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IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Wilderness adventure!

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Text by Wendy Johnson

Photos by Jamie Lund

By the time the opening puck was dropped at Friday night's Minnesota Wilderness game, Northwoods Credit Union Arena had already been rockin' and rollin' for well over an hour. That's because the Wilderness games have become as much of an experience as a sporting event.

Little children were charging around the grandstands, checking out the player boxes and "high fiving" Timber, the Wilderness mascot. Grown-ups were lining up for free seat cushions from the night's sponsor, the Pine Journal, chowing down on freshly grilled burgers from the concession stand and chatting with their friends.

Longtime youth hockey coach Donny Lamirande threaded his way through the crowd, stopping to visit with numerous old cronies and undoubtedly a former hockey player or two as well.

"If it weren't for these hockey games, I wouldn't have anything to do until summer fishing season!" he quipped.

As the Wilderness players warmed up on the ice, Esko Mite hockey players looked on in awe, getting geared up for their own special appearance later on between the periods of the night's game.

By the time the lights dimmed, the music swelled, and brightly colored lights danced over the ice, the fans were on their feet in the stands and cheering for the opening face-off.

The Wilderness didn't disappoint. They took the game against an archrival, the Austin Bruins, in a headlong rush all the way into overtime before losing in a final exciting shootout. And by the time all was said and done, everyone was ready to do it all over again the next night.

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