Fox Sports North Delivers Its 14th Hockey Day Minnesota In Its Own Backyard

A full day of production in Minneapolis included five games, three of them at an outdoor rink

What if I told you that Fox Sports North’s annual outdoor production marvel, Hockey Day Minnesota — in Minneapolis this year, the 14th year as a marquee event on the RSN’s calendar — was nearly 50 degrees warmer than it was a year ago, and yet it was still nearly buried in snow with wind gusts pushing temps well below freezing?

Camera operator Michael Novak works a slash position along the glass during the first game of the 14th-annual Hockey Day Minnesota. Photo: IATSE Local 745

That’s just part of the charm of broadcasting live outdoor hockey, and, in a place like Minnesota, it’s a fact that production and operations crews here actually take a unique pride in.

“We look forward to this every year,” says Bob Rohde, director, operations, Fox Sports North, which is based in Minneapolis. “We work on it bit by bit throughout the year. And, as much as we complain about the weather, we really get fired up by it and rally around it. It’s a strange kind of bragging rights.”

All in all, Fox Sports North broadcast 16 hours of continuous hockey programming on Saturday, comprising five live games, three of which were held outside at Parade Stadium. (A men’s college hockey game was played indoors at St. Cloud State.) The day was capped by a Minnesota Wild–Dallas Stars matchup at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

The outdoor live game productions featured a complement of 20 cameras, including a pair of RF cameras — one a standard handheld, the other on a FREEFLY MōVI Pro handheld gimbal carried on the playing surface by camera operator Tim Evanson on skates.

There was also a live drone, which, fortunately was able to get off the ground despite some wind issues throughout the day. It’s a critical tool for a show that relies heavily on unique, stunning visuals.

“From that standpoint, this location is awesome,” says Rhode. “Having the skyline of the city is absolutely perfect.”

Inside the main game truck (provided by Mobile TV Group), director Matt Gangl (center) called the shots of the first game of the day with producer John Stroh (left) and technical director Steve Collins.

Operationally, the full day pushed the local production community to the limit. The show was handled by 47 crew members supplied by the IATSE Local 745 union, in addition to many full-time Fox Sports North production and operations personnel and on-air talent.

Fox Sports North had six production trucks from Mobile TV Group in the Twin Cities on Saturday: its two primary units were at the Hockey Day festivities, and extra mobile resources were brought in to work the Wild game in St. Paul and the Timberwolves game (yes, the Timberwolves also played on Saturday) at Target Center in Minneapolis. Rodhe gave credit to MTVG EICs Bill Poore and Dan Murrie for their work in pulling it all off. In addition, ARCTEK Satellite Productions supported the efforts with satellite uplink.

In regards to the weather, temperatures did sit at a relatively “comfortable“ 20F or so, with the sun peeking out on occasion. Setup for the Saturday broadcast window was nearly jeopardized by a steady snowfall the afternoon prior, but setup had already occurred.

When given the choice between the extreme cold of Bemidji a year ago (where temperature at puck drop of the first game was -27F) or snow, Rhode would vote for the cold any day.

“I’m looking forward to the strike,” he laughs, joking that he’ll be finding cables at the venue lying around in the spring. “A lot of our cables are frozen in. But, to be honest, the setup actually went pretty smoothly. Prior to the snow, we had everything set, and it was really just the faxing that took a long time.”

In addition to having its home offices just a few blocks away, one of the biggest advantages to Fox Sports North’s having the event in a major city like Minneapolis as opposed to the more remote locations where this event has been held (towns like Baudette Bay on the Canadian border, Hermantown on the eastern edge of the state, or Moorhead on the far western edge) was the ability to execute a solid backup plan.

The operations team had an extra production truck, supplied by Token Creek, parked, powered, heated, and ready to go at the nearby Parade Ice Garden in case the event was forced inside by an extreme dump of snow. Fortunately, the call was made on Friday afternoon that the snow falling would not be difficult for crews of the organizing committee to clear, and the show was able to go on outside. That kind of backup plan was one that Fox Sports North hasn’t had before this event.