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Dispatches from the Xcel Energy Center

By Brian Stensaas, Star Tribune, 03/11/11, 10:29PM CST

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Josh Harding is at it again

Josh Harding, the injured Wild goaltender, rehabbing from his second major surgery in the last year, made a few new friends two weeks ago when he signed a stick for Edina goaltender Maddie Dahl during the girls’ hockey state tournament.

Friday morning at Xcel Energy Center, Harding was on the ice 90 minutes prior to the day’s first game between Hibbing/Chisholm and Hermantown. Bluejackets players quietly watched as Harding put himself through a series of skating drills. When finished, he casually glided over to wish the players luck, and Sage Hopke pounced on a golden opportunity.

“So, can you hook me up with a stick?” the freshman forward asked.

Harding didn’t flinch, giving Hopke the one he was using for his light workout.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Hopke gasped, much to the envy of his teammates.

Equipment freaks

Speaking of sticks and the like, a hockey player’s choice of equipment has never been so wide-ranging. That was certainly evident at the annual Let’s Play Hockey Expo, which opened Friday at the RiverCentre.

Fans with bags full of freebies — and there were plenty, from peppermint candy discs to foam pucks — flocked to booths set up by more than 200 companies.

You name it, the Expo had it. Quite the change from wood sticks and Cooperalls.

“It’s become very, very technical,” said Easton Sports president Chris Zimmerman, the former president and CEO of the Vancouver Canucks who was also once an executive at Nike. “How do we give a player a meaningful edge? Ideally, we elevate the game. Whether it’s the state tournament or college hockey or the dream of going pro, we want to be a brand that is part of their world.”

What is: Trivia?

Local author Jim Hoey is nearly completed with a trivia book about the boys’ hockey state tournament.

Tentatively titled “Puck Heaven,” Hoey, who also has written a book on Minnesota Twins trivia, already has 20 chapters of facts produced.

Full house

Total attendance through three days, including consolation sessions, is 80,116.

State Tournament News

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Moorhead's Jack Stetz (21) throws his arms up as he and his teammates celebrated the win. ] ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com