Posted by: Feldman
If you watched the high school hockey games played at Handke Pit in Elk River on FSN today, you had a better view than I did of most of the goals in Rochester Lourdes' 4-1 loss to Cloquet-Esko-Carlton.
But, then again, who really cares about the goals. Honestly, the score, the outcome, the play of the game isn't really what the coaches, players and fans are going to remember about this day a year, five years, 10 years from now. They're sure not what I'll remember.
OK, so Lourdes' Peter Alexander will probably remember scoring his team's lone goal and Tyler Vehrenkamp will remember getting the assist. And Jack Burkel will probably remember the highlight reel saves he made through the first two periods, including a get-that-shot-outta-here glove save on a breakaway.
Really, though, the best memories will be of stepping off the bus at 8:30 a.m., 90 minutes before game time, and stepping over to the top edge of the natural bowl that forms Handke Pit, looking down at the rink and the bleachers and the lights and cameras of Fox Sports North.
I'm sure they talked a lot on FSN about Handke Pit -- one of the locals told me not to call it a pit; it's a stadium. He was probably around when the glacier formed it and he was quite intent on it being called a stadium. But some other, younger locals told me to go ahead and call it the pit; they were just excited to be showcased on region-wide and nationwide TV (Fox Sports 2).
Anyhow, I'm sure they talked a lot about Handke Pit on TV (I haven't watched the game or FSN's coverage yet, though I DVR'd it all), but here are some of my thoughts:
* It was an amazing setting. FSN and the Minnesota Wild do an awesome job every year of not only finding settings that look outstanding on TV, but also are outstanding in person. Lourdes coach Josh Spaniol sent me a pic about a week ago when he drove up to Elk River and drove by it. I told him today that the pic looked awesome but nothing could do justice to seeing it in person.
* The natural bowl, formed by a glacier, was the exact right size for a full-size rink with regulation boards and very good, mostly smooth ice, bleachers on each side and one end, and a smaller rink behind the bleachers that had youth hockey games being played on it all day. Trees line three sides at the top of the bowl and Handke Elementary School is on the fourth side, the west side.
* I checked in at the school at 9 a.m. and they funneled the media out through a back door that overlooks the entire pit. What a sight to walk out the door and see the place, with near-empty bleachers. A handful of players from each team were standing outside their locker rooms (trailers that were just big enough to hold a full team; Lourdes and C-E-C had to be out of those trailers 10 minutes after their game so Elk River and Stillwater could move in) just soaking in the atmosphere.
* One of the coolest aspects of Handke Pit was on the south side, the same side as the team benches. Up at the top of the pit was a platform for handicap seating and then about 6-7 rows of wooden bleachers built into the side of the hill. It was an awesome vantage point to watch the games from and just take in the entire area.
* The charming little warming house was turned into the media work area. The whole building is maybe 15-20 feet wide and deep. It's made entirely out of big rocks and built into the north side hill. It also had donuts and hot chocolate, which I'm just assuming are there every day, right? Right?
* The rink itself was very well kept. The ice was pretty smooth, though twice I noticed players nearly lose their footing while skating slowly. Both times it was right up against the boards, though, so it may have been a function of snow built up. The ice was as smooth as you could hope for outside. The puck was hopping and bouncing more than you'll see on indoor ice, but it wasn't distracting. In talking with Lourdes goalie Jack Burkel after the game, he said there were a few awkward hops and bounces that caught him off guard. I noticed one in the first period, when he left his net to play a puck along the back boards and it hit a spot on the boards and bounced straight back out in front of the net. Burkel was able to quickly get back and clear it away.
* As for the game itself, I'd say C-E-C controlled more of the play and had more scoring opportunities. That said, they scored twice on power plays, once on an empty-netter and once after what looked like a hand pass. I'm not making excuses, just saying the teams seemed more even than 4-1 indicates.
* It was 0-0 going into the third period, which is exactly the type of game Lourdes needed it to be. They weren't going to win 6-5 or something like that. They needed a 1-0, 2-1 type of game. They had that until they took a couple of penalties and C-E-C converted on the power plays.
* We had a photographer at the event shooting pics for us; I'll post some of his professional shots when I see them later tonight, tomorrow or on Monday. For now, I'm going to post a few that I snapped on my cell phone. They're not great, but I think they give you an idea of what the Handke Pit -- or Handke Stadium -- looked like.
The first one is Montana Streit taking a faceoff at a west-end faceoff dot.
The second pic is Aaron Van Galder leading Lourdes out for the third period.
The third pic is the view of when I stepped out the back door of the Handke School for the first time.
The fourth pic is from the wooden bleachers built into the south-side hill of Handke Pit, up at the very top. What an amazing setting to watch a hockey game.
HAPPY HOCKEY DAY!!