Jade Berglund sat alone in his hunting stand, the memories whipping through the surrounding brush like a northern Minnesota gale.
This felt wrong.
The spot next to him formerly occupied by his younger brother, Beau Berglund, sat empty. So did the passenger seat of the family’s four-wheeler as Jade drove to and from the pair’s preferred game spots. Alone.
Brain cancer claimed the life of Beau Berglund in 2009. He was 25.
His death devastated his brother, family, friends and, to varying extents, the whole town of Pine City. And it made for some lonely hunting excursions for Jade the following year.
"I didn’t even want to be there that year, and it was hard to deal with," said Jade, 36. "But then I looked at it as he would want me to be out there and he would want me to be doing this, so stick with it and go do it."
So Beau’s older brother and this entire tight-knit township of 3,000 have heeded that sentiment.
This Saturday and Sunday, the vast majority of them will gather at the Pine City Civic Center for a memorial outdoor hockey tournament in Beau Berglund’s honor. The ones that aren’t playing will watch over the potluck food amassed at the complex’s cozy warming house, solicit raffle tickets and help keep the chaos organized.
Two playing rinks, and another for casual skating. Eleven teams. In all, close to 23 hours of hockey spread across two days.
All in the name of supporting Beau’s — and so many other Minnesotans’ — organized sport of choice.
"It’s awesome," said Jade, who like his brother played hockey at Pine City High School and will skate in the weekend’s double-elimination bracket. "It’s neat to see. I don’t know how to even explain what this town has done for our family."
Boys and girls, young and old — players in all shapes and sizes turn out for the tournament which runs from 9 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Jade’s team features two 50-year-olds, while the current crop of Pine City High players has a squad of their own.
The Beau Berglund Outdoor Charity Hockey Tournament was the brainchild of Cody Youngbauer, a former Pine City teammate of Beau’s. The idea began when he and some fellow alums grouped together for some pickup sessions during their Christmas breaks, and the first official tourney took place in February 2010.
Beau Berglund (center), pictured with loved ones.
It was a little too warm that day, so Jade Berglund, Youngbauer and the rest of the event’s organizers moved it to coincide with Hockey Day Minnesota every year since then.
And why not? Pine City is just as pucks-crazed as the next Minnesota village.
"Hockey in Pine City," said Mark Bezek, the high school’s hockey coach back in the 1980s and now the school-district superintendent of Hockey Day 2014 host Elk River, "it’s always been a piece of them."
Jade’s wife, Marcie Berglund, spends a good chunk of the year going door-to-door in town and gathering donations and raffle prizes for the tournament. Each team’s entry fee includes a silent auction gift — autographed memorabilia, hockey tickets, etc.
Every penny goes toward college scholarships for local hockey players.
"This story is a sad story, but it’s brought a bunch of people together in a short amount of time," said Pine City parks and recreation supervisor Lara Smetana. "It just started with Cody playing pickup games over Christmas vacation after Beau passed away and became this huge thing; you’ve got this tiny warming house packed full of people, a huge potluck — just a crazy, cool thing."
An annual fishing tournament in Beau’s name also draws well, Jade Berglund said. Proceeds from that event have been used to support children with brain tumors and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Such an outpouring in Beau’s name means the world, his older brother said. But Jade Berglund recalls his brother’s outgoingness fused with a humility that never would’ve wanted so much personal attention.
"You’d never know that he had cancer or anything wrong with him," Jade said. "He didn’t want people to know that. That’s why I kind of feel bad about this whole deal — all the spotlight’s on us now, and I don’t want that, but on the same hand, it’s cool this is going on."
And with so many pucks flying around, it’s hard to imagine Beau would’ve disagreed.
Even after his diagnosis, Jade said, Beau Berglund continued to play hockey through high school. He lost all sensation in his left hand but was still able to grip a stick. Multiple brain surgeries couldn’t keep him away from the ice very long.
Before Beau passed away Aug. 7, 2009, he’d been taking classes as an apprentice carpenter.
Whatever projects he’d been working on may have gone unfinished. But what’s been built in his honor stands tall and proud, a rallying point for an entire city whose townspeople were touched by his efficacious personality and contagious smile, according to his 2009 obituary.
"It’s so unbelievable," Jade Berglund said. "It’s just nice to see everybody come out and pay their respect to Beau."