ST. PAUL, Minn. -- "This is the most favorite day of my life."
That's what an excited 10-year-old Aidan Steel of Maple Grove said after getting his picture taken with the Stanley Cup at the Minnesota State Fair as part of the NHL Centennial Fan Arena tour.
The NHL Centennial Fan Arena, an interactive traveling fan experience that will visit all NHL markets across North America in 2017 to celebrate the League's 100th year, will be at the north gate of the fairgrounds beginning at 9 a.m., from Sept. 1-4.
"I thought it was awesome," Steel said. "It has every single hockey team who has ever won, every player on it, printed into it, and only NHL players win it.
"I really want to win it someday, too."
The Minnesota State Fair is the largest state fair in the United States by average daily attendance, second-largest in the country by total attendance behind Texas, and attracts nearly 1.8 million visitors each year. Combining 'The Great Minnesota Get-Together' with the sport Minnesota cherishes so deeply is a natural fit.
"It's the State of Hockey," Aidan's dad, Jim, said. "We get to see how hockey started 100 years ago and how it's evolved. It's been really cool and we've really enjoyed it."
Even in late summer hockey isn't far from Minnesotan's minds. The Steel family was one of hundreds who arrived early on Friday to see the Cup. Minnesota Wild jerseys, t-shirts and hats littered the crowd as fans moved from Cup photos to a Zamboni virtual reality experience, to a pop-up ball hockey rink, to the 53-foot interactive museum truck complete with a Minnesota Wild mirror to sign that will be on display at Xcel Energy Center this season.
Wayne Irene of Excelsior tried his hand at resurfacing the ice with the virtual reality Zamboni. He was told more than once that he had to circle back after missing a few spots.
"It is a lot harder than it looks," Irene said. "I missed a couple spots, so I need to make sure I stay in that area longer than I should before I go to my next spot. But I think [driving an ice resurfacer] is what I want to do in retirement now."
Jennifer Petersen of Roseville enjoyed watching Wild highlights.
"I still cheer every time for any goal they score," she said. "It's still exciting. Hockey season never ends here."
Fans were treated to a meet-and-greet and autograph session with Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon and forward Tyler Ennis. Spurgeon, who has played the past seven seasons for the Wild, admitted last year was his first time visiting the fair.
"I think everyone from the state ends up coming [out to the State Fair], so it's great to make hockey -- another big draw in Minnesota -- a part of it," Spurgeon said. "Everyone is just out here having fun, enjoying the great summer weather and time with family. Our kids have been talking about it all week.
"It's a great wind-down to summer and [the NHL Centennial Arena] gets people excited for hockey right around the corner."
While fans enjoyed all aspects of the NHL Centennial Arena, the seemingly never-ending line to see the Stanley Cup suggested it was the favorite.
"It was the first time seeing the Cup and it made dreams come true," Emily Gibbons of Ixonia, Wisconsin, said. "Dad reminded the boys [Gavin, 2, and Porter, 3 months] that they couldn't touch the Cup because they need to win it some day for that privilege."
And while no touching until you win it is a Cup tradition, so is eating and drinking out of it, perfect for a state fair featuring cheese curds and Sweet Martha's cookies. Which state fair food will Aidan Steel fill the Cup up with, should he win it?
"I'd fill it up with pronto pups," he said.
Former Gopher Phil Kessel would be proud.
For more information and the most up-to-date schedule of events, visit nhl.com/fanarena.