement that Hockey Day Minnesota 2025 will take place at Valleyfair Amusement Park in Shakopee, it’s clear that the future of the event will continue to focus on fun and bringing people together.

“Hockey Day Minnesota has been hosted in many iconic locations throughout the State of Hockey. From Baudette Bay in northern Minnesota to the runways of Holman Field in downtown St. Paul. From the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth to the shores of the St. Croix River in historic downtown Stillwater. And from the campus of Minnesota State University in Mankato to the beautiful Handke Pit in Elk River. While Hockey Day Minnesota has traveled to all corners of Minnesota, we are very excited to finally bring Hockey Day to Hockeytown USA, which will feature one of the greatest high school rivalries in the entire country, Warroad vs. Roseau,” said Petersen. “We are equally excited to bring Hockey Day Minnesota to ValleyFair in Shakopee, fittingly staged in front of the roller coaster, Wild Thing. The future of Hockey Day Minnesota is bright, as many new communities have expressed an interest in hosting this great event.”

“The momentum around Hockey Day is at an all-time high, and it reinforces that hockey is as meaningful and successful in Minnesota as it ever has been,” added Snee. “The reason literally thousands of people and civic leaders in these communities put in so much time and energy is because they all want hockey in their town to be even better. They want hockey to be even more accessible and affordable, so more kids in Minnesota will play. The success of Hockey Day Minnesota is just another example of how the community structure of hockey is by far the best delivery model of hockey for kids in the entire country.”