Forget about the skyscrapers looming in the background, the television cameras blanketing every inch of the action and the always unpredictable nature of outdoor ice.
Saturday’s Hockey Day Minnesota matchup between Blake and Blaine would be just as intriguing if it were played on some remote, auxiliary indoor rink with no bleachers, no spectators and zero fanfare.
Of course, that won’t be the case in our Top Game of the Week. Blake’s Joe Miller, one of the top juniors in the state, and Blaine’s Carsen Richels, a likely Mr. Hockey finalist, will no doubt receive copious amounts of air time as they work their magic on the grand Parade Stadium stage.
The made-for-TV Hockey Day games have provided plenty of entertainment over the years, with teams slogging through slushy, quicksand-like conditions or, just as often, attempting to survive frigid, frostbite-inducing temperatures. It helps that wise decisions have been made when choosing the teams, including this year’s combatants. Both Blake (12-3-0, 3-0-0) and Blaine (9-5-0, 6-1-0) are in the midst of strong seasons and are led by marquis players.
Blake, ranked No. 7 in the Class 2A coaches’ poll from Jan. 8, is one of the hottest teams in the state, having won eight straight, including four by shutout. After something of a slow start, Bears junior goaltender Aksel Reid hasn’t allowed more than one goal in his last six starts. Miller, a Minnesota commit, has found his stride of late, too, scoring at least one goal in Blake’s last five games. He’s totaled eight goals and nine assists for 17 points on the season.
Blaine's Richels, who has committed to New Hampshire, has 11 goals and 15 assists in 14 games, well off his pace of last season when he racked up 42 goals and 41 assists playing alongside Mr. Hockey award winner Bryce Brodzinski. Still, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Richels offers a rare combination of power and finesse. And he’s not even the Bengals’ top scorer, that distinction is held by Richels’ linemate, senior Cole Hansen (13-15-28).