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Elk River, 'The Pit' Ready for Spotlight on Hockey Day Minnesota

Three high school hockey games at the famous Handke Pit are set for television coverage Saturday, including both the boys' and girls' Elk River squads.

Handke Pit (file photo).
Handke Pit (file photo).
More than two years of hard work by members of the Elk River community, the Elk River School District and the City of Elk River comes to fruition Saturday as "The Pit" takes center stage for Hockey Day Minnesota. 

Sure, the Minnesota Wild will get into the act on Saturday night, but Jan. 18, 2014 is the culmination of a dream, on a stage that has produced four different NHL standouts, and a team that is coached by a Stanley Cup Champion. 

"It's a really exciting week for us and it will be one of the highlights of the year, and a lot of these guys' careers to play on this kind of stage," said Gordie Roberts, former North Star and Pittsburgh Penguin who's in his second year coaching the Elks, in an interview with Fox Sports North's Kevin Gorg. 

Roberts is using "one of" in his commentary because his team was the top-ranked AA team in Minnesota (until a bad tournament in Edina) and is considered a championship threat for the first time since a guy named Paul Martin was a standout. The Elks knocked off Blaine, their rival, earlier this season. And playing on hockey day will be "one of" the season's highlights if the Elks can finally make their way back to the Xcel Energy Center after a long hiatus. 

They'll host Stillwater at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Pit, followed by the girls' team, who host Anoka. Both of those contests are preceded by a marquee Class A matchup, as Rochester Lourdes battles Cloquet. 

As for the setting, it's as big a story as any in Hockey Day Minnesota's short history (it's in its eighth season). Unlike the lake at Baudette or the outdoor rink at Moorhead, The Pit is a naturally formed bowl, and has hosted skaters since the early 1900s. Chances are, if you've played hockey in Elk River, you've played at The Pit. 

The Handke Pit will host more than 2,000 fans Saturday. Parking will be available downtown, at Lions Park and there will be shuttles from the Sherburne County Fairgrounds. 

The weather should be perfect, with highs in the 20s and some sun. No snow (like in Baudette) or unseasonable heat (as in Moorhead). 

There's action all week at The Pit, actually. It started last weekend with a Squirt Tournament, hosted by Elk River Youth Hockey. This week's schedule included youth games Tuesday night, an alumni game at 7 p.m. Wednesday (Paul is otherwise engaged, so he won't be there), and action all day Saturday. 

A complete look at Hockey Day Minnesota in Elk River can be found via the site, courtesy of PoweredbyHockey.com

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