Hockey trips are the best.
If you haven’t had the chance to go watch the University of Nebraska at Omaha Hockey program play on the road, you’re missing out.
There is something enlightening about watching the team play outside the confines of Baxter Arena. It gives you insights on our competition and the facilities those opponents have to offer.
We’ve been on dozens of road trips while following the UNO Hockey program over the past 21 years. The past three seasons we have made the trek to St. Cloud, MN, each year to watch the Mavericks take on the St. Cloud State Huskies.
Why St. Cloud? Well, our 19-year-old niece/goddaughter Lauren is in her second year at St. Cloud State University (she’s not a sophomore...I think she’s a junior...then again, she might already be in graduate school). It’s also a pretty easy drive from Omaha. It has become one of our favorite hockey trip destinations.
We traveled up on Thursday, Dec. 6 for the weekend series. Per our nascent tradition, we took Lauren to dinner at Granite City. (Doesn't that cake look amazing??)
The temperatures in St. Cloud didn’t get above the low 20s during the duration of our stay. Omaha has had similar temps, but everything just felt colder for some reason.
Lauren was able to take time off from her job so she could hang out and attend the games on Dec. 7 and 8. We don’t see as much of her since she’s been away at school, so it was nice to be able to enjoy the weekend together.
We drove down to the Twin Cities on Friday and went to the Mall of America. It wasn’t our first trip and it won’t be our last visit to the hive of retail grandeur. (Anybody else worried about the guy standing directly underneath the giant ornament that probably weighs a couple hundred pounds?)
Lauren enjoys looking at the Hockey Minnesota store when she visits the mall, and she pointed out this “lovely” North Dakota hockey shirt:
I checked out the LEGO Store (because I like LEGOs). I’m never really inclined to spend money on the sets, because they are super pricey. But it’s fun to browse.
We visited the Apple Store (yes, I know we have one in Omaha) because Bridget is still trying to figure out what phone she wants to purchase to replace her 4-year-old iPhone 5S. The current debate is whether or not she needs a “home button,” or if she can adjust to the the world of FaceID. (Comments and advice welcomed!)
We had lunch in one of the mall’s food courts, and got treats at Carlo’s Bake Shop:
We also went to IKEA (which is across the street from the Mall of America). Lauren wanted me to get a picture of her with this lamp that looks sort of like Pixar’s Luxo Jr.
(She’ll be so upset that I posted a pic of her with a semi-deranged look on her face, but it is the best one I had!)
We decided to head back from Minneapolis to St. Cloud early for the series. It’s a good thing we did, because the traffic on I-494 and I-94 was a ridiculous mess. The good news is that we made it back in time and got to the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center with plenty of time to spare.
Despite the fact that UNO lost 2-0 in the Friday contest, we had a good time.
Bridget and our friend Amy posed with their purses — since Baxter Arena has basically outlawed women’s purses at hockey games. It’s nice to know there are places in college hockey where women can still be women, and bring regular purses to games.
Saturday morning saw us at St. Cloud State’s Newman Center (it was a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church). It was an interesting setup for the Mass, and we dubbed the priest “Saint Cloud Jesus” because of his beard and long locks:
We also went down to look at the Mississippi River (the campus is nestled alongside it) and grabbed this selfie:
I also took this “Christmas card” picture of Lauren. Sadly, my iPhone 6S Plus doesn’t have “portrait mode,” so we couldn’t “blur” the evergreen branches behind her:
Let’s talk about Val’s Rapid-Serv. Some of my fellow hockey fans are going to be mad at me (or already are!) because I was “underwhelmed” by Val’s (don’t @ me).
But compared to Omaha’s Bronco’s Burgers & Fries, or Stella’s in Bellevue, I wasn’t floored by the experience.
Don’t get me wrong, the food was good and I loved Val’s local flavor, but I think everyone overhyped the place for me (but I’ll definitely recommend it to any fellow travelers who visit St. Cloud). We decided it might be better in the summer when you can eat in the parking lot or car (there's no dine-in option).
After lunch, we went downtown to rendezvous with our friend Amy. St. Cloud was having a “Winter Festival” and the activities featured free carnival rides.
Amy had been trying to find someone (anyone) who would be willing to brave the frigid temps and ride what became known as “the purple dragon” — a tilt-a-whirl ride with multi-colored dragon pods.
We’re hearty souls — so we obliged. Bridget recorded a Facebook Live video of the experience for the MavPuck page:
We also went on the carousel (which seemed to go around forever):
The Capital One Cafe across the street had a setup where you could get free hot chocolate and sugar cookies. Everyone there was super friendly.
Another one of our friends — Connor — was also along on the trip. He spent the afternoon sampling various craft beer selections at a local brewery. As a result, we don’t have pictures of him enjoying the chilled festivities for the blog, but he was a special guest on our podcast — the “Mavpuckcast with Jason & Jon” — this week.
We dropped Lauren off at her apartment after our downtown excursion. On the way to her place, we stopped by WJON radio station so I could get a picture with the sign (since, ya know, my name is Jon). No, I am NOT giving the station "the finger."
By the way, the room we stayed in was the same room we had the last time we were at the hotel in Dec. 2016 — I knew it seemed familiar and we got confirmation during our stay.
The Saturday tilt against St. Cloud featured a “teddy bear toss.” We found a stuffed husky to toss (at IKEA), Connor found a bear at Target, and Amy chose to toss a dalmatian. We also had a stuffed sloth and a unicorn we found at Five Below.
(There was a semi-crazy St. Cloud fan who was super impressed that I threw a husky on the ice... and gave me a hug. That's in Bridget's Facebook Live of the Teddy Bear toss...with 1:13 left in the video...)
Sadly, the Mavs lost 7-1, and the Huskies completed the weekend sweep.
Road trips provide a great opportunity for fans to build camaraderie. I love to reminisce on the fun we’ve had following the UNO Hockey teams over the years.
While the games serve as the hub on hockey trips, it is all the spokes that make the ride special.
It was nice to hang out with our niece, and it was also good to spend time with our fellow fans. It’s the sense of community that makes a fan base what it is, and hockey trips are terrific bonding experiences.