Braemar Ice Arena in Edina, Minnesota, is home to hockey leagues and pickup games year-round. In the summer months, those numbers swell, and so does the talent, especially on Wednesday nights in July and Monday and Wednesday through August when Da Beauty League takes the ice.
One glance at any of the rosters of the league's six teams, with names like Bjugstad, Guentzel and van Riemsdyk, and you'll understand why.
With such a concentrated population of elite hockey talent in Minnesota, Da Beauty League was born to be an outlet for Division I, American Hockey League and NHL players to get ice time without completely sacrificing their competitive edge.
"It's kind of a glorified pickup game," San Jose Sharks defenseman and White Bear Lake, Minnesota, native Justin Braun said. "It is a lot of fun, and you can see if it's close in the last 10 minutes, guys really get a little more competitive. Games get a little more intense. But at the end of the day, you don't want anyone to get hurt out there. You're just out there having fun."
The fans who come to see current and future stars up the ante. In its inaugural season last summer, Da Beauty League had a near sellout at every game at the 3,600-seat West Arena. A portion of ticket proceeds, at $10 per adult, benefits the United Heroes League and Shine A Ligh7 foundation. Children 12 and under are admitted free.
"With all of the fans, you don't want to be embarrassed out there," Braun said. "And there are definitely bragging rights on the line."
Those rights come in the form of the John Scott Cup, named after the 2016 NHL All-Star Game MVP. The six teams compete in a 4-on-4 format, with games lasting one hour. Regular stats are kept, as is a team record. The four teams with a winning record toward the end of the season advance to the John Scott Cup playoffs.
"I mean, I don't want to compare it to the [Stanley] Cup Playoffs, but as you get into those final four teams, the games get a little intense. Guys know that there is a Cup on the line," Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel said. "Every guy still wants to win."
Guentzel, a Woodbury, Minnesota, native, remembers taking part in summer skates with NHL players at Braemar during his college offseason from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Florida Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad, who hails from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, has the same memories, including being nervous when skating against the late Derek Boogaard. Veteran players like Braun and Paul Martin remember them too.
"It all kind of comes full circle," said Martin, an Elk River, Minnesota, native. "When I was young at summer skates, it was seeing NHL guys like Mark Parrish out there. Now he's coaching [in Da Beauty League]. And I remember Jake Guentzel coming in last year on the ice and now he's started a very successful career in the NHL.
"[Da Beauty League] has now become part of the process from college to pros for guys in Minnesota."
It's that Minnesota bond and the fun of the game that makes Da Beauty League successful for players and fans alike.
"You play against a lot of former teammates, a lot of guys you played against in college and high school, so mostly everyone knows each other and that's what makes it fun," Bjugstad said. "You work hard and have a good time with it. It's one of my favorite parts of summer."
Learn more about Da Beauty League at www.dabeautyleague.com/home
2017 Da Beauty League
When: Wednesdays in July, Mondays and Wednesdays in August
Game times: 6:10, 7:35 and 9 p.m., ET.
Where: Braemar Ice Arena, Edina, Minnesota
Players expected to attend:
• Paul Martin (San Jose Sharks)
• Justin Braun (San Jose Sharks)
• Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers)
• Dustin Byfuglien (Winnipeg Jets)
• Anders Lee (New York Islanders)
• Brock Nelson (New York Islanders)
• Derek Stepan (Arizona Coyotes)
• Alex Goligoski (Arizona Coyotes)
• Ryan McDonagh (New York Rangers)
• Jake Gardiner (Toronto Maple Leafs)
• James van Riemsdyk (Toronto Maple Leafs)
• Nick Leddy (New York Islanders)
• Drew Stafford (Boston Bruins)
• Thomas Vanek (Florida Panthers)