Hosting Hockey Day: The University’s vital role

Having Hockey Day Minnesota 2022 take place at Minnesota State University, Mankato involves a few big firsts.

For one, it’s the first time this wildly popular statewide annual event has taken place south of the Twin Cities. And although other colleges have participated in years past, it’s the first time Hockey Day Minnesota will happen directly on a college campus.

The event stretches from Sunday, Jan. 16 to Sunday, Jan. 23. The overall goal of the 15-year-old annual event is to promote and rally around hockey for all ages—kids teams to college alums—by way of staging outdoor games and events to excite hockey fans. The University’s facilities—namely Blakeslee Stadium—and its willingness to participate were all key in getting Mankato selected as the 2022 location, said Michelle Schooff, a 1995 alum who along with David Wittenberg heads the local organizing committee of area business people and hundreds of volunteers.

Blakeslee Field was a huge incentive for Hockey Day Minnesota’s selection of Mankato as the host city in 2022.

That committee worked to ensure the community looked good to the event’s producers, NHL’s Minnesota Wild and Bally Sports North. The two in 2020 selected Mankato as host, but COVID delayed the event by a year.

“When the Minnesota Wild and Bally Sports North came down, they took a look at three different sites in Mankato,” Schooff said. “The way [Blakeslee] is set up, being able to have some seating already in place and the way it’s structured … it is really set up perfectly for an outdoor hockey game. It’s a different kind of venue than they’ve ever had before. They were really excited about the opportunity to have it there.”

The space also lends itself to the various daily entertainment attractions lined up for an adjacent “hockey village” with food vending, live music, fire pits and more.

Transforming the football field into a hockey rink was a $350,000 project for the local committee, one that required roughly 1,100 tons of sand to help ensure the rink is level (the football field crowns in the center for drainage purposes.)

Organizer Michelle Schooff ’95.

That transformation ties in with the committee’s decision to stray from the norm and make it a week-long event versus the usual one-day celebration.

“With an investment like that in ice we can’t just have one day,” Schooff said. “The mission is to grow the game, so one of our priorities is to get as many youth on the ice as possible.” With the games scheduled throughout the week, she said, more than 1,000 kids from around Southern Minnesota will get a chance to play hockey on the rink.

In addition to transforming the Blakeslee Stadium area, the University has contributed in myriad ways. Alumni Relations is sponsoring the high-profile University alumni game, which will feature eight former Mavericks who went on to the National Hockey League. The Minnesota State Mankato Foundation is also sponsoring a dinner for that game’s participants. 

IT Solutions has upgraded the fiberoptic communications system at the field; parking and traffic control has been organized and specialized to each day’s events; and grounds support is providing snow removal in and around the event.

On Friday, Jan. 21, the University is hosting a student athlete luncheon for high school students in the Centennial Student Union. There, students will hear from several of the returning Maverick hockey alum who went pro and are returning for the alumni game taking place that night.

“Getting those kids to feel what it’s like to be at that university is such a great marketing tool to say ‘Come and experience Mankato and what it might be like to go to school here,” Schooff said.

The idea of a transforming a part of campus into a festival may be a first in this instance, but in many ways it resembles the University’s longstanding hosting of the Minnesota Vikings training camp.

“That’s sort of our foundation: ‘Hey, we’ve done this before,’” said University athletics director Kevin Buisman. “In fact we did it for 52 years in a very high-profile way with the Vikings.”

Buisman said the cooperation between the local committee and the University—and the excitement on both sides—is such that it can raise the bar for Hockey Day Minnesota.

“We’re so fortunate that we have business leaders in our community that have the energy and the vision and the passion to take on a monumental undertaking,” Buisman said. “They’ve done tremendous work generating revenue, ticket sales and sponsorships.

“Our focus is on providing the best possible experience for fans, players and coaches. I think the entire local organizing committee and everyone at the University is committed to that outcome.”

For more information on events, tickets and entertainment, visit Mankato’s HDM Website.