MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Warroad team bus pulled up to Parade Stadium this week ahead of its Hockey Day Minnesota matchup against host Minneapolis, the outdoor setting of the game was nothing new to the guys on the team.
They've been skating outside on one of the nicest rinks around for most of their lives.
The ice sheet in the backyard of Warroad forward Grant Slukynsky has served as a place where many of the current players on the Warriors team have dreamed about doing exactly what they did on Saturday, playing on Hockey Day.
Perhaps the only difference was the skyline of downtown Minneapolis serving as the background.
"For sure, every year that it's on, we'd be sitting around on Saturday morning, watching and thinking, 'maybe one day,'" Slukynsky said. "We always talked about it as little kids."
Slukynsky and the Warriors lived that dream Saturday and won the Hockey Day lid-lifter 5-1, a game that Slukynsky, the state's leading scorer this season, had two assists.
To prepare for the game, Warroad, of course, got its bearings earlier this week by practicing outside on the Slukynsky's backyard rink.
Skating on the rink has become a sort of right of passage for kids in Warroad.
"If you're on the same team as either him or his brother, you've been on it," said Warroad coach Jay Hardwick. "All of the youth kids in town, they skate on it. My own kids have skated on it."
But is the Slukynsky rink the nicest one in Warroad?
"We've got a pretty nice rink in the Gardens, but..." Slukynsky said, his voice trailing off and a smile crossing his face. "It's pretty nice."
More than a half dozen of those same youth teams, along with many of the 1,700 Warroad residents, made the trek south, giving the Warriors a solid following against the day's host team.
"It's probably pretty quiet in Warroad today," Hardwick said. "I looked up in the stands and it was all black and gold. It was great to see all the Warroad people here."
The Warriors, who were the top ranked team in Class A until a stunning loss to rival Roseau on Jan. 9, a game Warroad led
4-1 in the third period, came into the day ranked No. 3 in the state.
Slukynsky, a senior, will play for the Fargo Force of the USHL next season, and is headed to the University of Northern Michigan in a couple of years. But his sole focus remains on unfinished business still remaining this season.
Now that their long trip south to Minneapolis is complete, Warroad has its sights set on another six-hour journey, this time across the river, to St. Paul and Xcel Energy Center in March for the Minnesota State Boys High School Hockey Tournament.
"That's exactly what I told them after the game when I talked to the boys," Hardwick said. "We've had a great start to the season and we've been looking forward to Hockey Day. But now that we've come here and we played well, now we have to focus the last seven or eight games and into the playoffs because we don't want Hockey Day to be the highlight of our season.
"I want to come down here to St. Paul and make another trip down here with the team. Our focus is on that and we're gearing towards that."
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Top photo provided by Slukynsky family via FOX Sports North