On Wednesday night, six of the 12 Little Wild Learn To Play Hockey sites opened the ice for young, new hockey players.
The program, for five- to eight-year-olds, consists of four, one-hour instructional sessions designed to introduce Minnesota's youth to its core sport.
"Living here in Minnesota it should probably be a law that you need to learn how to skate, and learn how to play hockey," said Allison Cook, whose son Joshua (7), was participating in one of the sessions on Wednesday. "It's a great opportunity for him to get some fundamentals and some basics."
Many in Minnesota have a story that connects them to hockey: A family member, a friend, or just a passion born out of living in the State of Hockey.
Scott Macho, who coaches South St. Paul High School, was running leading Wednesday's Little Wild session at Highland Arena. Macho said his participation in the program was a way for him to pass down a sport that has been such a major component of his life to a new generation of potential hockey players.
"For us, it was just a really big part of our family, so hopefully we can contribute to other families enjoyment of the game, and family togetherness," Macho said. " … It's just exciting to be part of growing the game in Minnesota, and that's what it comes down to."
After paying a registration fee, participants gain access to all four, one-hour sessions, as well as an equipment bag of gear from Total Hockey and CCM Hockey, including a Little Wild jersey.
"It really opens up the program to so many people who otherwise wouldn't have the means to be able to participate in something like this," Cook said. "Once [Joshua] had all the gear on, he was very excited."
Though it was Joshua's first time playing hockey, other Little Wild skaters had a deeper family connection to the sport. Scott Gerry, who was there with his grandson Wyatt (5), reflected on the role hockey has played in his life while he watched the game trickle down to a third generation.
Gerry said he played under coach Herb Brooks at the University of Minnesota his freshman year. He passed the game on to his son, who passed it down to Wyatt.
"It's really important for the kids, and the camaraderie, and the development of it, it really helps," Gerry said. "It's just incredible to watch how they develop, from pushing around, to getting out there and really going for it."
Though Gerry said his son built a rink in their backyard for Wyatt, and taught him how to play, the newcomer to the sport was a little brasher.
"Nope, I learned by myself," Wyatt said.
And whether it was a fourth third generation player learning the game, or Macho, whose father Tom entered the Minnesota Hockey Hall of Fame as a high school coach, Wednesday was simply about cultivating the State of Hockey to its next class.
"It's important that we get people involved, families involved, and let them know that it doesn’t always cost an arm and a leg to get involved with hockey," said Macho, whose son Cooper was on the ice Wednesday in St. Paul. "Obviously the Wild are providing a great opportunity for families and kids to get involved, and have some fun with the game, and just learn it."