By Bryan Zollman
Let’s Play Hockey
Youth tournaments have become as much a part of the fabric of a Minnesota hockey season as anything else.
Each year, just about every youth association statewide hosts tournaments at various levels. The tournaments are a chance for teams to compete against other associations outside of their district, travel to other parts of the state, and stay overnight with their teammates and families where they can enjoy activities outside of the arena.
Many associations utilize tournaments as a valuable fundraiser to help them fund their programs, which is why tournaments have become a competitive industry in the Minnesota Hockey landscape.
That is something the city of Marshall (pop. 13,664) took into consideration when they built their new state-of-the-art hockey facility in the prairie town located in southwest Minnesota. The Red Baron Arena and Expo has two sheets of ice and all the amenities needed to put on a first-rate, five-star tournament.
“We have really raised the bar as far as tournaments go,” said Darin Rahm, Marshall’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Director. “That was done intentionally because there are so many tournaments in Minnesota. Which one do you go to? We have some of those determining factors where people say, ‘Let’s go to Marshall?’”
One of the amenities at the new Marshall arena include live streams of every game. Rahm says there is something about players at the youth level being able to watch themselves on a camera not operated by mom and dad, as well as relatives and friends being able to catch the games from wherever they are if they have a computer with internet access.
And it’s not just one camera bringing in all the action. Marshall uses three manned cameras during games and seven robo-cams, including goal cams above each net. Then there is the 14-by-25-foot video screen that has the ability to show period highlights and replays.
“The kids love it,” said Rahm. “They just eat that kind of stuff up and parents love seeing their kid up on the big board. That alone sets us apart from every other association in the state.”
The large scoreboard was thanks to a large investment from the city of Marshall. The video board and all its electrical components brought a price tag of $750,000. “That commitment from the city and the taxpayers will keep us separated for a long time,” said Rahm.
The Red Baron Arena was voted the best arena in the state by WCCO Television. Marshall also was host of the Minnesota Hockey Bantam A and AA State Tournaments this past winter. Rahm said the Marshall Hockey Association went “all in” on the tournament experience for the kids, including having a cameraman on the ice for introductions, similar to the boys’ state high school hockey tournament.
“Those Bantam players skated out and showed off their hockey hair like they wanted to make all-hockey hair team,” said Rahm.
Each team was appointed an official host to help coordinate things such as hotel stays, where to eat and what to do between games.
“The Marshall Hockey Association really took that seriously,” said Rahm. “They did lanyards and assigned tourney hosts to each team. The CVB put out welcome banners at hotels. We gave them a mini-state tournament experience.”
This year, Marshall will host tournaments at every level. They will also host the Bremer Invitational, bringing in communities that are served by Bremer Bank.
“Our association takes our tournaments very seriously,” said Rahm. “We always want to give kids and families the best possible experience. And we always give teams that come priority to return the next year. Our tourneys for this winter are already filling up.”
Rahm said location is also key. Marshall is about three hours from the Twin Cities metro, two hours from central Minnesota and under four hours from Fargo. They also draw teams from Iowa and Nebraska.
With a new facility that has all the amenities and a concerted effort to make each tournament experience the best it can be, Marshall has joined a long list of hockey communities throughout the state as a premier Minnesota hockey destination.