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St. Cloud ups ante for future Hockey Days

Elite setting combines with perfect weather for arguably the most memorable Hockey Day Minnesota yet

by Dan Myers @DanMyers / Wild.com

Video: Hockey Day 2018: Sights & sounds

ST. CLOUD -- Derrick Brown has the unique perspective of becoming the first high school coach to guide two different teams on Hockey Day Minnesota.

Three years ago in St. Paul, Brown coached Luverne High School when it lost 6-5 to St. Paul Johnson at Holman Field. 

On Saturday, Brown was on the other side, as his St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders scored an 8-3 win over crosstown rival St. Cloud in the Hockey Day opener at Lake George.

"The guys always said, 'What's it going to be like?' I said St. Paul was three years ago, I have no idea," Brown said. "St. Cloud's a new atmosphere. When we were there, we were on an airfield, now we're in this wonderful setting, so I just told them to expect the unexpected and have fun with it."

Brown said as fun as the experience was a few years ago, he credited both the Wild and FOX Sports North for improving on that experience even more this time around. 

"It was a wonderful experience the last time I did it," he said. "It's 10 times better now."

For Brown, a social studies teacher at Cathedral, part of the allure has been seeing the excitement of the community in the weeks and months leading into Hockey Day. 

He said he scanned the crowd during his team's game Saturday and saw faces from his classroom that he would have never expected to see at the rink. 

"Our kids could really see it throughout the weeks. It was kind of like, in December, a lot of kids that don't even watch hockey are kind of coming up like, 'What's this about?'" Brown said. "But they [were] here experiencing this, so it's a wonderful time for our city. It's a hockey community. I think we're showing that."

St. Cloud in all its glory was on display on Saturday. The stands at Lake George were packed, the weather was picturesque -- high 30s, partly cloudy most of the day -- and ice conditions were ideal.

Instagram from @hockeydaymn: There's nothing quite like pond hockey �� #HDM2018 @wellsfargo

While some, like Brown, are Hockey Day veterans, many others were getting an opportunity to play on the state's celebration of the game for the first time. 

"It was amazing, the whole time, even if you're up or down it's just fun to be out here and playing outdoors," said St. Cloud State women's captain Brittney Anderson. "This doesn't happen often when it's this competitive, and you get this many fans. It was honestly the best experience hockey-wise for me." 

For the first time on Hockey Day, women's college hockey was featured on the outdoor ice -- and what a first impression it made.

St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth went toe-to-toe in a barnburner, with the Huskies and Bulldogs going through regulation and overtime tied at 1-1.

Heck, even offense in the shootout came at a premium, as Anderson buried the only goal in the skills competition, beating UMD goaltender Catherine Johnson in the sixth round of the shootout.

Tweet from @fsnorth: .@brittanderson9: ��@JAlduez: ��@SCSUHUSKIES_WHK takes home the "W" on a #HDM2018 shootout!! pic.twitter.com/VuB5UxgOQ4

Despite a lack of offense, it certainly wasn't a boring game. Each team cruised up and down the ice, creating plenty of quality scoring chances each way.

"For our athletes, it was truly a special moment," said SCSU women's coach Eric Rud. "We don't get this kind of fanfare a lot and media coverage and all that. I was very proud of the way they came focused and ready to go. We were able to enjoy the experience and still play well at the same time, so it was really fun."

Across town, the energy of Hockey Day infiltrated the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center as 5,591 fans packed the Huskies' home rink for a men's college game between a pair of highly ranked men's teams. 

Minnesota State won the game 5-2 over host St. Cloud State, but it was highly entertaining game with plenty of pace. 

"It's awesome, it's an awesome event and a televised game is always big for us. I think a lot of boys draw from that and show up to play for that," said Mavericks forward Zeb Knutson, who scored two goals in the game. I'm not from Minnesota, but I was close enough that I played a lot of summer hockey here. I've heard of it, I've known about it most of my life and I've always watched those outdoor games. It's a special day for me and even though I'm not from here, I'm glad all the boys showed up and played for the occasion."

Even as the glow of Hockey Day 2018 fades into the rear view mirror, it's never too soon to start looking ahead to Hockey Day Minnesota 2019.

For the first time, the following year's host city was named one year in advance. Next winter's event takes place a three-hour drive north of St. Cloud in Bemidji, home of the high school's Lumberjacks and the University's Beavers.

Video: Bemidji to host Hockey Day 2019

Tweet from @mnwild: He was a legend at @BemidjiState both as a player and as a coach. Tonight Bryan Grand brought water to #OurIce for #HDM2018. pic.twitter.com/eNmWNYSnft

When next year's event kicks off on the shores of Lake Bemidji, it will have big shoes to fill. The folks in St. Cloud did a fantastic job in making those from all around the State of Hockey and beyond feel right at home.

"It was kind of indescribable. You know you've always kind of dreamed of being to be able to be in Hockey Day and being able to get a goal to get our team back even. It was pretty exciting," said Minnesota Duluth's Naomi Rogge, a native of Eden Prairie. "Especially on the bench, we were always cheering no matter what. Just being out here, I think it kind of brought us back to the little kids who started on the ice like this. So it was just fun to be out here."

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