Hockey Road Trip: Minnesota Nice! (Part 1)

10 January 2020

2018 was an incredible year in my life: After marrying my fiancee Charlene in April, I had now come to the final season of "The Quest", with only three more hockey arenas to visit.  To kick things off, we chose the wintry setting of Minnesota - on the advice of both friends and family that live in the area, we were told to go as early as possible in the hockey season to avoid the worst of the inclement weather.  October seemed like the perfect time!

As mentioned, I have some family who live in Minnesota - specifically, my Uncle Chris and Aunt Susan, who live in the Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth.  They always invited me to stay with them any time after I started these hockey trips, so it was nice to finally be able to take them up on their offer.  They'd also met Charlene and were excited to show her how beautiful their state was, considering that my wife was born and raised in sunny California.

My "travel companion" Chad would actually skip on this trip, as he had already seen a Minnesota Wild game by himself while visiting family in the state previously.  But we would get the opportunity to meet up with a new friend that I had made in 2018, who called Duluth home.  As I have done in the past, I packed the trip with as many sporting events as possible, to include both football and basketball games with our standard hockey nights - I also made sure to schedule some college hockey (which Minnesota is known for), as well as my first USHL game.

We flew into Minneapolis on a Friday night, meeting up with Susan and Chris and joining them for dinner, before retiring for the night to get as much rest as possible.  The weeklong trip would start in earnest the following morning...


Our California bodies took very little time to adapt to the frigid weather, as we hopped in the rental car and headed south.  Our first stop along the way would be Minnesota's Largest Candy Store, a wonderful place situated about 40 miles from Minneapolis near the small town of Jordan.  We spent more than an hour walking through numerous aisles filled with every kind of sweet confection imaginable, from sodas and fruit drinks to assorted pretzels and popcorns - your dentist would not be too happy to learn of this store's existence.  Pop culture enthusiasts would also enjoy the store, as various statues and props from comic books and movies were on display to entertain the guests.  I would certainly recommend a visit to anyone who might be in the area!

We continued on for another 40 miles to Mankato, home of Minnesota State University.  I've made no secret about my love of visiting college campuses - they're usually very scenic and always remind me of some of the greatest years of my life.  We briefly walked around and enjoyed some lunch in the student center, before wandering through the city and having dinner at a nearby shopping mall.  From there, we would end the evening at the Verizon Center, home of the Minnesota State University hockey team - the Mavericks were hosting a national powerhouse in Boston University, ranked #8 in the polls at the time of the game.  It was the second game of a two-game series, with MSU winning the night before, and the rematch would yield a similar result.

The Mavericks would jump out with three goals in the first period to take a 3-0 lead into the locker room, only to see BU come back to tie the game in the second.  A late goal would give MSU a 4-3 lead in the second intermission, and a final minute goal would seal the 5-3 victory for the Mavericks.  My first NCAA game in the "State of Hockey" was incredibly entertaining, and featured the rabid crowd that I was fully expecting.  I made sure to get my obligatory mascot photo, and the two of us returned to Plymouth in the cold darkness.


We were awakened to the inevitable sight of snow out of our bedroom window - it was going to be a long day bundled up in our thick clothes.  We descended into downtown Minneapolis and did our best to take in the snow-covered sights, including the famous Mary Tyler Moore statue.  Today would be an NFL Sunday, as I had wanted to see the amazing architectural structure of U.S. Bank Stadium ever since the Minnesota Vikings had moved in two years before.  Suffice it to say, it was just as amazing as I had hoped, and I found myself wanting to brave the elements and see as much of the stadium's exterior as possible before seeking shelter inside.  The impressive glass roof provided ample light onto the playing field, and the gigantic viking "Gjallarhorn" was a sight to behold!

My interest in football has diminished over the years, and the game itself was a mere afterthought, so we spent most of the time inside simply walking around and admiring the building.  We left during the third quarter of the game to walk to the nearby Mill City Museum, and thankfully it had stopped snowing outside.  The museum, located inside of an old flour mill, was a fun place to visit and provided a rich history of not only the flour industry but also the city of Minneapolis as well.

We tried to stay warm as we wrapped up the day walking through downtown, observing the contrast between both the old and new buildings in the urban center.  We made it an early night, as Monday would provide one of the main highlights of the entire trip!


I can't pinpoint the exact date, but it was sometime in 1984 when I was watching MTV with my older sister and saw the music video for "1999", the newest hit single from Prince.  I'd never seen anything like him and I was completely transfixed by this performer.  I continued to listen to his music throughout the 1980's and 1990's, and finally got to see him perform live on four separate occasions in 2011 (Note: these are the four best concerts I have EVER seen).  I was devastated when Prince passed away in 2016, but it was bittersweet when I learned that his legendary home for many years - Paisley Park - would be opened for tours to the general public.  Tours began in 2016, and I made sure to book the extended 3-hour VIP tour, which included access to some exclusive artifacts AND a free lunch (Charlene opted for the basic 45-minute tour, and joined me afterward).

But our tours wouldn't begin until the afternoon, so we spent the morning at the beautiful Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, and October was the perfect month to visit!  The gorgeous mix of fall colors was complimented by the endless blue sky, which made for a memorable time.

Paisley Park was less than five minutes away in the city of Chanhassen, and we arrived around 1pm to see the dynamic white building.  Photography is forbidden inside its walls, so we had to lock up our phones as we took our guided tours.  Prince's ashes are housed in a miniature replica of Paisley Park near the entrance, and our guides allowed time for guests to pay their respect before embarking on the tour.  The expansive mansion features rooms and displays that covered virtually all of Prince's career, with various video screens showing music videos and live concert performances from the amazing showman.  Since I was on the VIP tour, I had a professional photograph taken inside the biggest studio inside:

Once the tour concluded and we departed Paisley Park, we ventured to two more locations inspired by Prince: a nearby mural in Chanhassen depicting the iconic doves and purple motif, before meeting up with Chris and Susan for dinner at Lake Minnetonka, notoriously referenced in the film, Purple Rain.


In addition to college campuses and hockey arenas, there are two other things that I love to visit: movie locations and state capitol buildings.  As luck would have it, we would see three of these things on Tuesday!  First up was a trip to Eden Prairie Center, the shopping mall famed for its inclusion in the 1995 comedy, Mallrats.  I was a big fan of the movie - I showed it to Charlene on the flight to Minneapolis - and wanted to see if I could re-create as many of the scenes from the film as possible.  Sure, it's just a mall and looks much different than it did in the film, but it was still really cool to see the location in person.

Our next stop was St. Paul, home of the Minnesota State Capitol.  Arriving just before Noon, we took part in a very informative guided tour around the impressive grounds.  I know that many of these capitol buildings tend to look similar, but I still found this particular one to be grand.

Located a brief walk away is the Minnesota History Center, which details the history of the state with educational exhibits and there was a very interesting exhibit about the 1960's on display during our visit.  After a couple of hours exploring the premises, we walked to Tom Reid's Hockey City Pub to join Chris for dinner before the Wild game.

Pavol Demitra (#38) spent two seasons in Minnesota after playing nearly 500 games in St. Louis. 
The pub was fantastic, with great food and awesome memorabilia to delight any hockey fan (I was particularly impressed by the autographed jersey the late Pavol Demitra, who was of one of my favorite players during his years with the St. Louis Blues).


For years, hockey fans have watched the Minnesota Wild play a very slow and methodical version of the game, with an emphasis on tight defensive structure. Unfortunately, that does lead to some pretty boring games and tonight would be no different. The visiting Arizona Coyotes were suffering through yet another miserable October and came into the game having won only once in their first four games of the season. The Wild weren’t much better with a 1-2-2 record, and quickly trailed after Arizona’s Brendan Perlini opened the scoring early in the first period.

The rest of the evening would be a fairly pedestrian defensive game, though the crowd was always invested and kept up their support all night. Charlene and I would use the second period to wander around the arena, while my uncle Chris had to leave during the second intermission. While perusing the lower bowl in the third period, we managed to find a Snoopy statue AND Nordy (the Wild’s mascot), then see Eric Staal score the game-winner for Minnesota as the Wild won 2-1.


There was still more to see in Part 2 of our lengthy trip, such as crossing the state line into Iowa and visiting Lake Superior.  Also...SPAM!

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