Rick Lubbers column: Prep hockey fans offered season finale
Local hockey fans cling tightly to Northland winters.
Sure, they enjoy basking in March's warmer temperatures, paying lower heating bills and watching the ice disappear from area lakes. But winter's end signals hockey's end, and they'd prefer a polar vortex to blow through hockey arenas 365 days a year.
To rabid pucks enthusiasts, nothing is more
depressing than an iceless hockey venue.
But now that the other great Minnesota get-together -- the state boys hockey tournament -- has concluded and most of the Twin Ports' college hockey teams have completed their seasons, most of the Northland's indoor ice will melt long before the vernal equinox.
However, there are still a few opportunities to feed that hockey fix before the offseason kicks in. The Minnesota Duluth men host Western Michigan in a best-of-three National Collegiate Hockey Association playoff series this weekend at Amsoil Arena.
And for high school hockey fans, there are still two more chances to indulge in prep pucks.
The annual high school boys hockey all-star series pitting the top players from the Duluth Area vs. the best from the Iron Range and Northern Minnesota is slated for tonight and Wednesday night at Amsoil Arena and the IRA Civic Center in Grand Rapids, respectively.
As for its official name -- it's a mouthful.
Take a deep breath now ... St. Luke's Orthopedics & Sports Medicine High School All-Star Hockey Series ... presented by CCM.
That's a lot of syllables -- no wonder it's a two-day event.
Kernz and Kompany founded the event and has put it on since 1999, but it may need to shrink the type in order to fit its name on the program.
For sake of saving a bit of ink, let's refer to the event simply as the all-star hockey series for the rest of this column.
But as long as that official name is, the offseason for boys hockey is even longer. After these two games are completed, it will be a long time before the puck is dropped for the start of the 2014-15 season.
For seniors such as Hermantown's Scott Wasbotten, Duluth East's Phil Beaulieu and Grand Rapids' Hunter Shepard, it will be the final hockey games of their fine prep careers.
And not to bring up a sore topic, but where else can fans see Hermantown, Duluth Marshall and Duluth East players on the same ice sheet at the same time? OK, since I brought it up, why can't we round up East, Hermantown, Marshall and Cloquet-Esko-Carlton and pack an arena for two nights to kick off next season? There wouldn't be an empty seat in the house. Heck, pick a worthy charity and pull all of the proceeds for a good cause. Can't say no to that, right? Sorry, I digress.
Duluth has gotten the best of its Iron Range rivals in 10 of the series' 15 years, but the Iron Range is the defending champion of the Dick Stewart Cup and also won in 2011.
If each team wins once, a mini-game will be played to determine the champ.
Anything to stretch the high school hockey season just a little bit longer.
Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at firstname.lastname@example.org or (218) 723-5317. Follow him @ricklubbersdnt on Twitter.