For Seamus Donohue, captain of the St. Thomas Academy hockey team, the biggest thrill of playing in Hockey Day Minnesota at the St. Paul Downtown Airport might be that the teams will hit the ice from a nearby Chinook helicopter.
Or it could be that the Saturday games will be beamed live to Minnesota troops stationed in Kuwait.
Or maybe it's that the games will benefit Minnesota troops and their families through Serving Our Troops, a volunteer organization. Donohue is committed to playing hockey at the Air Force Academy after high school.
"To tell you the truth, it's all of the above," said Celine Donohue, Seamus' mom. "It's really exciting."
In a day — a weekend, really — Hockey Day seeks to honor, support and entertain members of the Minnesota National Guard and their families. Three days of outdoor games on the airport tarmac will feature teams from local high schools, youth groups, the military and even the St. Paul police and fire departments. Serving Our Troops is partnering with Fox Sports North and the Minnesota Wild to combine hockey with service to Minnesota's military families. Since 2004, Serving Our Troops has served 80,000 steak dinners to Minnesota troops around the world.
"In this case, instead of a steak, we're serving hockey," said Pat Harris, a Serving Our Troops volunteer and former St. Paul City Council member.
On Wednesday, as workers put the finishing touches on the outdoor rink — complete with food tent and seating for 4,000 fans — lots of last-minute logistics had to be ironed out. "I put a thing on Facebook yesterday, saying I need two Zamboni drivers," said Matt Anfang, a Serving Our Troops volunteer. "I think I'm all full now."
Anfang said early estimates put the event cost at $500,000. But Ice Rink Events out of Texas cut the bill for equipment and services donated by local companies. The cost now is closer to $100,000, Anfang said. Sponsors such as Thomson Reuters, PCL Construction, SuperAmerica and Ecolab have stepped forward to make it work, he said.
On Friday night a Minnesota National Guard team takes on a Canadian Army team. Two Wounded Warrior teams — one from Minnesota and one from Buffalo, N.Y. — will play. And a team of police will battle a team of firefighters.
The main feature will be Saturday's high school games, with teams from Hill-Murray, Cretin-Derham Hall, St. Paul Johnson, St. Thomas Academy, Rochester Lourdes and the Duluth Northern Stars. On Sunday, youth teams take over.
In addition to the giant heated tent with concessions and a fan fun zone, the Minnesota National Guard will have two Blackhawk helicopters, a C-130 cargo plane and the giant, twin-prop Chinook on display. That's appropriate, Harris said. The headquarters of the Guard's 34th Combat Aviation Brigade is located several hundred yards from the rink.
Members of that brigade, about 300 total, are stationed in Kuwait and will be able to watch the games and speak with their families.
Celine Donohue said her son has always wanted to play on Hockey Day. He's also dreamed of attending the Air Force Academy. "I get tearful thinking about it," she said of what her son will be doing Saturday. "Someday [Serving Our Troops] could be serving our family."
For more information about this weekend's events, or to buy tickets online, go to www.hockeydaymn2015.com or www.servingourtroops.com.