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There was a lot of hyperbole leading up to last Saturday’s Hockey Day Minnesota, a joint venture of the Minnesota Wild and Fox Sports North. Turns out, it couldn’t have been closer to perfect.
With the entire state watching the festivities at Bayfront Festival Park, Denfeld rallied from a 1-0 deficit to beat Eveleth-Gilbert 5-2 in a 10 a.m. start to the long day. Then at 1 p.m., Duluth East set out to avenge last March’s state tournament championship loss to Lakeville North, but came up just short in a 3-2 classic.
The scene was fantastic. It was mild, in fact a bit too mild – a surprise visit by the sun in the midst of the second game turned the surface from slick to slushy. The teams didn’t complain. They made the best of it, exactly the way you do it on an outdoor rink. Lakeville North was wearing unique uniforms, adorned with horizontal striped of red, white and black, which made it a little dicey for passing, because East was wearing its black uniforms, trimmed with red and white. Again, though, when you play an outdoor game, you look carefully before you pass.
Ryan Peterson scored both goals for the Greyhounds, the first to stake them to a 1-0 lead, and the last to ignite a closing rally that couldn’t get closer than 3-2. Meantime, Ryan Poehling scored shorthanded at the end of the first period, then he assisted on the other two goals scored by the Panthers.
The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak by East, who had beaten Hopkins Thursday after blowing a 2-0 lead and then winning 3-2 on Ash Altmann’s overtime goal. The ’Hounds faced Lakeville South Monday night and next moved on to the 7AA tournament seedings.
The only disappointing thing about Hockey Day Minnesota is that just to the east, about a good slapshot away, UMD was sweeping Colorado College with a 3-2 victory coming after a 5-3 opener. The second game was a tough 2-1 deficit for UMD until Andy Welinski whistled in the tying goal with four minutes left, and then Alex Iafallo scored from the left edge of the crease with 2:42 remaining.
That game would have been a perfect part of Hockey Day, had it been played at 4 p.m. on Fox Sports North. Instead, they showed the Gopher game against Penn State from Mariucci Arena at 4, then showed the Wild game at St. Louis Saturday night. As it turned out, the Gophers lost 5-3 to Penn State, and the Wild lost at St. Louis.
Meanwhile, back at Bayfront Festival Park, they couldn’t play the Fire Department vs. the Police Department because the uncommonly warm day had kept on warming up and it was about 38 degrees and too slushy to play by Saturday night.
I would love to see the City of Duluth round up enough sponsors to hold a month-long celebration on an outdoor rink at Bayfront, with a Squirt tournament the first weekend, a Peewee tournament the second weekend, a girls high school tournament the third weekend, and a high school boys tournament the fourth weekend.
Hockey Day Minnesota could easily become the Duluth Hockey Festival.
If that can’t be done, we’ll just all sit back and recall one of the greatest days of celebrating the game – our game – in February of 2016.