The idea was simple enough: Five days in a workweek, five Division I hockey programs in the state. How 'bout a Puck Drop Tour of Minnesota?

Sure enough, my Strib bosses said yes, and I hit the road this month, driving up to Minnesota Duluth, over to Bemidji State, down to St. Cloud State and southward to Minnesota State Mankato for the outstate swing. Visits to the University of Minnesota are following, and starting Monday and running through Friday we'll have a newsletter that focuses on each of the five tour stops.

What struck me on the tour — along with the hospitality of coaches, players and officials — was the level of commitment to men's and women's hockey for each school. All five schools have arenas that are relatively new or recently renovated.

The importance and quality of hockey in this state was evident last winter, when St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State Mankato all earned No. 1 seedings for the NCAA men's tournament. No other state can claim such a feat in college hockey's history.

Randy Johnson