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Pat Rupp: Still an alien in the State of Hockey

In the days of my youth, ice-related sports on the prairies of west-central Iowa were as common to the locals as skyscrapers and toll roads. I vaguely recall the city flooding part of the municipal tennis courts a couple of times but few residents availed themselves of the opportunity to board blades and bruise their backsides.

Through reading the sports section of the Des Moines Register and Sports Illustrated, professional hockey eventually appeared on my radar screen. Players such as Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull weren't exactly household names but they were at least recognizable.

My indifference toward hockey continued through four years of college in Nebraska, a one-year teaching stint in northeast Iowa and four years of Air Force duty in ice-starved San Antonio. Then came the fall of 1973, a move to Farmington and a collision with a figurative iceberg.

The buzz surrounding Tiger hockey was deafening. Even before football ended, talk of the upcoming season was everywhere. By the time the temperatures dropped enough to freeze water, there was an outdoor rink in place in back of the old high school. Kids of all ages schussed their way up and down the sheet at all hours of the day and night.

Upon inquiring as to who and where Farmington played, I received some odd answers. Although the Tigers were charter members in the Missota Conference, few of the league's schools had hockey teams. That meant playing opponents from afar in what what was called the Southern Minny League.

As for where they played, the response was even more of a puzzler. There was no indoor arena in town so indoor practices and home games were played at Faribault Shattuck. Are you kidding me? No home ice, a 40-minute bus ride to every practice. On what planet had I arrived?

Starting in 1985, I took on the task of reporting FHS sports for this newspaper, and that meant getting up a little closer and more personal with the sport. At first, I had trouble speaking the language of the game, thinking icing was a cake add-on and forechecking a type of bank account.

Still, I persevered and from 1994 through 2008 had the privilege of covering six state tournament appearances by the Tigers, four by the girls and two by the boys, in such diverse places as the Fairgrounds Coliseum and the Xcel Energy Center. To this day, those remain some of the most memorable moments of my part-time career.

But it's now been 44 years since my formal introduction to the sport of hockey. I've seen high school games, college games, professional games featuring the North Stars and Wild, and yet I still can't call myself a very big fan.

Familiar Farmington hockey folks like the late Louie Schmitz and Al Maki, Shawn Anderson, Terry Holmes, Keith Revels, and Jim Hoey have done their best to convert me. They've explained the jargon, broken down strategies, promoted the game's good and urged me to get on the bandwagon. I've jumped on a couple of times but never stayed for long.

This winter, of all winters, is one I wish I was a true Minnesota hockey fan. The Wild sit atop the standings in the Western Conference and rumors of a Stanley Cup run can be heard in the distance.

Yet tonight the Wild play on television at 7 p.m. and I've already made reservations for the downstairs flat screen to watch the Minnesota Timberwolves, the cellar dwellers in the Northwest Division of the NBA's Western Conference. Go figure.

I guess you can take the boy out of Iowa but it's not so easy to take the Iowa out of the boy.