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White Bear Lake Goes Wild

by Eric Walsh / Minnesota Wild
Marian Gaborik was at his creative best in the Wild's Sunday scrimmage at White Bear Lake.
On Sunday morning, the Minnesota Wild packed up their hockey equipment at Xcel Energy Center, boarded a bus, and headed northbound roughly 12 miles on Interstate 35E for a scrimmage at White Bear Lake Sports Center.

Normally, this would only be done to make room for an event being held at the Xcel Energy Center, but today was special.

It was announced on Jan. 20 of last winter that Dominic Nardini, a White Bear Lake Area Bantam, had won an essay contest sponsored by Minnesota Hockey, in conjunction with Hockey Day Minnesota, which awarded his town the opportunity to host a preseason intra-squad scrimmage.

The essay contest asked entrants to share their thoughts about sportsmanship in 250 words or less. Nardini chose to use a bullet-point approach which included several phrases he thought represented sportsmanship in hockey. For example, he wrote that sportsmanship is “remembering that officials are people, too, and it also means shaking the opponent’s hand after a game.”

All 15 statements he made were familiar mannerisms that sometimes go overlooked in competitive situations. Click here to view the essay in its entirety.

“I was just thinking about what I like to see in other teams and what I like to follow by,” said Nardini, referring to his essay contest submission. “It keeps the game fun and not cheap.”

Five-hundred people filled up the arena stands, and watched closely as Marian Gaborik scored twice, wowing onlookers with a creative wrap-around goal. Brian Rolston opened up the game with a goal of his own, and was joined in the scoring column by Eric Belanger, Ryan Hamilton and Aaron Voros.

Tickets went for $10 each and $15 t-shirts commemorating the event were available. In one corner of the building, concession stand attendants were busy selling food and refreshments. Kids were screaming as their favorite players moved about the ice and parents couldn’t help but smile while sharing a hockey moment with their children that won’t soon be forgotten.

“This is a wonderful opener for our season,” said Dominic’s mom, Robyn Nardini. “You don’t see as much Orange and Black (the traditional White Bear Lake colors) on the boys and girls here today. Instead, you’re seeing them dressed in a lot of Red and Green.”

John Dow, president of the White Bear Lake Area Hockey Association, was one of the people in charge of seeing the ticketing process through. The Wild handed over 500 tickets to the event and let Dow and the rest of his committee members take care of logistics.

“The tickets were distributed in lottery form to registered White Bear Lake Area Hockey Association families,” said Dow. “The first people who put their names in got an opportunity to get a ticket. In the end, we probably had an extra fifty or sixty after the lottery cutoff and then others who forgot, or were late arrivals, all got a ticket, so we sold out.”

As for the proceeds, all of the money generated by the event will go directly toward revamping the White Bear Lake Sports Center.

“We’re going to expand on the development side and add a stick-handling and shooting stations as well as a plyometrics area where players can have an opportunity to increase their strength and quickness.”

A trophy case will also be constructed.

“We want to improve our trophy case,” Robyn Nardini said. “At the moment, there are trophies just on top of shelves and in locker rooms with no place to put them.”

The White Bear Lake Sports Center has seen improvements in the past. In fact, at one point, it was no place for hockey.

“It’s funny,” Dow said. “This building was originally used by the White Bear Racquet Club. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-to-20 years ago, the city bought it, and transformed it into an ice rink. Since then, the Racquetball and Tennis Club has moved across the street, so now it’s all about hockey and figure skating here.”

For such a large hockey community, an event like this puts everything into perspective.

“We have about 1,000 hockey players in our association on the girls and boys side and we have been the largest association in the state before,” Dow said. “I can see the look on the kids’ faces. They’re able to see the dynamic skating going on and the pin-point passing. I can’t believe how excited these kids really are.”

Following the scrimmage, Wild President and General Manager Doug Risebrough expressed his pleasure for how everything turned out.

“[Today’s scrimmage] went well,” he said. “From a training camp standpoint, you want a fast-paced game. The environment was there, and the players always like playing in front of people. It was kind of fun to hear all the stuff that goes on at Xcel Energy Center try to be duplicated at a small area. I’m sure the White Bear people were happy with it, too.”
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