Monday, March 12, 2012

The 2012 Let's Play Hockey Expo & Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament

As you may have noticed we had no new post yesterday, as on both Friday and Saturday your intrepid reporter spent the entire day at the 2012 Let's Play Hockey Expo and Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament in St. Paul, Minnesota.

2012 LPH Expo, 2012 LPH Expo
The Let's Play Hockey Expo

The Expo is billed as the Nation's Premier Consumer Trade Show, and with many exhibitors competing for the attention attention of 40,000 hockey fans, there are many great deals and freebies to be had, and today we are going to share our haul.

Friday the show began at 10 AM and we spent several hours looking for the best bargains and some early giveaways before the popular ones were all gone.

Our haul that morning included the following pictured below, and was actually rather minimal, but included the following pictured below. Clockwise, a free t-shirt from PureHockey.com, a coupon for 10% off and a free skate sharpening from our local Hockey Giant location, a Kontinental Hockey League knit cap for $5 from Torspo to go with our KHL Torspo hooded sweatshirt and jacket we already own and a catalog of Russian hockey jerseys from our friends at Lutch Jerseys (pronounced "lootch") who came all the way from Russia for the Expo!

LPH Expo Friday Swag, LPH Expo Friday Swag
Our Friday swag

Our approach this year was somewhat different than in the past, as we did not seek out as many freebies as we have in the past and passed on a few shopping opportunities, knowing we would be returning on Saturday. Instead, we took advantage of the chance to document the color of the event and get some autographs with several of the impressive guests in attendance, which was a clearly a step up from some of the recent years.

Two of the most popular destinations for the fans in attendance, particularly the male players from 10-30 were the large enclosures from Bauer and Easton, with Bauer having a small theatre with promotional movies for their gear followed by chances to see and try their helmets, goalie gear, skates and sticks, while Easton's approach was more interactive, which featured a pair of small rinks for shooting accuracy challenges to give their sticks a try.

Bauer, Bauer
The line for the Bauer display was immediate and consistent

Easton, Easton
Easton Rinks, Easton Rinks
Easton's pavilion had a pair of popular shooting rinks

That approach was also taken by Warrior Hockey, who had one accuracy test and another for hardest shot.

The Minnesota Wild also had a booth which featured a small store selling smaller souvenirs as well as their own shooting rink, which was more popular with the younger crowd, as well as their spin the wheel game, which gave out a variety of prizes, such as hockey cards and pucks.

Wild rink, Wild rink
Wild accuracy rink

Wild Spin the Wheel, Wild Spin the Wheel
Wild Spin the Wheel

Also adding to the color of the event were the well protected human mannequins of Shock Doctor, who would freeze in a pose and then humorously harass unsuspecting passers by.

Shock Doctor human mannequins, Shock Doctor human mannequins
Shock Doctor's human mannequin Orange Men

Also interacting with the kids was the Minnesota Wild's mascot Nordy.

William and Caden with Nordy, William and Caden with Nordy
William and Caden with Nordy

We then made a point of stopping by the Under Armour/Bite Tech booth to see former Minnesota Wild player Cam Stewart, whose game worn year one, set one jersey from the inaugural Wild season is part of our collection. We've wanted an opportunity to talk to Cam for since acquiring his jersey, as it has his original #18, and we have always wondered why he later changed his number to the #21 he worn in college while at the University of Michigan.

Cam was very surprised and excited to see his old jersey and related that as an NHL professional, it was the first time he had enough clout to actually request a number he wanted and not have to live with whatever he was given. He informed us that our jersey was only worn for three games, including being on the ice for the first ever Wild goal scored at home.

Cam Stewart, Cam Stewart
Cam Stewart poses with us and his original Wild home jersey

One booth in particular saw a lot of traffic over the weekend, the one which was selling all manner of items to raise money to support the enormous medical expenses of paralyzed Minnesota high school player Jack Jablonski.

Max Jablonski, Max Jablonski
Jack's younger brother Max and friends manning the booth set up in support of Jack

Also present with large displays were CCM and Reebok. In addition to the big manufacturers of hockey gear, there were other retailers of equipment, such as Total Hockey and Hockey Giant, and one of the ways you can attract attention to your booth when your target market is young athletes of high school age is pretty girls, of which there were many at the expo.

Pure Hockey, Pure Hockey
Pure Hockey

Sauce Hockey, Sauce Hockey
Sauce Hockey

Warrior Hockey, Warrior Hockey
Warrior Hockey

The other approach you can take is to have a celebrity endorser, an approach taken by Graf Hockey in the form of Stanley Cup champion Claude Lemieux.

Claude Lemieux, Claude Lemieux
Claude Lemieux

One of the highlights for us was a chance to meet Hockey Hall of Famer Brett Hull, who appeared at the Miken Hockey area for hours, signing autographs for anyone and everyone while happily chatting away the entire time.

Brett Hull, Brett Hull
Brett Hull signing one of his many autographs

1996 USA Hull Autograph, 1996 USA Hull Autograph
Our newly signed Brett Hull 1996 USA jersey

The other big highlight, not just of our day, but our entire life of being a hockey fan, came courtesy of John Harrington, a member of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" United States Olympic Team, who was at the Herb Brooks Foundation booth and happily posed with his gold medal for us.

John Harrington, John Harrington
1980 US Olympian John Harrington

But when the offer came from someone else to take our photo together, Harrington came out from behind the table and shocked us by draping his 1980 Olympic gold medal around our neck! We genuinely felt excitement, pride (and some fear) all at the same time to be wearing such a rare and priceless artifact that is such a significant part of hockey history. Luckily for us, we just happened to be appropriately wearing a USA jersey at the time. The medal has got some weight to it too. When you have it on, you know you're wearing it!

John Harrington, John Harrington

Saturday week returned to the Hockey Expo to take in the proceedings from the viewpoint of a eight year old, whose goal was to try out as many stick handling, puck shooting, lucky wheel spinning interactive opportunities as possible!

Many exhibitors obliged, with displays of puck rebound devices, goal net target practice inserts, stick handing drill contraptions, hardest shot radar guns and puck shooting accuracy contests, as well as lucky spinning wheels for prizes. After stopping by the Warrior Hockey barbershop for a mohawk haircut for our youth player, we went in search of our fun and freebies.

Saturday's haul for us and our seven year old included, starting clockwise from the upper right, a USA youth hockey jersey by K1, won as a door prize from Let's Play Hockey, who put on the event, two rolls of hockey tape from Warrior, two pucks from Shock Doctor, a sticker for the upcoming NCAA West Regional tournament, a scarf from the Minnesota Wild, a copy of the new Puck Life magazine, a Minnesota Wild backpack won from Sport Sense, a photo signed by former NHL goaltender Andy Moog at the Vaughn booth, a copy of Minnesota Score magazine, a pair of hockey cards from the Minnesota Wild, a button in support of Jack Jablonski from his merchandise booth, a "Design Team" t-shirt from K1 jerseys won as another door prize, a hockey bookmark and finally a signed photo from 1960 United States hockey gold medalist Paul Johnson, who also had his medal on hand for all to see. Total cost for all 17 items? Free!

Also in the upper left are a pair of Benilde-St. Margaret's adult and youth t-shirts purchased on the street for $5 each after the championship final and at the top center our game program from the tournament, which was also $5.

LPH Saturday swag, LPH Saturday swag
Saturday's haul of swag

Our mite player, mohawk and all, found opportunities to shoot, pass and stickhandle, as well as play video games, spin lucky wheels and sample some really good free pizza as well as finding enough free candy for an entire class of second graders.

shooting, shooting
passing, passing
puck handling, puck handling

Following our early adventures at the expo, we made our way over to the arena for the Class A final between Hermantown and St. Thomas Academy, a rematch of last year's final which again went the way of St. Thomas, who spoiled the Hawks bid for an undefeated season with their 5-1 win.

St Thomas Hermantown, St Thomas Hermantown
St. Thomas pressures Hermantown

Back over to the expo, our mite also had his picture taken with the Orange Men from Shock Doctor, while their video games were a hit with the kids.

Orange Men, Orange Men
Shock Doctor games, Shock Doctor games

One of our favorite sightings was this tyke skating like the wind on this plastic ice treadmill!

Skating treadmill, Skating treadmill
Go faster!!

No hockey event worth your time would be complete without a sighting of the Hanson Brothers, and this year's Hockey Expo did not disappoint.

The Hanson Brothers, The Hanson Brothers

But what of jerseys, you ask? While there are not a lot of them for sale at the expo, K1 always has some deals to be had, with jerseys from the Minnesota Gophers, Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs and North Dakota (get 'em while you can) Fighting Sioux and old WHA Minnesota Fighting Saints at $40 for adults and $20 for youth, we just cannot let an expo pass by without picking up something from the Russian jersey manufacturer Lutch, who makes jerseys for the vast majority of teams in the KHL.

Lutch Jerseys, Lutch Jerseys
The staff at the Lutch Jerseys booth, all the way from Russia

Following the closing of the Expo at 6 PM, we made our way into the Xcel Energy Center for the highly anticipated Class AA championship final between the Hill-Murray Pioneers and the Benilde-St. Margaret's Red Knights. The game was played at a very high tempo with the majority of the fans pulling for the Red Knights due to the presence of their injured teammate Jablonski.

2012 Benilde St Margarets, 2012 Benilde St Margarets
Jack Jablonski

The game came down to one story, the electrifying performance of Benilde's Grant Besse, who skated his way into state tournament lore with his five goal performance, three of which were shorthanded! It was truly an emotional and memorable game and the perfect way to finish off a 12 hour day at both the expo and the tournament.

2012 Benilde St Margarets, 2012 Benilde St Margarets
Grant Besse is mobbed after one of his two first period goals

2012 Benilde St Margarets, 2012 Benilde St Margarets
The Benilde fans in rapture following a goal

2012 Benilde St Margarets, 2012 Benilde St Margarets
#12 Besse looking to add to his amazing total of 5 goals

2012 Benilde St Margarets, 2012 Benilde St Margarets
The Red Knights emotional celebration following their long journey to their championship

2012 Benilde St Margarets, 2012 Benilde St Margarets
The team sharing their trophy with their fans

2012 Benilde St Margarets, 2012 Benilde St Margarets
A beaming Grant Besse following his remarkable performance

Today's featured jersey is a 1972 Soviet Union National Team Valeri Kharlamov jersey purchased directly from Lutch at the Hockey Expo for the show price of just $40.

We've long been fans of dye-sublimated jerseys from Tackla, as far back as the late 1980's, and Lutch jerseys, which date back nearly as far in our collection. Their bright colors wash and wear beautifully and are not subject to cracking and peeling like heat sealed or silk screened graphics, but this new level of quality out of Russia rivals anything produced for NHL clubs, if not surpasses it.

For more on the great Kharlamov, please see our recent biography on him here.

Soviet Union 72 #17 jersey, Soviet Union 72 #17 jersey
Soviet Union 72 #17 jersey, Soviet Union 72 #17 jersey

Bonus Jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 2010-11 Traktor Chelyabinsk Evgeny Kuznetsov jersey with it's intimidating black color and angry polar bear logo. We just can't resist a jersey with the name on the back in Cyrillic, and could not pass on the chance to pick up this striking jersey from the 2010 Washington Capitals first round draft pick.

This jersey is a prime example of a dye-sublimated jersey we have grown accustomed to from Lutch. Note modern style, with it's curved and intricate striping in great contrast to the minimalist style of the Soviet National Team jersey from forty years earlier.

Traktor Chelyabinsk 10-11 jersey, Traktor Chelyabinsk 10-11 jersey
Traktor Chelyabinsk 10-11 jersey, Traktor Chelyabinsk 10-11 jersey

Here are the highlights of the championship final, won by the Benilde-St. Margaret's Red Knights, powered by Besse's remarkable five goals, three of which were shorthanded.


From the fan's point of view, the final seconds of the Class AA championship game and the ensuing celebration.


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