HDM2019 Interview – The Payoff
Today we will wrap up our conversation with the organizers of Hockey Day Minnesota 2019, hosted in Bemidji on January 17-19. We’ll hear about the impact of HDM2019, both for the community and the people involved in putting it together! There’s also a lot of great advice for other communities looking to host this or other large events.
We’re appreciative of members of the Local Organizing Committee and Minnesota Wild for taking the time to sit down with us a short while after the event and give us their perspective on how a large event like this worked.
If you want to read more on how this event came to be, check out our Overview post, our Making It Happen! interview, or our How It Works interview.
Let’s continue hearing from some of the key people involved. My questions and comments will be in bold, with the responses in black.
TK – Tom Kuesel, Local Organizing Committee
KW – Kevin Waldhausen, Local Organizing Committee
KC – Kris Christopher, Local Organizing Committee
TP – Tracy Pogue, Local Organizing Committee
WP – Wayne Petersen, Minnesota Wild
It sounds like you achieved your goals for Hockey Day. What else did it achieve for the community that you weren’t expecting?
TP – Over 112 miles on a four wheeler in three days, in one little five acre area! They were a saving deal – we had six vehicles, with the Kubotas, they were pretty much running nonstop for 9-10 days, maybe longer. Not only passenger transport, handicap transport, propane, gear, emergencies, transferring dignitaries, concessions, money, anything you can haul, we hauled with it. Bemidji Sports Center and Acme helped with those!
And along that, because of the cold, Ray’s Sport and Marine provided these fish houses for little offices, we used those in concert with moving around people. The cold just threw a wrench into it. We had to turn it up a notch. We showed up Saturday morning and got to Kris’s volunteer trailer, empty propane, nothing’s lighting, volunteers standing in line waiting to get in, it was chaos with 30 below – and we figured it out. Although you expect it to be cold, you don’t realize what mother nature can do to propane and all the other stuff that went with it. Just makes it harder.
KW – Our partners/sponsors adjusted and stepped up to the cold and helped us through that.
TP – Mark Mann, NCESI/North Country Electric Services Incorporated, when you think about the main power coming in, all the lights, someone has to take great big giant cables coming up from underground and make it work, that was his job. He was on site doing a nice sponsorship trade out, but the electrical needs ended up being immense because we didn’t have generators, so everything had to be wired. We built a city, and Mark did it. Way, way over and above his sponsorship.
KW – Sanford Health brought in equipment to protect the players. The feet warmers, the hand warmers, the neck scarfs, the chap sticks…
TK – …Athletic trainers, doctor, ambulance, first aid.
So I hear you saying that the way everyone stepped up for a new experience, everybody stepped up in ways you didn’t expect, people jumping onto a common goal because of an event like this?
TP – The community alignment that we had and the way it spurred out and everybody on a common goal, I would hope that people learn from that and look what happens. Look what you can do when everybody is aligned on a common goal and pull something off.
TK – We had sponsorship agreements with just about everyone. We spent a year pulling together written sponsorship agreements, those were for “X”. You agree to do “X” and for us and we agree to give you these benefits. Just about every sponsor, especially the big ones, did 2X or 3X, way more than they were expected to, just because they saw the need and they were able to fill it and they wanted to be a part of it.
That was my favorite part of the whole thing was seeing all these sponsors and volunteers go way above and beyond what we thought they were going to do.
KC – I think they could see everything unfold in a way that they wanted to do everything possible to create that success, that vision that we originally shared.
TP – I think part of that success is due to what we did as an informative part of our mission, was Kris, Tom, Kevin, we went to different groups, Rotary, Lions, the Chamber, Visit Bemidji, the City, and we informed them way out in advance that “here’s what’s coming, this isn’t a hockey game,” and we gave them this whole long spiel about what’s coming, so the fire was there. And when we had the marketing machine hit with Bissonette’s team about what’s happening…
Another first, July 1st we had a huge party coinciding with the Best Minnesota City celebration, along with Fox (Sports North) broadcasting live in Bemidji.
Subsequent to that we had the “100 Days Till Hockey Day” party that was broadcast live during a Wild hockey game. The marketing machine kicked off way, way early. We had so much excitement and buzz around the community that people were excited to do those extras because of what the marketing machine was doing.
That’s a lot going on! We asked Wayne Petersen of the Minnesota Wild about the magnitude of the event.
Do you think it’s going to be possible for a smaller community or group of communities to put something like this together in the future?
WP – I would say anything’s possible. They just have to have the means to host an event of this size and what it has become. Our goal is to move this event from city to city and to all corners of the state. We’ve done that so far. There’s now, more so than ever, a lot of interest from communities throughout Minnesota who have contacted us and said, “Hey, we’re interested in hosting this event.” And a couple of communities have said they’d like to host it again. I think when someone says they want to host it again, that speaks volumes. It’s a huge undertaking, but there hasn’t been a host community that has hosted this event that regrets it. It’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of people coming together to pull this thing off.
It’s so fun to see it come together, and it came together so nicely in Bemidji. We overcame the bitter cold temperatures. I was at the Friday night game between Bemidji State and Michigan Tech and I thought I was on the set of Mystery Alaska! Such a cool setting. It was warm that night, it was only 14 below, and the place was packed! It was so fun.
For high school hockey players, every Minnesota player dreams of playing in the state tournament in St. Paul. Second to that is playing in Hockey Day. That’s what it’s become. We’re thrilled that it has achieve that status with the Hockey Community and we want to keep bringing this opportunity to as many boys and girls, young men and women as possible.
Looking back, what did you learn that you’ll be able to incorporate into future Hockey Days?
WP – Number one, we can survive 26 below! Thank goodness there was no wind! Looking back, members of the Minneapolis committee were in Bemidji, and they talked to the Bemidji committee. Obviously now Minneapolis is going to take it and say ‘Bemidji did this, let’s do something like that but put a Minneapolis spin on things.” It’s really cool to see what HD has become. All the credit goes to the Local Organizing Committees. There was a lot of plaid in Bemidji, Lumberjacks and Paul Bunyans and Babes, which was really cool. What we learned is to take the passion that they had in Bemidji and bring it to Minneapolis and replicate it but put a Minneapolis spin on things. That’s what we continue to see, what we can bring to future Hockey Days.
Back to our Local Organizing Committee:
As leaders, you all put a lot of time in. Any idea how much? How did your time investment change from beginning to end as the event came together?
KC – Hundreds of hours for each of us for sure.
TP – Hard to quantify.
TK – It really intensified as the date approached. When you have a hard deadline where things have to be right and they will be seen on TV, you do what it takes.
TP – We have very unique situations though. Tom owns his own business and is committed to doing that. I’ve got a company that says “this is our mission, we’re going to do this.” Not just my resources, but others as well. Kris is a full-time volunteer expert. We all came from different walks of life. It wouldn’t have worked without all of us doing it. It’s hard to quantify, and I think we’ve got a pretty good group where it’s a little bit humbling, and I don’t know, it’s just what we did. If we did that (count the hours), it probably wouldn’t pencil out. [Group laughter]
Did you make any sacrifices in order to be a part of this?
TK – I haven’t seen my wife and kids in a month.
TP – Just family. There hasn’t been a day since we said “yes” to this whole event that I haven’t thought about Hockey Day. There’s always something to do. And there still is for us, loose ends. It’s a two plus year commitment.
KW – In April when the ground’s thawed, we’ll be taking (hockey rink) boards down. It’s far from over. There’s things on the site that we just can’t do until it melts.
How long did it take after the final event and the tents came down for you to say, “I can start getting back to my normal life?”
KW – This is the last day I was there [Saturday], packing up.
TP – Wednesday for just about everybody, but I know everybody’s got little touches here and there..
TK – Friday for me, I went back just a minute ago because I’ve got to keep an eye on the site, there’s still equipment there, and a gate was open so I had to deal with that. Small, but still happens.
And there’s another committee meeting tonight!
What did each of you get out of the event, personally?
TK – I would just say that sense of satisfaction that we pulled it off and I think we did the community proud. There was about 20 times the past month where things could have gone really sideways and we were able to keep it upright.
KC – I think anytime you pull off something successful you can feel good about the effort that was put into it and the time commitment made and all that. We’ve gotten lots of positive feedback. But I think for me connecting with all of the volunteers, I feel like I made lots of friends too. People who were all in just like I was, “hey whatever, call me if you need somebody else.” They were excited to be a part of something we were super excited about, because they could see how much we had put into it and how the vision we had is truly unfolding.
TK – I just got a thank you on the way back from the bathroom. Someone saying thanks for all your work on Hockey Day.
TP – To me, the last week has been a little bit overwhelming because of the emails/texts I’ve received. The coolest one I got was a random text, someone who used my nickname so they knew me but I couldn’t tell who it was, and it just said, “Thanks, Pogue, you made me proud to be a Bemidjian.” I didn’t respond because I didn’t know who it was, but it was a cool one. Random, and that’s even better. When I thought about that, we did so much more than just put on a hockey game. We struck to the core.
When I spoke about alignment, good things can happen when people come together for a common goal. There was no politics on our committee, no racial, no nothing, it was just a mission and we did it. I feel really rewarded because we accomplished a goal with so many people, and the coordination of it, was phenomenal and overwhelming.
KW – To see so many people and a whole community on the same page for one common goal, we’re not seeing that in our counties and our country right now, but for a brief time we really did. For me what was unique was that I had a child that played in that game. I get a little emotional about that, too. I got a little bump of an experience that I can’t even describe.
TP – A Harry Truman quote is one that I like the most, he said “Isn’t it amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” We’re all doing this, nobody wants their name in the paper, not looking for a photo opportunity. We just dug in and did it because it was the right thing to do. And what was really cool is that companies and corporations felt the same way, with their resources. The mission was underlying all of it.
Any closing thoughts you would like to share with other communities looking to put together a major community event?
WP – Right now we’ve got more interest than ever before, communities that have expressed an interest in Hockey Day. It’s so important for them to go to a Hockey Day and experience it first hand. If you like what you see, then talk to past Committee chairs. Go into it knowing it’s going to be a lot of work, it’s going to take a lot of people to put it on, to pull it off and be successful. I can’t express it enough, going to Hockey Day and seeing it first hand and talking to people who have hosted or organized it in the past is so successful. All these groups coming together, the school district, city hall, the (Convention and Visitors Bureau), the business sector, the youth hockey association, coming together with one goal to put on a great event is very key. And Bemidji did that!
KC – I think the education piece is important. Having a core committee that really has a common goal and a vision and being able to educate the community about what that is and getting everybody to buy in. Because when you get everybody to buy in, then you’re moving down the same path to accomplish the same thing.
TP – My hope will be that someday, somebody north of Highway 2 can do the same thing. The amount of resources we have in Bemidji, from the outside looking in people probably look at Bemidji differently now. Other communities north of Highway 2 kinda have to step out of the box and look at this and say, “you know, why not us?” Could a Crookston, Roseau or Warroad, go back to Baudette, Eveleth with the Hockey Hall of Fame, somebody pull this off? Don’t be afraid of it, just get after it.
KW – Labor of love. You have to feel it within yourself that this is going to be successful and it’s an all-in. Kris always says “all in for hockey”, well you know, all in for community! This wasn’t just about hockey, this was a festival, a community event that just happened to have a few hockey games around it. If you believe in what you’re going to do, your odds of being successful are a lot better. We all believed in it, I don’t think we ever doubted it. Once we said “yes,” we believed it was going to be successful and we made it successful because there was no other option. We believed in what we were doing and were all on board, it was straight line go, we didn’t look back.
TK – We had a bit of an advantage because Hockey Day is very well known across the state and people have seen it on TV. But even among the people that were there, very few people had actually been to one before. They didn’t know about the entirety of the experience, the food, the festivities, the fire pits, the jumbotrons, and all that stuff. Part of the challenge for us was educating everyone on how big a deal this really is, and you need to help and you need to come. One of my biggest satisfactions was what we were selling for the last year, what we were promising them they would see, they saw if they came. They got what was advertised and that was very satisfying.
TP – The line I used a lot around town the last few months was “don’t be that guy or gal that wakes up on Monday morning after the event and goes – Geez, I wish I would have been there, why didn’t I go?” Because those that went, and we had over 13,000 that went, had the experience of a lifetime in Bemidji. I truly believe that. Where else have they had that much opportunity, even at 30 below temperatures?
KW – We filled the rink for men’s Beaver game and we weren’t playing North Dakota or the Gophers.
TP – That was their biggest crowd at BSU all year!
I talked to a Greenway (high school team that played at Hockey Day) dad last night, whose kid was there and played on Hockey Day, and asked what he thought from his perspective. He said “well, other than losing…I made it a mission to stand at that game, while everyone else was going to the warming houses during period breaks, I stood there, I was going to wait, and I made it through the second period! I warmed up once and I was proud of that!”
A HUGE THANK YOU not only to the folks who sat down and visited with us for this interview, but also for all of the hundreds of volunteers, sponsors, and organizations that stepped up to make Hockey Day Minnesota 2019 – Bemidji happen. You’ve definitely built the community woodpile higher for years to come!
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