Just one to go
Look at this map for a second:
Isn’t that a thing of beauty? Minnesota is the only state I have yet to play hockey in on the trip. Sure, I’ve played there numerous times in the past, most recently on June 17, 2011, but those sessions were from before I embarked on my grand tour. For the trip to conclude, I have to play there once more before the end of the year. Minnesota’s neighbor, North Dakota, served as warm-up to my homecoming.
In the original version of the trip plan, North Dakota was supposed to be the first state. Unfortunately, I had trouble finding a game there in late June, so I bumped it back to early September when I would be traversing from the western side of the continent to the eastern side. Again, there were problems finding a game on both the right day and in an accessible location, so I bumped it back as far as possible. North Dakota became the penultimate state.
When the Puck Daddy story was published, I received some messages from people who were shocked that I could not find places to play in North Dakota. One of those people was a guy named Erik who worked at UND in Grand Forks. He tweeted:
@teuobk You said in your blog post you couldn’t find hockey in North Dakota? Look me up, there is PLENTY of hockey to be had in Grand Forks
…which sounded great to me! I always love getting connections to games.
True to his word, Erik hooked me up with a game to play in when I was in Grand Forks today. Even better, he got me a ticket to watch the UND Fighting Sioux play an exhibition game against the Russian Red Stars at the beautiful Ralph Engelstad arena. (Did I mention that Erik was also a goalie? That could be a trip theme itself: goalies helping goalies.)
Grand Forks is not a large city, but its passion for hockey outshines that of cities ten times as big. The players at my skate were down-to-earth guys with a lot of skill, the ice at the arena was nice and fast, the employee at Hockey World who sharpened my skates did a great job, and the fans at the UND game were boisterous despite it being a somewhat lopsided exhibition contest.
I’m glad my second-to-the-last stop was in Grand Forks. North Dakota worked out in the best way possible.