Oral history: Former Elk River players recall, reflect on 2014 Hockey Day Minnesota

In 2014, Elk River hosted Hockey Day Minnesota.

On the five-year anniversary of it being held at the fabled Handke Pit, we spoke with several Elk River players who participated in that game and also still happen to be playing hockey at the collegiate level.

Below is an oral history of the event as remembered by those players. All comments were taken from phone interviews and arranged in an order which makes sense for the telling of the story.

Hockey Day Minnesota 2019

The participants:

— Jake Jaremko. Then: Junior forward. Now: Sophomore at Minnesota State.

— Matt Kiersted. Then: Sophomore defenseman. Now: Sophomore at North Dakota.

— Nick Perbix. Then: Freshman defenseman. Now: Freshman at St. Cloud State.

— Chase Springman. Then: Senior forward. Now: Sophomore at St. Scholastica.

View the box score from the Elk River game in 2014 here.

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Kiersted: Everybody from Minnesota (or) who played in Minnesota knows Hockey Day Minnesota. In juniors or in college now, some of the Minnesota guys who are on the team they ask me how Hockey Day in Minnesota was, or didn’t you play in Hockey Day Minnesota in Elk River? They know, I think every high school player in Minnesota knows about Hockey Day Minnesota and watches the game if they get the chance to.

Springman: Everybody knows about Hockey Day Minnesota. It’s such a hockey state, that everybody knows what it is. When it comes around, people are like, “What do you think about that game?” I’m like, “Yeah, I played in that game. It’s pretty much the coolest thing ever.” Definitely a lot of people ask.

Jaremko: You try to (explain Hockey Day Minnesota to people who aren’t from Minnesota), but it’s kind of hard to explain how special it actually was, it being at the Handke Pit, where we all grew up skating. We try our best, but some people just don’t quite get how special the day is to Minnesotans.

Kiersted: It was a pretty special day. I just remember all the buzz around the city and the state. It’s such a huge day and having it in Elk River and being able to play in it, it was awesome. Especially down at the Handke Pit. Everyone in Elk River skated there (at the) outdoor rinks growing up.

Jaremko: Everyone just loves our outdoor hockey, I think. Everybody grows up playing, whether they have a pond in their backyard or a rink, pretty much everyone in Minnesota will grow up skating outside at some point. Being able to play a game outside in front of your hometown, there’s nothing more special than that.

Perbix: Just the way the whole community kind of surrounded it, was excited for it the whole year, I thought was pretty cool. And then The Pit is a special place where everyone in Elk River plays hockey. Just kind of well known. I don’t know, it’s just a special day throughout Minnesota. I remember even like [Elk River native] Nate Prosser scoring that night for the Wild in overtime. The whole day was pretty cool.

Springman: Everything (was great). The weather, playing down in The Pit, where we all played growing up. All that stuff. We walked down the steps and all the fans were just hooting and hollering. It was pretty cool.

Kiersted: The crowd was insane. I remember they put wooden benches into the side of the hill, right where the street was coming down in the trees and stuff, that was pretty cool to see. But they brought in a bunch of stands. I don’t know the exact number of people there, but there were a lot of people there that day.

Perbix: It was all was just like a surreal experience. Like I said, you had the whole town there supporting you. I remember walking down from getting dressed up in the like the … it was the whole high school up at Handke, and then there’s like a tunnel of people who walks you to the trailer where we had to put our skates on and the rest of our gear. And they were all cheering us on. It was a surreal experience knowing that many people were there supporting you and keeping an eye on you all year.

Kiersted: We got dressed in one of the classrooms at the Handke school and we had to walk down the stairs with everyone kind of huddle in, and we walked through everybody and got into the warming house down at the bottom, where we went in between periods and stuff. But, yeah, that was pretty cool, the whole team walking through the crowd, everyone cheering. That was pretty special.

Jaremko: A lot of the youth hockey players were lined up, giving us high-fives. That was pretty cool for us and I’m pretty sure all those kids remember that, too. It was cool to be able to walk through that with all the fans there. It was just an awesome experience overall.

Springman: We put our stuff on in one of the old buildings up top then walked down. So as you’re walking down, you got all the face paint on and people are just sitting there patting you on the back and you haven’t even done anything yet. That was pretty cool.

Every winter, Elk River poured water into Handke Pit to create an outdoor ice rink. For Hockey Day Minnesota, the town pumped in $100,000 for refurbishments — adding outdoor hockey ice, bleachers, scoreboards and more in anticipation of the event.

Jaremko: Everybody grows up skating on that rink and being able to go back there and play a game in front of your hometown on the rink you grew up skating on was probably one of the coolest experiences of my life.

Perbix: It’s a place where pretty much everyone that’s played has skated at least once. I mean, you have to, it’s The Pit. To actually play a real game and have a lot of the town there supporting us, it was just a cool experience. It hasn’t happened since then.

Kiersted: They did a really good job with the ice surface down there. It was better than what all of us expected. We expected it to be a normal outdoor rink, like bumpy and slushy and stuff. It wasn’t as good as indoor ice, but I think it was as good as gets for outside.

Springman: We play there all the time, even growing up. You say to your buddies, hey, want to go to The Pit? It’s just the thing to do in the winter. Go down there, hang out, play hockey all night … so to do it in a game that actually meant something was pretty much the coolest thing ever.

Kiersted: Seeing all of the support from the city, all the people that came down to it, and all the students. The big student section in the corner was awesome to see. It turned out to be a good day for it, too. It was really nice out, which made the ice a little slushy but (it turned out OK).

Elk River would take a 3-0 lead on goals by Grant Bunker, Andrew Zerban and Springman and eventually beat Stillwater 4-1.

Kiersted: What stands out to me about that game is, I believe it was out first goal of the game, Grant Bunker came into the zone and took a slapshot from pretty far out and it went in. And he was not one of the main goal scorers on the team. So to have him to jumpstart things that day, and the crowd erupted, that was probably my best memory of the day was seeing that, how the crowd reacted and how it got everybody in the game.

Jaremko: The atmosphere was awesome. I think we had around 5,000 people. It was kind of like a little bowl, so it was getting loud. I remember when we scored the first goal, it was really loud.

Springman: My linemate passed it to me right in the slot — Jake Jaremko, I’m sure you know who that is — just shot it upper-right and I scored. It was a pretty cool moment, yeah. That’s definitely up there, top-five [career highlight] for sure.

Jaremko: Just came around the net, found him in the slot and he made a really nice shot.

Perbix: I don’t even know, when you’re playing, you can’t really … like between whistles I’d take it all in, kind of look around. Obviously they had extra fans that weren’t there when I skated before. That’s tough to put one moment on it. I don’t know. Obviously we won and it topped the day off perfectly. I guess I wouldn’t be able to put one exact moment.

Jaremko: Mac Berglove, he had a really good day. I think he had something around 30, 40 saves, played excellent. Probably one of the better games I’ve seen him play. It was pretty cool for him being on that kind of a bigger stage that day.

Perbix: I’m just kind of realizing how long ago it was. I guess I forgot a few things you brought up to me [about the game] but the day as a whole was pretty cool.

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Perbix: (Elk River got) special one-time jerseys for that day and we got to keep them obviously. We didn’t get shown them until a week or two before the game. That’s even more special token from that day that we get to remember it by.

Springman: (That jersey is) hanging on my wall.

Jaremko: I got mine, put in a frame and have it hanging in my room. Obviously it’s really cool, being able to have a special jersey like that.

Kiersted: I was pumped that we got to keep our jerseys. I still have mine in my home in Elk River. It’s framed in my room hanging up. I have that hanging up along with a picture of the team from that day in the frame as well. Those jerseys were super-cool to wear. I didn’t know we were going to get whole new jerseys but when we got to wear them it was awesome. Then when they said we could keep them, it was great. I’ll have that in a frame for a while, a long time.

Perbix: (The game is) something that’s gotten brought up (between former Elk River players). We all still got the Hockey Day shirts and whatnot, so that gets brought up when someone wears a shirt. I was the only one from my class that was lucky enough to play. So the guys I hang with were at the game but weren’t playing, so it doesn’t get brought up as much with me, but when I’m with the older guys who I played with, yeah, it gets brought up, the cool experience we all shared together.

Kiersted: I’m pretty close with a couple guys from the team and we hang out every time whenever we’re back home from school. I would say it doesn’t come up in everyday conversation, but we’ve talked about it more than a couple of times. I think it sticks with everybody, especially the guys whose hockey careers ended after high school. That’s a huge deal for them and that’s one thing they look back on.

Springman: Every now and again we’ll bring it up, about when we played in The Pit that one time. When my buddies text me, ‘Hey, you want to go down to The Pit,’ you always think about it, remember it, sure.

Perbix: It happened a while ago, I don’t even know if many people know if I played. They [his current teammates] all played last year. I’ve heard them talk about it … having St. Cloud host it last year. I’ve kind of kept under the radar about it.

Springman: Just looking back, I mean seriously, one, it’s insane it’s been five years already, and two, when you look at it, you realize how special that moment really was. When you’re actually playing in the game to now, it’s just remarkable how really cool and special. Not that many people get that opportunity. The fact that our team was able to get that opportunity is pretty much surreal.

Perbix: I think it’s gotten even better. At the time I was a freshman and I hadn’t experienced any sections or anything like that, any playoffs, I just had youth hockey up until then. Looking back on it the whole high school experience and how unique that is — actually my cousin played in it last year, so I talked to him about it and how we both had those kind of experiences that not many people have. Because, what, only four teams get to play in it every year? I was lucky and we had it at our home, uh, rink, I guess you’d call it. Not many people get to have it. I’ve come to appreciate it, I guess you’d say. It was just a cool opportunity that doesn’t come along for everyone.

Kiersted: When it’s happening you’re kind of in the heat of things and it goes by so quick I don’t think you have time to think about how big of a deal it is and how special it is to have it in Elk River. But looking back and seeing pictures of it and stuff, looking now five years down the road, you realize how special it was compared to that day specifically.

Springman: It’s way, way more special [now]. When you’re 18 and you’re just out there playing, you’re just thinking it’s another game. Obviously it’s special, but now looking back it’s like, wow. I did that. I was able to play in that. So, yeah, it’s really, really cool.

Jaremko: It was probably one of the coolest experiences of my life. Just being able to play there in front of everybody in Elk River. … Not many guys get to experience that feeling of playing in front of their hometown or an outdoor game — and that’s the only outdoor game I’ve played in that counted — and it’s obviously one of the better days of my life. You look back and realize how special it actually was.