ROSEVILLE — With the pandemic continuing, folks encouraged to stay at home and in-arena attendance severely restricted, we have all been watching plenty of hockey on TV. Later this month, Hockey Day Minnesota will take place, but with a nod to the pandemic that means it will be primarily a video event, with only one live game as part of the 10 hours of hockey programming on Fox Sports North.
Starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 27, FSN will broadcast live from the John Rose OVAL in Roseville with several features on hockey and life in Minnesota, and two re-airings of classic games from previous Hockey Day Minnesota events. The lone live hockey scheduled to be aired that day is at 7 p.m. when the Minnesota Wild host the Los Angeles Kings at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
There will be speed skating, a hockey camp sponsored by Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, and youth hockey games going on outdoors in Roseville, with all of the state-mandated precautions in place.
"Hockey Day has become such a long-standing tradition, and almost an unofficial state holiday, that we thought we'd try to host an event even though it's going to be modified and shortened," said Wayne Petersen, director of community relations and hockey partnerships for the Wild. "We're going to do the best we can with what we have. Hopefully people will tune in an they'll show us how they're celebrating Hockey Day like they always have. Some of it will look similar, but there will obviously be a few changes."
FSN will rebroadcast the first Hockey Day Minnesota boys’ high school game from 2007 when St. Paul Johnson faced Lake of the Woods on Baudette Bay, and the 2018 WCHA women’s meeting between Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State, played at Lake George in St. Cloud.
In addition, they will air several video features on hockey people from throughout the state, and look back at previous HDM events. More information and a full schedule is available at the Hockey Day Minnesota page.
The day’s on-air crew from FSN will include Marney Gellner and Mark Parrish broadcasting live from the HDM set in Roseville, Audra Martin and Ryan Carter providing updates from Xcel Energy Center, Anthony LaPanta and Wes Walz calling the Wild game, and Kevin Gorg providing additional reporting. The day’s programming will conclude with the debut of a documentary looking back at the 20-year history of the Wild.
Organizers are encouraging participation in the events from the state’s hockey community by using the #HDM2021 and #ThinkOutside hashtags on social media. Submitted photos will be incorporated into the broadcast throughout the day and some participants awarded prizes from Polaris, which is a title sponsor of the event.
This will be the 15th HDM event. Previous locations have included Baudette Bay (2007, 2008), Phalen Park in St. Paul (2009), Hermantown (2010), Moorhead (2011), Minnetonka (2012), Grand Rapids (2013), Elk River (2014), Holman Field in St. Paul (2015), Duluth (2016), Stillwater (2017), St. Cloud (2018), Bemidji (2019) and Minneapolis (2020).
Hockey Day Minnesota 2021 was originally awarded to Mankato, but the in-person event (the first in southern Minnesota) was postponed until 2022 due to the pandemic.
Wolverines on hold due to COVID
With about a month to play, the Big Ten hockey race is realistically a three-team affair. And one of those teams will be well-rested for the final push. While first-place Minnesota hosts second-place Wisconsin on Feb. 5-6, third-place Michigan is waiting and hoping to be allowed to play games again.
On Saturday, Jan. 23, the University of Michigan paused all of its sports for two weeks under direction from that state’s health and human services department. The decision was made following several individuals linked to Michigan’s athletic department testing positive for a more transmissible variant of COVID-19. Wolverines players, coaches and staff were ordered to immediately isolate and quarantine until Feb. 7.
This affects all Wolverines teams, including hockey, no matter how the testing has gone for their specific roster.
“I guess my initial reaction was a little bit of shock, a little bit of surprise, a little bit of disappointment, a little bit of anger. Our players have done a great job. We've been negative since early July when we first all returned to campus,” said Wolverines hockey coach Mel Pearson, in an interview with the Michigan Daily.
He assured his players that they will complete the season and keep competing for the conference title. “I told them that I strongly feel that we will continue and get back at it and we have to do everything in our power to help each other. Not only stay safe but stay positive and be ready for the day that we get to get back as a group together.”
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Three Wolverines home games, scheduled for Feb. 3-4 versus Penn State and Feb. 7 versus Michigan State, have been postponed at this time. They were originally scheduled to finish the regular season with games at Minnesota on March 5-6 and at Michigan State on March 10. It is unknown if the Wolverines’ schedule will be adjusted to make up the three postponed games.
Lots of TV eyes on the Gophers
With the Gophers having their best season in some time, and in-arena attendance dramatically restricted, many Minnesota hockey fans are biding their time watching the team on TV while they wait for some version of normalcy to return.
For proof, Big Ten Network announced that the Gophers game at Ohio State on Saturday, Jan. 30 (a 5-2 Minnesota win) had 164,810 viewers, making it the most-watched hockey game in BTN history. It was also the most-viewed college hockey broadcast this season.
Playing in mostly-empty arenas and getting tested for the virus has become mostly routine for their Gophers and their staff by now, but they still admit it is a missed opportunity for a big crowd with arch-rival Wisconsin in town and first place in the conference on the line.
“If this were a normal year, (fans) would be coming out of the rafters this week, as we all know,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said in advance of the Badgers’ arrival. “Unfortunately we’re not going to see that.”
But it sounds like they will be tuned in from home.