PIONEER PERSPECTIVES: Finding solace in sports

Like plenty of other Minnesotans, I grew up in a hockey family.

Madelyn Haasken.jpg
Madelyn Haasken is a multimedia reporter for the Pioneer.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Like plenty of other Minnesotans, I grew up in a hockey family.

For most of my young years, both my younger brothers played on youth teams while my dad coached.

At the time, I didn’t give a rip about hockey, and spent my brothers’ games drinking blue slushies and playing my Nintendo DS next to my mom in the bleachers.

My brothers ended up moving on to different sports and activities as they entered high school. For a while, hockey drifted away into a thing of the past, living in the back of my mind as only a distant memory.

I participated in my fair share of sports in high school — I tried volleyball (that didn’t last long, I was too scared of the ball), ran the 2-mile in track, and danced high kick and jazz on a state championship-winning dance team.


In my sophomore year of college, hockey sneaked back into my life. Still clinging to my love of dance, I joined the Bemidji State dance team and spent many winter weekends performing sideline routines at the Sanford Center during men’s games.

At first, I still didn’t really care about hockey. It was similar to my experience as a kid, except instead of drinking blue slushies and avoiding hockey-watching, I was shaking pom-poms around and avoiding hockey-watching.

Though I didn’t pay too much attention to the games themselves right away, I quickly found myself captivated by the energy of the arena. The music, the lights, the fans, the adrenaline rush of a Beaver goal — it was addicting.

From then on, I was hooked.

After I decided to end my dance career the next year, my friends and I chose to keep going to the hockey games as fans. During this time, my mental health was in shambles. Hockey games, though, offered a time and place where I could forget about the outside world and all the junk going on inside my brain. It might sound a little cheesy, but the Sanford Center became my happy place.

I graduated from BSU in 2020 and decorated my grad cap with just a handful of the many college hockey tickets I’d collected throughout the years.

Now, as a journalist and aspiring sports photographer, I have the opportunity to shoot high school and college hockey games. That’s right, sometimes I get paid to watch hockey — it’s a pretty sweet gig.

A good chunk of my weekends and several of my weekdays revolve around hockey. My brain is usually filled to the brim with thoughts about the next Wild game, the next BSU game or the next high school game I get to shoot.


Most people don’t understand why I care so much about hockey. They don’t understand why I insist on being the first one through the Sanford Center doors on a game night, why I keep a collection of every hockey ticket I’ve ever had, or why I look so unhinged in every picture taken of me at a game.

102021.S.BP.BSUMHKY Tyler Kirkup goal celebration.jpg
Bemidji State senior Tyler Kirkup (27) celebrates after scoring in the first period against North Dakota on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Sanford Center.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

To be honest, I don’t really know why I care so much either.

It’s a feeling that’s hard to explain; when I’m in the stands right up by the glass, the goal horn goes off and every screaming fan springs to their feet, there’s no feeling quite like it. At that moment, nothing else in the world matters.

In preparation for this column, I did a quick Google search to find out if it’s possible that I’m just crazy. During my investigation, a WebMD article popped up titled “Is being a diehard sports fan good for your mental health?”

As it turns out, it is. According to everything I could find on the internet, watching sports can improve self-esteem, increase dopamine levels in the brain and even provide a healthy form of escapism.

I hope there are other fans who feel the same way I do. For some, of course, watching sports is a casual pastime. For others, it’s a part of who they are, something deeply ingrained in their being.

As someone whose mind is usually running at a million miles a minute, watching hockey is the perfect distraction from my constant anxiety. It’s truly like therapy for me, a safe little outlet for every emotion — frustration, sadness, joy.

Plus, it’s just good old-fashioned fun. Hockey brings me happiness in a way that nothing else ever has.


Here's my advice: if you can find something that makes you feel that way, hold onto it.

Madelyn Haasken is a multimedia reporter for the Pioneer. Readers can reach her at (218) 333-9772 or .

Madelyn Haasken is the multimedia editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is a 2020 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Mass Communication, with minors in writing and design. In her free time, she likes watching hockey, doing crossword puzzles and being outside.
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