HDM2019 Interview – Making It Happen!
Like any large community event, Hockey Day Minnesota 2019 wouldn’t have happened without a vision and a lot of work from a group of people who shared that vision. That includes local champions, media partners, sponsors, the hockey community, and more.
Today we are going to hear from some of the local people who helped make Hockey Day Minnesota 2019 – Bemidji happen! I sat down with them at a local pub one week after the big event in January 2019 to try and capture their thoughts on how the event worked and why it was successful. There are some great lessons in there about how to successfully approach building a community event.
An event this big, of course, doesn’t happen by itself. The partnership with the Minnesota Wild, along with Fox Sports North and Wells Fargo, is clearly key, so we will visit with a representative of the Wild as well.
Let’s start by hearing from some of the key players. My questions and comments will be in bold, with the responses in black.
What are your names, and what were your roles in Hockey Day 2019?
Tom Kuesel – Chair of the Executive Committee, Chair of the Arena Committee
Kevin Waldhausen – Executive Committee, Member of the Arena Committee
Kris Christopher – Executive Committee, Chair for the Ticketing and Volunteer Committee
Tracy Pogue – Executive Committee, Chair of the Sponsorship Committee, Finance Committee, and Propane Chair!
Where did the idea to hold Hockey Day Minnesota in Bemidji come from, and how did it come together?
TK – For me it started in about 2015 because I had followed the event for a while, as we all did, and wanted to bring it here. I talked to a couple of friends, including having lunch with Tracy and Bob Fitzgerald at the very beginning and said we had to at least explore bringing it here. It kind of mushroomed from there.
Another committee member of ours went to law school with the director of the Duluth Hockey Day, and we made arrangements after our first exploratory meetings to go over there and see if it was something we could pull off. Rob Aitken and I went over and watched and thought, “yeah, we can do this.” That was the catalyst. We spent a lot of time talking about where we would do it, could we raise enough money, could we get enough volunteers, timing. We were actually shooting for ‘18 instead of ‘19 but it turns out ‘18 was taken by the time we got there. Just a slow growth of putting together a proposal, tweaking it, submitting it.
TP – My first kiss was I was still at the bank. I left the 2013 Hockey Day in Grand Rapids, and I was driving down Highway 2 and thought, “Why don’t we do that in Bemidji?” When I got back, I called Grand Rapids and tried to talk to people. One of the first people I talked to was from the Wild, who said “Just so you know, there’s somebody in Bemidji that’s interested. You better talk.” That someone else was Kayla (another Bemidji committee member).
So I met with Kayla, and her and I just said we can do this, we had all these ideas. The timing just wasn’t right, I got cold feet, and just said we don’t have the right timing. I think one of the biggest catalysts when Tom said “Let’s go at this,” if you remember what happened in ‘15 and ‘16 at the high school level in hockey that year, we were going to the Xcel (Energy Center), so the mojo in the community was there. When we all sat in the room that first time and said “Should we or shouldn’t we?” It was like poker, who’s going to blink first and say “let’s do this!” It was a cumulative “Yes, let’s do it!” I don’t remember what month that was, it was probably the summer of ’15.
How many people or groups were represented at the table at that time?
KW – There were about 6 or 7 of us at that point. When we decided “let’s go for this,” we thought about the key people we need, and Kris Christopher’s name came up immediately, and Brian Bissonette, and that’s when the rest of the key people we needed on the executive committee to pull this off were thought of at that time.
TP – It was one of those things where everybody was afraid to say yes. In the room at the moment everyone wanted to do it really bad but we knew what it would take. When we finally decided to do it, it was like “we’re in, ok, let’s go.” It was Katie Bar the Door!
Your goals for this event went beyond the requirements established by the Wild. Tell us about what you wanted to achieve with Hockey Day Minnesota when you started out.
TK – For me, and I think for most of us, it was involving the college, too. It’s always had high school games, but we were unique in that we had a D1 program and two good high school teams and both men’s and women’s college teams, we wanted everyone to be involved with this, and we accomplished that. People think that it’s a single day event, but we wanted to make sure that every youth hockey team (participated), which we accomplished. All 17 groups of youth hockey got a chance to play outdoors. There’s no sense in building a rink this big unless everyone can participate in it. It doesn’t get a whole lot of press, but to me that was one of our biggest successes.
TP – The broadcast is Hockey Day as a high school event, and when the TV is off they don’t really know what is going on in our community. Sunday of that hockey week is when the ice first got used – Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday – we had 9 days of Hockey Day, that people don’t know about until they were the ones using it that day. To Tom’s point everybody got a shot at using it.
Going back to your original question, to me when we sat in that room and we decided that we were going to do it, the outcome was all agreed upon. We didn’t want to be at this point and say ok we may or may not have some money, what are we going to do with it. We all agreed that the recipient of our funds would be outdoor hockey and improve that within Bemidji. We didn’t pigeonhole ourselves to say “we were going to buy this,” it’s going to improve outdoor hockey. Whatever shape that takes we don’t know yet, but that’ll be in concert with Sanford Health.
KC – I think that the goal was to create a “wow” factor, at least that was for me. I mean, certainly the games on the ice is the most important piece. We needed to have good ice, we needed to showcase what we could do there. But I think just creating the atmosphere we did and having people walking away from the event, whether they were hockey fans or not, to say “wow, look at what they did.” Whether you were a huge hockey fan or not you could have a great experience, that was important.
KW – Definitely to showcase our community, our hockey program, our hockey heritage in Bemidji. Any community wants to do it better than the previous community. We not only wanted to raise the bar, but raise it pretty high. It was an event of firsts. We did so many firsts that were not done previously. For example, we were the first to have the junior varsity featured, both boys and girls. We included our JV teams in the hockey banquet, in the games, in being shovel crews for the other teams, that hadn’t been done previously. We were the first to expand it not only beyond one day, but to three. We were the first one to have a D1 men’s team on outdoor ice.
TK – (a list of firsts) Longest event, 9 days; greatest overall attendance (no one has done more than about 10,000 before); possibly Saturday attendance record (I don’t know for sure); having all the high school and college teams involved; having JV games; fireworks,
TP – First one to not have generators. We were hooked up to Ottertail Power, and the sound was the sound, there was no motors running in the back.
KW – The audio visuals were bar none, with Ben/NFLX.
What sorts of things do the Wild/FSN bring to you, and in a nutshell what do you bring to them?
KC – I think as a Local Organizing Committee, we have the ideas and the proposal about how we want things to unfold, but we didn’t get to decide who the teams would be. We were limited by FSN and their needs for setup to keep it to one game Thursday, one game Friday; we wanted to incorporate some of the night games. We could propose a lot of ideas, but in the end we got a “yay or nay” about some of the WILD ideas that we had.
TK – It’s their event, they’ve cultivated it for 13 years and basically once you get the bid, it’s on your community to decide how you want to make it look within the parameters they have. So the cool thing is that every community is going to do this a little differently. It’s going to be an outdoor hockey game of some sort.
TP – Tom said it a long time ago, this is the Wild and FSN’s event, we’re just lucky enough to pay for it. They had a ton of input along the way, and we asked if we could do this or that, for the most part they were pretty amicable. The things that had to be kind of worked through was if there were any contractual agreements the Wild or FSN had previous to our ask of a sponsor or whether our event idea would get in the way of something they were broadcasting. Just the logistics of it. Everything funneled back through Tom and the Wild. I think we had a pretty symbiotic relationship.
How did the decision-making process with the Wild/FSN work?
TP – We should be clear as well that while we use the word “bid” sometimes, it’s not actually a bid, it’s our proposal to the Wild, and they look at it as a group and then accept it. We give them the merits of our community and task force. We don’t actually write them a check, we don’t pay for Hockey Day. I’ve heard that, “What did you guys have to pay to get that?” Well, other than our blood sweat and tears, we didn’t write a check! The next community has to do the same. We were awarded because of the attributes of our community.
KW – They came up and did site visits before the actual award. If you were to get it, where would the location be? Representatives of the Wild and Fox Sports North came up, we showed them the community and multiple possible locations and which one would be our preferred location. They looked at how it would look on TV – are these amenities what you have match our vision of what Hockey Day should look like? We had to sell our community along with our committee and our proposal to the Wild and Fox to get the award.
Did they make additional requests of you before a final decision was made?
KW – They made several trips!
TP – We moved the rink! (The rink was moved so that the Sanford Center and the Water Tower were the background instead of the lake).
We were fortunate to also visit with Wayne Petersen, who is the Director of Community Relations and Hockey Partnerships for the Minnesota Wild. We appreciate his perspective on how HDM2019 came about.
What is the Minnesota Wild trying to achieve by partnering with local communities for Hockey Day Minnesota? Did you achieve it in 2019?
WP – This was our 13th annual Hockey Day Minnesota in Bemidji. When we originally brought the idea of hosting a Hockey Day to our partners at Fox Sports North, our thought was this would be a great way to celebrate the great game of hockey and help grow the game of hockey in Minnesota. We certainly achieved it in 2019 in Bemidji.
It started out 13 years ago in Baudette and what it’s grown to now, thirteen years later, has far exceeded any expectations we had. It’s a tribute to local communities like Bemidji; it’s a big undertaking what they’ve done with it. It’s really become not just a hockey game, but a hockey weekend. It started in Bemidji on Thursday with a girl’s high school game and concluded Saturday with three outdoor games and the big Bemidji State game at the Sanford Center.
We were very thrilled with how things turned out in Bemidji. The event just keeps getting bigger and better every year. We were in St. Cloud in 2018 and they set the bar pretty high and we thought it would be pretty hard to top. But Bemidji did it! Now Minneapolis has taken the torch and it’s their turn to host HDM2020. The Minneapolis members were in St. Cloud and Bemidji and now they have big shoes to fill.
What are you looking for in a community’s proposal to host Hockey Day Minnesota?
First of all, they need to raise their hand and say, “We’re interested!” We’ll go over what the expectations are. When I first hear from a community, two things are pretty critical. You need to put together a good group of individuals to form your Local Organizing Committee (LOC). Second, you need to have a site that can handle this.
It’s not just a site where we can put a rink and some bleachers. Now it’s become, as you saw in Bemidji, they obviously have a rink and seating for 3,000+. There is also now what has kind of become known as Hockey Day Village. There’s things going on at times when there is a game or no game. That’s what’s really important.
When I asked them to form a committee, it’s important they get members of the community from different walks of life – people from the city, people from the business community, people from the schools, from youth hockey, and all come together and form a good committee. That’s what it takes to pull this off.
What made Bemidji’s proposal stand out?
WP – Not only just the proposal, but I first met Tom Kuesel and other members of the committee when they came to HD in Stillwater. For them to drive down to Stillwater, on a weekend in January to see it first hand, spoke volumes to me. They’re really serious about hosting this. And then they sent us a formal proposal to host and I saw who they had put on their committee, got nice letters of recommendation from the Bemidji Mayor, from the Bemidji Chamber, from Visit Bemidji, from Sanford Center, from Bemidji High School, from the Superintendent of Schools, from Greater Bemidji, from Paul Bunyan Communications…
You could tell that they wanted this event. It was an impressive proposal. Between meeting Tom and members of the committee in Stillwater a few years ago and seeing the committee they put together, and the support they got from throughout the city, you thought, wow, this is going to be impressive. I remember our first site visit up there, we were looking at the different sites and it ended with a tour of the Sanford Center. A little meet and greet with (BSU Men’s Hockey) Coach Serratore, and it was awesome! They showed that they really wanted to host this, it was a pretty easy decision!
What is the key to having a successful Wild/Fox Sports North/Wells Fargo/community collaboration?
WP – Having multiple meetings, same passion, receiving proposals to host; I always like to see who is on the LOC, and like to see that there’s support from city hall and support from the CVB and support from the high school and support from the youth hockey association. Having all those different groups come together to pull this off is so important to having a successful event. And then to stay in constant communication with the Wild and FSN is also very important.
If you like this, please follow our social media links or enter your email in the box to the right in order to receive notification of our next post. Next time, we’ll continue the conversation around what it takes to actually put together and hold a successful event. Please leave us your memories or questions in the comments below!