ST. PAUL — Josh Nelson grew up in Wisconsin, but he fully understands and appreciates the tradition of hockey one state to the west.
“I’m a Wisconsin boy,” the Minnesota State senior defenseman said, “but that Minnesota hockey tradition is as rich as it gets.”
Some of that tradition will be on display today and Saturday at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center in the inaugural North Star College Cup tournament.
The event includes four of Minnesota’s five Division I men’s college teams. Minnesota State will play Minnesota Duluth at 4 p.m. today. St. Cloud State and Minnesota will play at 7 p.m. On Saturday, the two losers will square off for third place and the winners will play each other for the trophy.
Bemidji State is the odd team out this year but will rotate in next year. Minnesota will be a permanent fixture in the field.
The tournament was formed in the wake of the breakup of the WCHA. All five teams had been in the league together, but now only MSU and Bemidji remain. Minnesota is now in the Big Ten, and Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud are in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
“It’s good to see the old programs stay together for this,” Nelson said. “It’s definitely pretty cool.”
Organizers were hoping to put on an event similar to Boston’s popular Beanpot, which includes that city’s four D-I teams (Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern) and has been played for more than 60 years.
Mavericks junior Brett Stern said that amid friends’ disappointment about all of the college hockey realignment last summer, there was always a glimmer of excitement about the start North Star College Cup.
“Everybody would bring it up,” he said. “They’d say, ‘I heard there’s a Minnesota tournament at the Xcel.’ A lot of people know about it. It will be a special event.”