A year of preparation will culminate as the USA Hockey National High School Tournament gets underway Thursday, March 22, at the Plymouth Ice Center. Helping to make sure the event goes according to plan are Greg Gibson, president of the Wayzata Youth Hockey Association; and Erik Halverson, manager of the Plymouth Ice Center.

The City of Plymouth and Wayzata Youth Hockey Association are getting ready for the puck to drop as the USA Hockey National High School Tournament comes March 22-26 to the Plymouth Ice Center.

The event, which will include 36 teams, 32 from out of the state, has been a year in the making, explained Greg Gibson, who is serving his 16th year as president of the hockey association.

Gibson happened to be managing the Wayzata Junior Gold A team when the team won the Division I national tournament in 2016. It was then when Gibson began looking into bringing the tournament to Plymouth.

The association and the city submitted an application with Minnesota Hockey’s approval and were awarded as the site for this year’s event.

To see it all unfold two years later, “it’s very exciting,” Gibson said, “because one of the commitments everyone made when this facility was built and when it was added on, was that we would all work together to bring events like this to the city of Plymouth ... to keep this hockey arena busy year-round,” Gibson said, noting he hopes to bring even more events like this in the future.

Originally built in 1997, the Plymouth Ice Center underwent $2.2 million in upgrades last summer, which included converting the size of the main rink from Olympic to a professional National Hockey League rink. The Freon refrigeration system was also replaced with an ammonia-based coolant, making it more energy efficient and reducing the environmental impact. The sand floor was also replaced with a concrete floor.

Other upgrades, including paint and new score boards, have also been a part of the preparation for the upcoming tournament.

“Right now, we’re just making sure the facility looks really nice,” said Erik Halverson, manager of the center.

As Gibson will say, “it’s more than just showing up at the hockey rink that day and starting to play hockey.” For the past year, it’s been planning and working out the logistics – between understanding all that required by USA Hockey, finding hotels for players, and getting sponsors for the event.

With 18 games a day from Thursday through Saturday, the event will also rely heavily on local volunteers for help. Currently, there are 130 positions during the five days, with two-three hour times slots, according to Halverson.

“This is all a collaborative effort to make sure we put on the best tournament and ... put the City of Plymouth’s best foot forward so people have a good time here in Minnesota,” Halverson said.

Because this is a paid-admission event, volunteers will take tickets and be ambassadors by helping guests navigate the city.

With three sheets of ice, six teams will play at any given time throughout the tournament.

“I expect we’ll have fairly good crowds, especially when the local teams play,” Gibson said, but he doesn’t expect there to be a big parking problem.

“I anticipate a full parking lot, but I don’t anticipate any real issues,” he said, noting most of the teams are from out of town and will either carpool or ride charter buses.

With the Wayzata team getting the host bit, Gibson said he hopes “their games will be a little better attended.”

While Gibson said he always looks forward to seeing the Minnesota teams play at these tournaments, he anticipates fans supporting the team from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, due to the recent school shooting in which 17 students and staff members were killed.

Also, for the first time, there will be four girls’ teams participating as part of the national hockey tournament, Gibson noted. Two teams will be made up of players from Minnesota, while the other two teams will come from out of state.

As with the national sled hockey tournament in November, Gibson said he looks forward to bringing more events like this to the Plymouth Ice Center in the future.

“The City of Plymouth is really excited to host this event,” Halverson said. “It brings energy, not only to the building, but to the city, too.” He also invites anyone who hasn’t been inside the ice center to come “check it out and watch some excellent hockey.”

Attendees can purchase either tournament passes or daily admission with rates for seniors, adults and students. Cash and credit cards will be accepted. To view the tournament schedule, visit nationals.usahockey.com/2018

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Kristen Miller is the community editor for the Plymouth Sun Sailor. Email story ideas to kristen.miller@ecm-inc.com

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