Training camp is still a month away, yet dozens of NHL players are skating for a championship cup this week at Braemar Arena in Edina.
Da Beauty League's John Scott Cup is up for grabs. Playoffs began Tuesday night, with the championship game at 7:50 p.m. Wednesday. But chances are you have never heard of this cup and might be wondering why so many NHL players are on the ice instead of still enjoying summer break.
Octagon Hockey agency and several partners tossed around the idea of a summer league featuring the state's ample professional and premier amateur hockey talent. Players showed interest and eventually Da Beauty summer hockey league was formed.
The inaugural season has attracted more than 35 NHL players — including several Wild players, Zach Parise among them — as well as dozens of minor league prospects and several premier amateurs. It gave them all a chance to train in an organized and competitive game setting.
Some of the coaches are former NHL players, including former Wild defenseman Keith Ballard, who proclaimed before the season that his team, Velocity Hockey, would be better than anyone else's.
Each of the games filled Braemar Arena with 700 to 1,000 fans most nights. Tickets for the 4-on-4, 60-minute hockey games are $5, and kids shorter than the picture of 6-5 Dustin Byfuglien get in free. Proceeds are donated to various charities.
"It's a great experience. It's fun to skate alongside all the NHL players," said Kyle Rau, a former Gophers star who played nine NHL games for the Florida Panthers last season. "It's great for the fans because they get to watch some of their favorite players that they do not get to see very often during the winter.
"It's a pretty good pace for being summer hockey."
The pace and intensity were high last week when the final playoff spot was on the line. Hudson Fasching, new Buffalo Sabres forward and former Gophers star, said even though the summer league has a laid-back atmosphere, "when it comes to crunch time we're trying to make plays and at the end of the game things get intense. That kind of shows how competitive all of us are. … It's a lot of fun."
Fasching's team, Tradition, missed the playoffs, but he enjoyed his time so much he is considering attending Wednesday's championship game.
He said this league is different from any other summer workout he's seen.
"This is one of the great aspects of growing up in Minnesota and being a part of Minnesota hockey," Fasching said. "I was thankful to be a part of it … spending the summer playing for a championship and being exposed to playing with a lot of pros."