ST. PAUL -- In a practice germaine to Minnesotan culture, Elk River residents Angela and Chris Hansen tend to spend most of their summer weekends at the cabin. Theirs is on Big Sturgeon Lake, about 15 miles north of Hibbing, with a Sidelake, Minnesota address.
Chris owns an insurance company. Angela is a dental hygienist. Their oldest son, Marek is named after former Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky. He and his younger brother, Reese, have recently picked up hockey and are likely to skate on a frozen Big Sturgeon for the first time this winter.
But before that, a small bottle-full of water they and their cabin neighbors collected this summer will help comprise the surface their favorite players frequent all season.
The Hansens, along with more than 2,400 fellow fans, took the first opportunity to bring a piece of their home to Minnesota's home ice Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.
"This is probably one of the coolest things ever," Angela said after her 7-year-old and 4-year-old poured Big Sturgeon Lake water into a Zamboni nestled outside Gate 1. The water collected will be filtered and frozen into the Xcel Energy Center ice first thing Sunday morning.
"And then to be a part of it... just an incredible event."
When combined with the Wild's annual Breakaway 5K/10K/1-mile Run, the first opportunity to purchase single-season tickets at the box office, and an open practice on Day 2 of training camp, Saturday's "Flood the Rink" event brought a sense of Wild fever less than a month out from the club's Oct. 5 season opener.
Runners booed one of their peers who wore a Colorado Avalanche shirt to the race; mascot Nordy zipped up and down the streets cheering on the runners; fans wrapped around the building as they waited for the box office to open -- some of them were here Friday evening. But at the center of it all was a Zamboni, emblazoned proudly with "Our Ice" branding.
Two members of the University of Minnesota's marching band, Brock Grafstrom and Devon Osman, arrived at 5:40 a.m. to make sure they could drop off their water and still make it to band rehearsal on time ahead of Saturday afternoon's kickoff at TCF Bank Stadium.
"We both just have a ton of pride in our boys here, for the Wild and also the state," said Grafstrom. "It was a fun opportunity to pour it into the Zamboni."
Grafstrom brought his water from various places he frequently passes during jogs around campus, including the Mississippi River, while Osman brought some down from one of his favorite vacation spots, Eighth Crow Wing Lake.
While they opted for more natural water sources, others took the opportunity to bring in water that had come from their rinks. Members of the Granite City Lumberjacks commemorated their 2016-17 North American Tier III Hockey League title by scooping some of their home ice into the championship trophy, letting it melt, and pouring it straight from the Fraser Cup into the Zamboni.
"I would say 75 percent of the guys are from Minnesota," said Lumberjacks director of public and media relations Karl Kise, who represented the team alongside assistant coach Ricky Helmbrecht. "They've all played hockey since they were really little… they all had a connection to this.
"It's a great way for all of Minnesota to contribute."
The nickname "Land of 10,000 Lakes" technically undersells the actual amount of lakes in the state by nearly 2,000. In just one day, residents of 299 different cities contributed water.
"It's everything," said Nikki Lee, who brought water from White Bear Lake along with four of her friends. "That's where I met a lot of them … it's home."
One fan biked all the way from Minnetonka to bring his water. Another booked it about 120 miles from Lake Mille Lacs to throw in his contribution shortly before the event concluded at 3 p.m. Even a Lutheran pastor stopped by with pond water of his own.
Video: Wild Fans 'Flood the Rink'
Almost to a man, Wild players interviewed at Thursday's media day expressed enthusiasm for the team's new tradition.
"I think for Minnesota, it takes a whole new meaning," said goaltender and St. Paul native Alex Stalock. "That's what the idea is, for these fans to bring part of their summer to the winter and become one."
Like Stalock, Wild president Matt Majka is excited about the turnout and response from fans.
"It's resonated so well, and it's so fun to watch," said Majka. "The kids [are] dumping the water into the Zamboni, and the light in their eyes … that's what resonates with me, those images, I can't stop watching that. That's really cool."
Still, Majka said "Our Ice" isn't just a one-day event, nor is it limited to Minnesotans. Saturday, water came from neighboring states like North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin; fans themselves hailed from as far away as Maine, California and Hawaii.
Case in point: a fan who lives in North Carolina shipped his mom his water of choice and asked her to pour it into the Zamboni for him -- and demanded that video proof be relayed back to him.
"I can't think of a bigger, better day we've ever had in terms of … a State of Hockey feeling," Majka said. "I can't imagine why we'd ever stop doing this."