New Minneapolis facility provides access point for non-traditional hockey players and fans to get in the game – The Rink Live
MINNEAPOLIS — Standing on a balcony overlooking the ice, where a dozen children in Minnesota’s largest city were playing a game of fetch, Dan Brooks couldn’t help but think of his father, the legendary Herb, who died in a car accident almost 20 years. years ago.
“My dad would have loved to be here today,” Brooks said, then offered a clarification as he looked around the rink. “Well, not here. He would have been there, on the ice.
Herb’s children, Dan and Kelly, were among those recently at Northeast Ice Arena, just a few miles from the skyscrapers of downtown Minneapolis, for the grand opening of a new facility designed to be a hot spot. access to hockey in the city and leave a legacy for the most attended hockey game in Minnesota history.
The 2022 NHL Winter Classic will be remembered for the subzero cold as the Minnesota Wild fell to the St. Louis Blues on a temporary rink at Target Field. But the game’s lasting legacy will be used for years to come.
The Wild, the NHL and the Herb Brooks Foundation together funded about $75,000 to improve the Minneapolis Community Ice Rink, which is operated by the city’s parks and recreation branch. The addition includes a state-of-the-art dryland training room and a smaller mentoring room where kids and their coaches can meet in a quiet place with comfy chairs and places to do homework or review game strategy. hockey.
To properly christen the new gym, Wild strength and conditioning coach Matt Harder put the boy and girl captains of the Minneapolis high school hockey program through an intense series of stretches and drills. , similar to what NHL players endure.
Minneapolis and St. Paul were once hotbeds of hockey in Minnesota, with stars like Brooks (St. Paul Johnson), Tom Chorske (Minneapolis Southwest), Paul Holmgren (St. Paul Harding) and Reed Larson (Minneapolis Roosevelt) learning the game on the neighborhood rinks that dot the metropolitan area. This is no longer the case, as increased ethnic diversity in both cities has resulted in fewer children from traditional hockey backgrounds in public schools and fewer children on the ice in the winter.
Even though Minnesota is the state of hockey and it’s so important to so many of us, there are still a lot of communities and kids who don’t know about the sport and frankly it hasn’t been to them. accessible.
Matt Majka, Wild Team President
Minneapolis now has just one public high school program for kids from more than half a dozen schools, and while the boys in Minneapolis rode a spirited run to the state tournament last year , there is a clear idea that more can and should be done to get inner city kids back on the ice in greater numbers.
A place like the dedicated Drylands Training Center in Minneapolis with Wild and NHL officials on hand can absolutely help, they believe.
“Facilities like this are important because communities engage where they have the resources to engage,” said Kim Davis, who works for the NHL on the game’s growth and social impact. loved northeast Minneapolis having a safe place with top notch equipment and where the kids can work on their physical and mental health. “It makes them feel like they’re part of our community, and it makes them feel like they’re part of our sport, and that’s vitally important to the growth of the game.”
This is not a new idea for the Wild, which in 2021 launched its
program. The goal is to get more kids of color to try hockey and give them the opportunity to stay in the game if it’s something they love.
The Wild works with community leaders among Minnesota’s diverse minority groups to identify kids who have an interest in trying hockey and whose families have the resources to keep them involved in the sport long-term.
“We’re not just trying to find kids to enroll. We want after that first year they can still afford it,” said Kalli Funk, who administers the program for the Wild. “Hockey is an expensive sport, and that’s a whole different subject, so there’s a big chunk of recruiting that goes into that program.”
In 2021, they brought 100 kids of color to TRIA Rink in St. Paul for four weeks of skating lessons, using loaner skates and helmets provided by the Wild. If a player wants to take the next step after learning to skate, they are enrolled in the Little Wild Learn to Play program and receive a full set of hockey gear. If they want to move on once this program is over, the Wild will pay up to $500 to enroll a child in their community’s youth hockey program for their first year.
Of those 100 who learned to skate their first year, 70 of them went on to Little Wild. This year, 80 children learned to skate and 51 of them are learning to play hockey, with the goal of having more people of color on the ice and in the audience at hockey games in Minnesota. According to a Wild player, it works.
“For me, being on the ice and looking and seeing people of color in the stands is something that doesn’t happen often, but you’re starting to see that happen more at Xcel, which is cool,” said Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, whose mother is Filipino-Canadian. “It wasn’t like that at the beginning of my career. My friends and family came to the rink and felt like a needle in a haystack when they were at Xcel, and that’s starting to change. Hockey becomes more dynamic and welcoming. That’s what I’ve been trying to do for the past few years. »
Still, there are a myriad of challenges facing the game in Downtown. Some involved in Minneapolis youth hockey say cost is a big factor and transportation is another. Think of all the miles a hockey parent puts on their car to get a kid to practice and games. Then think of those who rely on public transportation to get around, and it’s nearly impossible to stick to a kid’s athletic schedule that way.
Jeff Scott, the NHL’s point of contact for growing diversity in hockey, not just on the ice but in terms of fans and job opportunities, said there’s a lot of work to be done. , but he remains encouraged by what he sees in places like Minnesota.
“We’re making progress,” Scott said while touring the new facility in Minneapolis. “I can’t say we’re there yet. I can’t say we’re settled, but I can say we’re extremely optimistic given the progress we’re making and the conversations we’re having, to make sure we’re making the game safer, more welcoming, more inclusive for which we would consider lovers and fans of non-traditional sports.
As they chase a Stanley Cup on the ice, the Wild have adopted the mission statement “Creating a Better Hockey State” to characterize their off-ice efforts, which includes contributing to facilities like Minneapolis.
“Things like this are so critical to revitalizing areas like this that were once the home of hockey,” Wild team president Matt Majka said. “Although Minnesota is the state of hockey and it’s so important to so many of us, there are still a lot of communities and kids who don’t know the sport and frankly, it doesn’t help them. been accessible. So things like this are so important to expanding our footprint and showcasing communities that haven’t had the opportunity.