Meet Mr. Freeze: Brandon Radeke is the icemaker for the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins -- and Bemidji’s Hockey Day Minnesota
BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Olympians and Stanley Cup winners have skated on Brandon Radeke’s ice.
Next week in Bemidji, hockey players of all ages are joining the club.
For the 13th annual Hockey Day Minnesota, Radeke, director of ice operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins, is overseeing the creation of the rink near the south shore of Lake Bemidji.
Next week’s event is one of several outdoor hockey games Radeke has worked. In 2016, he worked at the outdoor NHL Stadium Series game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, a 6-1 win for the Minnesota Wild over the Chicago Blackhawks.
And on Jan. 1, he worked the NHL Winter Classic game at Notre Dame Stadium, a 4-2 win for the Boston Bruins over the Blackhawks.
While his career path has taken Radeke to rinks across the country, he made his start in the State of Hockey. Originally from Mora, Minn., Radeke began working in high school at the local rink where he played hockey, and he just stayed with the craft.
Today, he handles the ice skated on by the Penguins, winners of three Stanley Cups in the past 10 years.
“It’s very cool,” Radeke said. “This is my fifth season there, and we won two Cups in a row, that was fun. It is a little stressful having the best player in the world skating on your ice all the time, but Sid (Crosby) and I get along great.”
When it comes to playing games outside, Radeke said weather always is a factor, but the quality has to stay the same, especially on the professional stage.
“It has to be a real game, it’s worth two points in the schedule, so everything’s riding on it and you can’t get players hurt,” Radeke said. “So, you’re always concerned about the ice.”
On Thursday in Bemidji, Radeke was working alongside staff from the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud to construct the rink.
“This is the first time we’re responsible for the rink during the event,” said Cory Portner, Herb Brooks Center associate director. “Last year in St. Cloud, we were more in a supporting role, like the Sanford Center is this year.”
Portner said crews have made a lot of progress on Bemidji’s rink the past day or so, partly thanks to the weather conditions.
“The cloud cover has been really helping,” Portner said. “If the weather is like this on the day of the event, with clouds, no snow and no rain, it will be just like having a game inside.”
This year’s Hockey Day Minnesota event is different in that there will be three days of games -- starting Thursday, Jan. 17, and running through Saturday, Jan. 19 -- instead of one game or just one day. Youth teams also will be using the ice before and after the main Hockey Day Minnesota festivities.
On game days, Radeke said staff will be monitoring the ice quality and will use heating or cooling systems if necessary. While he will be relying on his outdoor hockey experience for managing the ice, though, this will be Radeke’s first time taking in a Hockey Day Minnesota.
“It will be nice to see a different style of hockey and watch the kids enjoy it,” Radeke said.
Hockey Day is organized by the Minnesota Wild and cable channel Fox Sports North.
The main event is Saturday, Jan. 19, with three outdoor contests, including games featuring the Bemidji High School boys and BSU women’s teams.
Festivities will get underway earlier, though, with the Bemidji High School girls team playing the evening of Thursday, Jan. 17, and the BSU men’s team on the ice Friday night, Jan. 18.
All of the outdoor games on Saturday, Jan. 19, will be televised on Fox Sports North.