Warroad’s Hockey Day was my first, but it won’t be my last

by Jackson Boline

Editor’s Note: Jackson Boline, a former goaltender and High School Hobey Baker Award winner from Alexandria, attended his first Hockey Day MN event. This article is a first-person account of his experience.

Hockey Day Minnesota epitomizes the essence of classic Minnesota hockey like no other event. The outdoor hockey mixed with the fans who bear the sometimes freezing temps to watch a modern style of how hockey was once played is the best way possible for the State of Hockey to bring together thousands of fans from around the state and watch the best product.

Despite being a devoted hockey fan for as long as I can remember, it’s astonishing that attending Hockey Day Minnesota 2024 in Warroad was my first, and it did not disappoint. While I’ve always followed the high school, college, and pro games on TV during Minnesota’s cherished holiday, nothing prepared me for the dynamic atmosphere of being boots on the ground at the live event.

I made the four-and-a-half hour trip up north on Saturday to experience what Hockey Day Minnesota truly is like, and what the city of Warroad had in store. Entering beneath the welcoming arch atop Warroad High School’s football field, I was surrounded by the comforting aroma of bonfires, which evoked nostalgic memories of playing pond hockey on local lakes as a child. Stepping into the event, there was hockey everywhere I looked. Youth hockey games were active on a small sheet of ice, while images of Warroad’s hockey icons enriched the surroundings, a testament to the town’s storied hockey legacy. The Minnesota Wild had a booth where young hockey fans could shoot at a target, and so many places to take a photo, helping to capture a memory.

 

Despite the size of the celebration, and amidst the thousands of fans, the intimate sense of a small community prevailed, similar to the warmth of a local outdoor rink, where only family, friends, and teammates gather and compete for fun.

Although I could feel the competitiveness of the fans in the stands, it still felt as if everyone was just enjoying the opportunity to be a part of the celebration. The phrase, “You could feel the excitement in the air” may get overused but, you really could feel it. This was a special moment for the community of Hockeytown USA, and the State of Hockey.

Warroad showcased their heritage before the National Anthem, with an anthem of their own. This was an incredible way to give a glimpse of the Warroad culture and their history. Prior to the start of the game, late Warroad and Minnesota hockey legend Henry Boucha was remembered with his Granddaughter dropping the ceremonial puck, followed by a moment of silence.

Henry Boucha’s Granddaughter dropped the ceremonial puck kicking off Hockey Day MN 2024. LPH PHOTO BY JACKSON BOLINE

The opening game started around 8:30 a.m. and the crowd was impressive. The matchup was between two of the state’s top teams in their respective classes in girls hockey with the host team Warroad Lady Warriors and Lakeville North Panthers. Despite a hat trick from Warrioad’s Taylor Reese, Lakeville prevailed 4-3. Although the Warriors lost the game, you could tell this was a moment they wanted to enjoy and take in, instead of focusing on the loss.

The distinct look of a Hockey Day Minnesota player is just as much of a tradition as the day itself. The eye black smeared beneath the bottom lash, the neck gaiters, and each goalie wearing their team logo toque on top of their helmet. The other great tradition on this day is the newly designed jerseys for the special contest. In the Lakeville and Warroad girls’ games, they each had a unique design that embodied their history.

Eye black is a Hockey Day MN staple. LPH PHOTO BY JACKSON BOLINE

The Lady Warriors’ special sweaters had a ‘25’ patch, celebrating 25 years of Warriors girls hockey. The jerseys also had the phrase ‘Kaabekanong Ogichidaag’ emblazoned on the front, which means ‘Warroad Warriors’ in Ojibwe. Lakeville North wore a unique throwback-looking jersey, which embodied their history as well.

Warroad captain Madilyn Skogmanb gets ready to take the ice in Warroad’s signature Hockey Day jerseys. Warroad girls hockey is celebrating 25 years. LPH PHOTO BY JACKSON BOLINE

In the second game of Hockey Day Minnesota, Wayzata boys hockey took on Moorhead. The Trojans wore a throwback look as well, but they added blue jerseys and white helmets and gloves, which looked spectacular on the outdoor sheet. Moorhead had a similar idea with their uniform design, going with a throwback looking jersey and white helmet/glove combination. The Spuds also added a stripe on top of their helmets.

Wayzata’s Cade De St. Hubert and Moorhead’s Brooks Cullen sporting their signature Hockey Day uniforms, face off to start the game in Wayzata’s 5-2 victory. LPH PHOTO BY JACKSON BOLINE

The nightcap game featured a historic rivalry with Roseau and Warroad. These two teams have a long history, and their jerseys were a great way to celebrate the storied rivalry. Roseau wore a historic sweater with their classic green look and the words Roseau striped diagonally across the chest.

Warroad boys hockey wore a white jersey with the Warrior logo circled in the center, and around it was the same phrase the girls team wore, which was ‘Kaabekanong Ogichidaag.’ They also wore yellow breezers with white and black stripes, giving a classic look. The Warriors paid homage to two influential figures of their hockey organization, with a number five on the left shoulder for their late coach Michael Tveit and on the right shoulder the number 16 for the late and great Henry Boucha.

 

Hockey Day Minnesota was done the right way in Warroad. They were able to deliver a great hockey experience with plenty of activities surrounding the rink. Warroad also did a wonderful job as there was no bad seat in the house, everywhere you sat had a different viewpoint of the action, which just added to the great environment. Hockeytown USA was able to show the state more about their amazing hockey history, and give an unforgettable experience.

Hockeytown USA was a perfect location for one of Minnesota’s most prideful yearly traditions, and the perfect location for me to visit my first Hockey Day MN event.  It was a wonderful experience, especially for a first-timer.  It definitely won’t be my last.

Jackson Boline is a frequent contributor to Let’s Play Hockey and a former high school goaltender and High School Hobey Baker Award recipient. Boline played in the Class A state championship game in 2018 versus Orono. He had 25 saves in a 2-1 loss. He can be reached at jackson@letsplayhockey.com.