Hockey Day Minnesota brings back the nostalgia of playing outdoor hockey for many purists. For Connor Lee of Sydney Australia, there wasn't much (or any) outdoor hockey growing up. But he was still "stoked" to play in the outdoor game at Minnesota State University-Mankato Sunday.

The fourth-year forward for the Steele County Blades junior hockey club wasted little time in exhibiting his enthusiasm, scoring less than a minute into the game against the Minnesota Mullets, a rival of the Blades in the US Premier Hockey League. Lee scored twice in the first ever junior game to be featured as part of Hockey Day Minnesota. Steele County won 5-2.

"It was just magic. We love the pond out here. It's awesome," Lee told the crew from Hockey TV after the game. He came close to a hat trick as well, "I wish it happened, but I'm just glad we won."

"It feels amazing, just representing Owatonna," Lee proclaimed, while expressing his enjoyment of spending the last four winters in town, "I'll never forget it. That's why I stayed here so long. The coaching staff. The boys. It's just a great culture."

Evan Axell (Plymouth, MN), Gavin Ellis (Highland, CA) and Ethan Secord (Bellingham, WA) also scored for the Blades. Brady Rossbach (New Berlin, WI) had two assists. Nate Gulsvig (Fargo, ND) made 21 saves for the win. The Blades outshot the Mullets 49-23. See the official score sheet.

The game inspired family members of Blades players from Canada, California and many other locales to pay a visit to southern Minnesota.

Several players told me afterward how much they enjoyed the game, despite the cold weather. One player told a coach there was "something wrong with the ice" during the pregame skate, though he didn't specify.

Snow fell during parts of Sunday's game, slowing down the puck as it slide, and leaving some players stick handling snow.

Hear from players leading up to Hockey Day MN. Blades coach Nick Adamek spoke with the USPHL's Dan K Show after the announcement last summer that the Blades and Mullets would be featured in the annual hockey celebration.

Enjoy the photos below of Hockey Day MN in Mankato, PLUS pix from the X for the Wild-Blackhawks game Saturday that I attended with my daughter as a Christmas gift from her.

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Hockey Day Minnesota 2022, Mankato

Minnesota State University-Mankato hosted Hockey Day MN. The eight-day festival featured all levels from youth to Division I, including a junior game for the first time.

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