BEMIDJI -- The wait is over. The dates and matchups for Hockey Day Minnesota 2019 in Bemidji are set.

The dates: Jan. 17-19, 2019.

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The matchups: Bemidji girls vs. Woodbury, Bemidji State men vs. Michigan Tech, Minnetonka boys vs. Andover, Bemidji State women vs. Minnesota State and Bemidji boys vs. Greenway.

Representatives from the Minnesota Wild, Fox Sports North, Minnesota Hockey and the local organizing committee made the announcement at a ceremony Sunday morning on the Lake Bemidji waterfront near the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statue.

Rain forced the proceedings to move indoors to the Water Carnival tent, but the weather couldn’t put a damper on the excitement within the capacity crowd.

“We have so many people packed in here, and I know they’re standing outside in the rain, but that’s what hockey means in Bemidji, right?” Bemidji mayor Rita Albrecht told the audience.

“I was driving over from Walker this morning and it was pouring rain,” said FSN reporter Kevin Gorg, who emceed the event. “I was thinking to myself, it might just end up being the players, the coaches and us from Fox Sports North. I get here, and the place is packed…

“We’ve got a little inclement weather this morning. That’s something we’re used to on Hockey Day. We take pride in overcoming the elements.”

The weather will be a bit colder come January when, for the first time, Hockey Day will take place over three days.

Jim Scanlan, head coach of the BSU women’s hockey team, speaks Sunday during the ceremony. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)
Jim Scanlan, head coach of the BSU women’s hockey team, speaks Sunday during the ceremony. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

The outdoor games for the weekend include the BHS girls playing at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, and the BSU men playing at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18. On Saturday, Jan. 19, the defending state champion Minnetonka boys will play Andover at 9:30 a.m., followed by the BSU women at 1 p.m. and the BHS boys at 4:30 p.m. The BSU men will play at 7:30 p.m. that night inside the Sanford Center, and the Wild will host the Columbus Blue Jackets to cap the festivities at 8 p.m. from the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Fans learned last January that Bemidji would host the 13th annual Hockey Day Minnesota. That the Lumberjack boys and girls teams would take part was also no surprise.

The addition of the BSU men’s and women’s programs to the outdoor lineup, however, was made official Sunday. The Beavers’ game Jan. 18 will mark the first time Hockey Day has featured an outdoor college men’s game.

“The experiences that everybody is going to have, it’s going to be outstanding,” BSU men’s head coach Tom Serratore said. “It’s going to be an awesome day. I think just to share it with our alumni and our great fans, that’s what’s going to make it so wonderful.”

There’s long been a tradition of outdoor hockey in Bemidji.

In the program’s early years, the Beaver men played their home games on outdoor rinks in the 1960s. Decades later, the BSU women played outdoors at Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium in 2010.

For Michael Johnson, who was recently named the new head coach of the BHS girls program, the event evokes memories of playing outdoors as a kid.

“I grew up in Bemidji and played on the outdoor rinks, the old ones at Nymore and Cameron Park. I’m sure a few of you remember those,” Johnson said. “I actually believe that what’s lacking in today’s game is people not skating on the outdoor rinks. We lose some of that creativity.

“For our girls to get to play in the first game of this larger-than-life event that brings hockey back to its roots, is an unbelievable honor and a terrific opportunity for them.”

Players on Bemidji teams, Lumberjacks or Beavers, will anxiously await the big weekend in January.

“Their emotions are going to be flying high, and the excitement for that day is through the roof,” said BHS boys head coach Eric Monsrud. “... (People are) going to come from all over the place. I guarantee that the roads will be plowed from the cities up here. The roads will be just fine. The venue’s going to be perfect. This community has worked extremely hard to just put this event on.”

The outdoor rink will be located west of the Sanford Center on Lake Bemidji’s south shore. Work on the site began last week as crews prepare to construct the temporary facility that will hold more than 3,000 spectators, and include lights, a scoreboard and video boards. The organizing committee is planning to install food and beverage tents and VIP areas that will be protected from the elements.

Since the first Hockey Day Minnesota in 2007, the event has grown into a statewide celebration of the sport. More memories are bound to be made when Bemidji stages the 13th edition in January.

“We’re all about creating memories,” BSU women’s head coach Jim Scanlan said. “Obviously we’re thrilled for our team, but more importantly, all the young boys and girls out in this crowd -- this is going to be a memory all of us are going to have for the rest of our lives.”