High school boys hockey

Governors, Polars christen new ice

North St. Paul gets first win at Tria Rink

By Nick Kelly

Special to the Pioneer Press

The smell of fresh paint permeated from the creamcolored walls. A sign warning of dust greeted anyone who entered the arena through the automatic doors. Orange scaffolding almost touched the ceiling atop the bleachers.

But all of it was not about to stop the boys’ high school hockey fans who came to watch the first game played on Tria Rink at the Minnesota Wild’s new practice facility on the top level of the Treasure Island Center in downtown St. Paul, the former home of Macy’s.

North St. Paul defeated Johnson 6-2.

“You can see it’s still a work in progress, but we didn’t want to not have the game because certain things weren’t 100 percent done,” said Jamie Spencer, the Wild’s executive vice president of business development.

The arena was ready enough. And even if it was not, they probably still would have held the event. Too much planning went into the game for it not to happen.

About a year’s worth, to be exact. Spencer mentioned to Governors coach Steve “Moose” Younghans that the Wild were building the arena and wanted to host some high school games there. Spencer asked Younghans if Johnson would be interested.

Younghans did not hesitate.

“Absolutely we will,” he told Spencer.

Soon, it became much

more than just a game to break in the new facility. Johnson has held a “Military Appreciation Night” in the past. Younghans thought this game would be perfect for it.

He mentioned it to senior captain AJ Austin, who had decided to make the military appreciation game his project for his “Senior Finale” class. It requires students to complete a project on something that serves the community.

It wasn’t hard for Austin to pick “Military Appreciation Night” for his project. His grandfather and father are veterans. He also has three cousins in the military. If Austin’s plans to play junior hockey don’t work out, he said he would love to join the military, too.

But that senior project of putting together this game escalated to a much bigger venue when Austin began meeting with Spencer.

“Give AJ a ton of credit,” Spencer said. “What started as a class project became a really cool event.”

The class project includes a presentation, which Austin has to give to the class in an 8-12 minute time frame.

That might be tough to meet. He will have plenty to discuss.

He could talk about the sweaters. St. Paul Johnson players wore brown camouflage sweaters while the Polars wore all red uniforms with white stars on their shoulders. All jerseys had nameplates that listed the branches of the military. The teams sold their jerseys in a silent auction with proceeds going to the United Heroes League.

He could talk about the

sponsorships that North St. Paul senior defenseman Kearby Larson helped acquire. They raised $5,000 in sponsorships alone, Austin said.

Or, Austin could talk about the scene right before puck drop. The color guard stood on a red carpet rolled out onto the ice. Governors assistant coach Jin Munkwitz’s father, a World War II veteran, stood near them wearing his own brown camouflage sweater.

A few feet away, Austin and Larson awaited the ceremonial puck drop from Austin’s grandfather, Larry Walker, who is a Vietnam veteran.

“It was unreal,” Austin said. “I was so happy. I have been planning this for six months. Just seeing it go together, I had butterflies in my stomach.”

Neither paint fumes nor dust could erase the grin on Austin’s face.