The city of Grand Forks, North Dakota, is preparing to welcome the world once again.
The third-largest city in North Dakota is quietly developing a reputation as a producer of world-class sporting events, a position that will be enhanced in April when Grand Forks hosts the IIHF U18 Men’s World Championship.
“We’re very excited about it,” said Jody Hodgson, general manager at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“I think it’s going to be a great event, and we look forward to showcasing our community and facility to the international hockey world and showcasing the best players in the world to our community. This gives people a chance to see future NHL and Olympic stars live in their own backyard.”
Grand Forks has a history with future NHL and Olympic stars after hosting the 2005 World Junior Championships. Canada won its 11th gold medal that year, which featured future NHL stars such as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Phil Kessel, Ryan Suter, Evgeni Malkin, Ryan Getzlaf, tournament MVP Patrice Bergeron and countless others.
Paul LaDue, a University of North Dakota defenseman and Grand Forks native, carries fond memories of the tournament.
“I was pretty young, but the one thing I remember is even if the U.S. wasn’t playing, the rink was packed to the brim,” said LaDue, a Los Angeles Kings prospect.
“It was a special and electric atmosphere no matter who was playing. I never had trouble getting tickets before, but it was tough for that tournament because everybody was trying. I feel it will be the same for this tournament.”
Hockey is the undoubted king in Grand Forks, and the community of about 60,000 rallies in full force during winter weekends to support the University of North Dakota.
Luke Johnson, a UND forward, grew up in Grand Forks and has first-hand experience with the passion.
“It should be a great event, not only for the players, but the community of Grand Forks,” said Johnson, a Chicago Blackhawks’ prospect.
“I think Grand Forks is definitely a hockey town and definitely takes advantage of any event like this. No matter who is playing, I think the fans of Grand Forks know and appreciate high-caliber hockey.”
LaDue remembers growing up playing on any of the close-to 20 outdoor rinks available throughout the winter. It’s how he and countless others from the community grew to love the sport.
“Grand Forks is a hockey town and everybody here knows it,” LaDue said. “They’re passionate fans and a passionate community. It’s great to see a community as small as this one have so much national attention and to be known nationally as a hockey town.”
The fans make it a special place for LaDue.
“The community support we get is never ending,” LaDue said. “How this town comes together for one team, I don’t think it’s like that anywhere else in college hockey.
“You can ask anyone else who plays here … they’ll never forget the fans and the support they received.”
Now, the fans of Grand Forks will have the opportunity to watch the best U18 players in the world and potential future NHL stars.
“People here know hockey and get excited about it,” Johnson said. “The pride they have for this sport, they’re passionate and they expect excellence. It’s such a tight-knit community and such a hockey town. It speaks to the community and how passionate our fans are for hockey.”
Hodgson used the word “world class,” adding the participants will take part in a world-class event, and fans will experience world-class hockey in a world-class facility.
“I think it’s a real feather in our cap for a community of our size to host these types of events,” Hodgson said. “It’s a real feather in our cap and a testament to the support of the great game of hockey that exists in our community.”
The support is the reason Grand Forks continues to play host to world-class events like the U18 World Championships.
“It’s a group of people who love hockey,” LaDue said. “The state and area around Grand Forks, it’s pretty special to see how they come together for us, and I expect them to do the same for this tournament.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.