Girls teams take to the ice in the state hockey tournament with a bigger crowd

It was a loud and joyous sendoff for the Minnetonka High School girls hockey team, complete with a fire and police escort.

"I think everyone’s very excited," says Lindzi Avar, a freshman on the team. "This is my first year of hockey, and making it this far for the first year, definitely going to be a great experience and looking forward to it."

Their equipment trailer was taped up with two signs: "Xcel or bust" and "State Tourney."

"That was a super awesome sendoff for them," smiled Sue Avar, Lindzi’s mom. "With all they have worked for and all they have earned for this season, and what they’re about to embark on."

Minnetonka met Edina Thursday at Xcel Energy Center for the Class AA semi-final of the state hockey tournament. Edina won 4-0 to advance to the final for the fifth year in a row.

Edina parents, strolling along Seventh Street, also couldn’t contain their excitement.

"In the current climate, we’re just so happy to keep playing and get to play," exclaimed Mary Kuehl.

Until today, capacity in the X was limited to 250 people because of COVID-19 safety protocols.

Boys and Girls State Hockey Tourney Central

The Minnesota Department of Health now says up to 3,000 people can be in the building.

"It’s pretty exciting. We’ve been blessed playing with Edina for the last two years," says John Conner.

His 18-year-old daughter, Emma, is taking part in tournament play for the second time and hopes to play on the University of Minnesota team next year.

"Not having their fans really affected them all season long," he says. "Not being able to have their super fans, as they call them."

The easing of restrictions means these teams now get 600 seating tickets each, versus 114 before April 1.

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Kuehl is happy more fans will be able to watch her daughter Jane on the ice.

"Fifth year in a row, and we could not be more pumped," she says.

These hockey parents acknowledge the pandemic has been a challenge. But the change in restrictions, they say, makes a difference.

"It’s super exciting to have more people come in and be able to watch," Sue Avar says. "It’s a great opportunity to get everybody to come in and watch together and cheer on a really great cause."

Hockey memories to last a lifetime.

"It just kind of adds like one new level to the whole experience," says Linzi Avar. "Never had this many people come to watch us play, so that will be good, really fun, and adds to the experience."

"We’re just lucky, we feel fortunate," Kuehl adds. "It’s just great to have more people come down to the X and be able to enjoy the sport we love."