Minnesota became a teenage Thomas Vanek's adopted home. As a collegiate at the University of Minnesota, he wowed with his offensive talents and helped lead the Golden Gophers to a national championship in 2003.
Vanek ended up meeting Ashley, his future wife, and a Stillwater native. The fifth pick by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2003 NHL Draft, Vanek moved to New York, but made his summer home in the State of Hockey, and it's where his three boys were born and raised.
When Vanek signed with the Minnesota Wild in 2014, Stillwater became, as he put it, his full-time home.
On Thursday, Stillwater was announced as the host site for Hockey Day Minnesota 2017. For Vanek, it's another nod toward a hockey community that he's become more and more involved in, and the passion it harbors for the sport.
"It's going to be awesome," Vanek said. "People really care for each other, and they'll put on a good show, and represent Stillwater the right way.
"Just now with the high school team being in the state tournament, everywhere you go, the buzz, it's crazy. It's high school hockey, and the support they're getting, deservedly so, is great. This will just top it off."
Vanek co-owns a rink by the lumberyard that he said is, " … just another way of getting more ice to create more opportunities for the kids there."
He's doing more to give back to his adopted and now permanent home. In 2017, its dedication and passion for hockey will be celebrated by hosting a Hockey Day.
"I'm trying to get more involved with the hockey there, and the youth programs," he said. "It's going to be just special that we live in a great town like Stillwater."