BEMIDJI-The Hockey Day Minnesota rink has been set up for several days now, but organizing committee member Brian Bissonette still feels goosebumps when he walks along the South Shore facility.
"It's a pretty special place," Bissonette said. "From my perspective, it is a little surreal. We've seen drawings and plans for more than a year now, so to see it take shape is overwhelming."
Hockey Day Minnesota is an annual event celebrating the sport in a different community every year. This is the 13th Hockey Day Minnesota event. What started out as just a few outdoor hockey games on a single day in January, though, has grown in the community-sized events. And that's grown even more this year in Bemidji.
So, while Saturday is officially Hockey Day Minnesota on the outdoor rink just west of the Sanford Center, there will be action on and off the ice spread out of several days.
On Thursday, Jan. 17, the gates will open at 6 p.m. for the girls high school game between Bemidji and Woodbury. Puck drops at 7 p.m. Additionally, the event will feature entertainment with Strolling Magician Nick Bretz of Imaginick performing from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. and the Johnny Holm Band playing at 9 p.m.
"Hockey Day has kind of morphed over the years from one host to the next," Bissonette said. "Last year, St. Cloud added the Hockey Village aspect. We've kind of expanded on that. We wanted to try and maximize the event as best we can. You certainly want to get out of it as much as you can and we are."
On Friday, the rink will be the site of a Division I college matchup, with the BSU men's team taking on Michigan Tech at 7 p.m. Bookmarking the game will be musical performances by Orlando and Rhonda from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and the Midbros at 9 p.m.
Saturday's first game starts at 9:30 a.m. and it's a matchup of No. 1 vs No. 2 in Minnesota boys hockey as Minnetonka, the defending Class 2A State Champion and ranked No. 1, takes on Andover.
Between the morning matchup and the afternoon games, a live edition of "High Noon" by KBUN Sports Radio is scheduled from noon to 1 p.m. on the site.
The next game is the BSU women's team playing Minnesota State University, Mankato at 1 p.m. While play continues on the rink, entertainment from the Acoust Hicks band will also be featured from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.
At 4:30 p.m. is the final outdoor Hockey Day game, with the Bemidji High School boy's team facing Greenway. Following the game, a fireworks show is set, along with musical performances by Corey Medina and Brothers and Redline.
At 7:30 p.m., the BSU men's team will move the action inside the Sanford Center, with the second game in its series against Michigan Tech. All Saturday's games in Bemidji will be broadcast on Fox Sports North. The Minnesota Wild will play the Columbus Blue Jackets at 8 p.m. A viewing party for the Wild game at Hockey Day in the C.K. Dudley's Warming House has also been scheduled.
"The community has embraced this," Bissonette said. "The excitement is palpable. Everywhere you go, people are talking about Hockey Day."
Getting around town
There will be limited on-site parking Thursday, Friday and Saturday for the event at a cost of $20, as well as several designated off-site parking areas with shuttle pickups.
Areas offering parking, along with shuttle pickups and drop-offs include:
• The John Glas Fieldhouse (Friday and Saturday only) at 19th Street Northeast.
• A special parking area set up on Minnesota Avenue Northwest between 15th Street and 16th Street.
• At Bar 209, 217 Minnesota Ave. NW.
• BSU Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex, 1500 Birchmont Drive NE.
• The Northwest Technical College parking lot, 905 Grant Ave. SE. This location will have volunteer shuttles.
Sites strictly for pickups and drop-offs, meanwhile, are:
• The Super 8, 1815 Paul Bunyan Drive NW.
• The Best Western, 2420 Paul Bunyan Drive NW.
• AmericInn, 1200 Paul Bunyan Drive NW.
• The Mayflower Building parking lot, 102 First St. W.
• Candlewood Suites, 401 Paul Bunyan Drive SE.
For more information on the mutli-day event, visit www.bemidjiyouthhockey.org.