The Steele County Blades and Minnesota Mullets, members of the United States Premier Hockey League are ready to play as part of Hockey Day Minnesota.
The teams will face off outdoors at beautiful Blakeslee Field on the campus of Minnesota State University in Mankato on Sunday, Jan. 23 (4:30 p.m. CST) The matchup will be broadcast live on HockeyTV with coverage leading up to the event provided by Junior Hockey’s Most-Watched Show, The Dan K Show.
The Dan K Show's Dan Kmiechick and Lucas Jones sat down upon the 2021 announcement to talk about the news via Zoom with the Blades' Head Coach Nick Adamek, the Mullets' Chris Walby and Minnesota Hockey Expert Dan Bradley. Watch the interview at https://youtu.be/DzMEWfo0S7k!
Nick Adamek, Head Coach of the Blades (located in Owatonna), talked about the opportunity to show the high level of hockey at the USPHL Premier level to prospective future players in the State of Hockey.
“I’m a California kid, never got a chance to play outside, and a lot of kids on our team who never got to play outside,” said Adamek, head coach of the Blades since 2014. “Now we get to play outside in arguably the second biggest outdoor event of the year behind the NHL’s [Winter Classic]. We had a pretty good idea that we would be part of it in 2021. Flash forward to the 2022 event, after the pandemic canceled [2021’s event], I hadn’t really thought about it. It wasn’t until [last summer], the news came through we’d be considered for it. Being the only southern Minnesota junior hockey team in the USPHL, it made it pretty special - they wanted to make sure they had that connection to southern Minnesota.
“There was no one else we wanted to be a part of this with than Chris Walby and the Minnesota Mullets,” Adamek added.
Walby, like Adamek, is not a Minnesota native (he’s from Lodi, Wis.), but he has certainly adopted The State of Hockey as his home. He first began coaching in Minnesota in 2012, and has been coaching the Minneapolis-based Mullets since they were originally the Forest Lake Lakers back in 2016-17.
“Moving up here to Minnesota the last 10 years, I’ve dreamed about coaching in this game,” said Walby. “It’s quite a pack that will be there. I’m excited for that, and it couldn’t be a bigger deal for us and our organization. When it was here in Minneapolis, I wanted to make it happen. Logistically, it didn’t happen, but Nick and his crew got it done.”
The Blades are celebrating their 10th season in 2021-22. Adamek sees the steady progression of the Blades continuing in 2021-22, as they’ve moved from ninth to seventh to fifth over the last three campaigns.
“It made us all hold our heads a little higher, and feel a little better about what we were doing here, and knowing how much it mattered to those paying the bills,” said Adamek.
“Last year, it was Year 2 of our new local ownership group. We went as young as we possibly could, they want to get better every day. Our motto is ‘be better every day.”
The Mullets are happy to be able to provide some of their players with not even a first, but in some cases a second or even more chances to play at Hockey Day Minnesota.
“The roster that we have this year, we have nine Minnesota players. We have players who played in this game, at the high school level, with Eveleth. With the group that is from Minnesota and knows about the event and the game, they’re absolutely fired up about it. The rest of us from out of state, it’s a dream - I always thought about doing this. I hope we have good weather, as [bad weather] is the only thing that could be a downfall.”
Bradley, who was the play-by-play voice of the Mullets the last few years, talked about the wild card of weather in an outdoor game.
“If you’re getting too much sunlight, that could mess with your ice quality. You want that cloud cover,” said Bradley. “You’re dealing with temperature changes, you’re seeing things differently. The boards and glass have different glare outside than they would outside. All that can mess with a player and force you to do things a little differently.”
Both the Mullets and the Blades are located along Interstate 35, and both teams said this game could be start of a rivalry cup series potentially known as the “I-35 Cup.”
Launched in 2007, Hockey Day Minnesota has served as a celebration of the game of hockey throughout the state, similar to Hockey Day Canada.
The USPHL congratulates both the Steele County Blades and Minnesota Mullets on becoming the first-ever Junior Hockey teams to participate in this incredible event.
Stay tuned to the USPHL and The Dan K Show for more information and updates regarding the event.