On a blue-perfect midsummer early evening, one by one they filed into a hockey arena. Sure, the sunny skies and 83-edgree temperatures might have screamed, “Why the heck are you going indoors?’’ but into Edina’s Braemar Arena they streamed.
The reason: This is Minnesota, and the sport is hockey. Specifically, it was Da Beauty League, a gathering of NHL, minor league and college players who train for much of the summer in Minnesota. The league -- which began July 10, plays next on July 31 and runs Mondays and Wednesdays through Aug. 21 -- features four-on-four play, no body checking and two 23-minute running-time periods. And, oh, all penalties result in a live penalty shot, with action continuing immediately if the goalie makes the save. Admission for three games beginning at 5:30 p.m. each session is $10, and proceeds go to charity.
Think of the intensity as NHL All-Star Game-like, though it does ramp up as the six teams vie for the John Scott Cup in August.
It’s an interesting mix of stars, grinders, journeymen and prospects honing their skills and conditioning. Wednesday’s action included 37 NHL players, with the first matchup featuring marquee, high-dollar players in Team Tradition’s Zach Parise ($7.54 million per year) of the Wild facing Team Walser’s Ryan McDonagh ($6.75 million) of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
One of Parise’s Tradition teammates Wednesday was incoming Gophers goalie Jared Moe, who acquitted himself nicely in a 6-5 overtime loss to Team Walser. Moe, a former Holy Family standout from New Prague who spent the past two seasons with Waterloo of the USHL, showed agility, athleticism and a calm net presence. His first-period highlights included a save on a penalty shot, and in the second period he reached back to stop puck that trickled past him just before it would have crossed the goal line.
The evening, however, wasn’t all good for Moe, who suffered a cut on his left thumb when Walser’s Jonny Brodzinski sliced the Tradition lead to 3-2 on a 2-on-0 goal. After a brief delay to get the wound bandaged, Moe returned to the net. After the game, he needed a couple of stitches.
In the three-on-three OT, Moe made a spectacular sprawling save that had the crowd of roughly 1,000 gasping. But a couple of minutes later, former Gopher Steve Johnson beat Moe for the winner.
“I thought it was good. I would’ve liked to get the win, but that’s not how this league works,’’ Moe said, describing his play amid the racehorse hockey that features plenty of 2-on-1s and 2-on-nones. “That three-on-three [OT] is so tough.’’
Moe might be the front-runner for the Gophers’ starting job this fall. He’ll compete with fellow freshman Justen Close and Michigan transfer Jack LaFontaine. Facing such offensive talent in Da Beauty League should help, Moe said.
“It gives you a chance to show what you’ve got,’’ he said. “I like trying to make some athletic saves, especially in summertime when you can try some different stuff.’’
It’s the fall and winter in Dinkytown, however, that’s on Moe’s mind.
“I’m super excited. I think we’re going to have a good team,’’ he said. “Obviously, I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team do better and hopefully win a national championship.’’
Moe wasn’t the only Gopher turning heads. Sophomore Sammy Walker of Edina had a hat trick for Team BIC in a 7-6 overtime loss to Team Jack Link.
“It’s awesome playing against all these pros,’’ said Walker, who has five goals in two games in the league. “They’re guys you grew up watching, and now you’re playing with them.’’