When Moorhead was awarded the fifth annual Hockey Day Minnesota, to be held Saturday, Feb. 12, the weather was the most immediate topic of conversation.
After all, mid-February on Minnesota’s far western plains could offer virtually any conditions.
Would it keep fans away with a frigid, below-zero wind chill? Entirely possible.
Would it be a rainy, warm day that turns ice to slush? Entirely possible.
Or would it be ideal -- cold enough to keep the ice solid but warm enough to bring out the fans?
With less than 24 hours until the start of Moorhead’s celebration, the current weather forecast looks ideal. Highs are forecast around 34 degrees with an overcast sky that will keep the blazing sun at bay – and perhaps even a few snow flakes will fall to add to the atmosphere.
Weather concerns now set aside, Moorhead’s focus turns to accommodating the flood of fans expected to hit town.
“The thing is, if we have great weather, where are we going to put all the people?” asked Moorhead coach Dave Morinville. “But that’s a nice problem to have.”
“I’ve heard 4,000,” Moorhead Youth Hockey manager Dennis Bushy estimated for attendance. He shook his head wondering where they’ll all fit to be able to watch the game. “But they’re hockey people, right? They’ll adapt.”
That’s part of the joy of old-time, outdoor hockey. And the ensuing boasts of, “I was there.”
There will be a terrific outstate versus metro feel to the games.
Wayzata (15-5-2) will play Roseau (9-12-0) in the opening game Saturday at 10 a.m., followed by the 1:30 match-up between the host Spuds (14-6-2) and No. 1 Class 2A Hill-Murray (18-3-1).
Fox Sports North will broadcast all day live from the rink – which is located on a snowy, windswept field behind the Moorhead Youth Arena. Coverage will include afternoon University of Minnesota and Minnesota Wild games. Those two games will feature Moorhead alumni John Lee (Denver) and Matt Cullen, respectively.
While Lee and Cullen won’t be in their hometown, many other former Spuds are expected to make the trek. No official alumni events are planned, but Morinville knows they’ve all been fired up about it since the summer.
“We have quite an alumni contingent,” said Morinville. “They’re all talking about it, so I’m sure they’ll all come out to be a part of it.”
Youth games will also be played all day Saturday on the outdoor rink and in both of the Moorhead Youth Arena’s indoor rinks. But it isn’t just games that make Hockey Day such an event. On Friday night, the Spuds will also host a team dinner for the four varsity teams and VIP guests, as well as a skills competition.
On Saturday, vendors from around the region will be surrounding the rink, giving the event a carnival atmosphere.
Bushy and his crew of volunteers have been working day and night for months in preparation for the event. He’s been watching the weather forecasts, testing the ice against different temperature possibilities and setting up the surrounding facilities.
“The ice is beautiful,” said Bushy, who has had a few youth games played on the rink over the past two weeks. Moorhead’s varsity also practiced Thursday night and will do so again Friday to test the boards and work out any possible kinks before Saturday.
According to Morinville, Bushy has laid the ice very thick so he can shave it down between periods if the weather warms, keeping it firm and playable.
But with the weather expected to be fan-friendly, most concerns have turned to the crowds. Moorhead has had to revise its estimates of attendance upward. And upward.
New bleachers were delivered mid-week, but that will only accommodate several thousand. With at least 4,000 expected, fans might expect to stand several deep along the boards to watch the game.
“If the weather is good, I think we’re going to get a big hit out of this,” Bushy said.
That’s part of the joy of old-time, outdoor hockey. And the ensuing boasts of “I was there.”