MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota State Hockey experience really is unlike any other, from the homemade signs to the shameless mullets.

“It’s starting to grow on me a little bit so I might keep it,” St. Cloud Apollo’s Blake Theisen said.

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Like the players, fans take it all in. And it’s even more special when you’re part of a team that makes it to state for the first time in school history.

“I’ve pictured myself playing on this ice, and all these guys have too,” Spring Lake Park captain Jacob Nystrom said. “It’s just going to be an unbelievable experience.”

Spring Lake Park waited four-and-a-half decades to get to the big dance, and their fans are making the most of it.

That enthusiasm was a carry-over from the Panthers section final win to get to St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.

In the 45 years of the boys’ hockey program, this is the first year Spring Lake Park was even in a section final game much less the state tournament.

“It erupted, it was huge,” senior Ryan Bratsch said. “Everyone was going crazy, and then when the players came and jumped up on the glass, it made it that much better.”

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Dressed in Hawaiian garb, students and fans took in a bit of school history.

“It’s been crazy, everyone is so excited,” senior Natalie Simonson said. “It’s kind of hard with finals this week.”

And while the game didn’t go their way, they’re hoping there will be more trips like this one.

“Any time you can go to a state tournament, it’s worth the wait,” athletic director Matt St. Martin said. “Because the experience you get and the opportunity, not only for those kids on the ice but the fans, the teachers, the parents — it means an awful lot.”

Spring Lake Park lost 8 – 0 to Hermantown on Wednesday night and will now play in the consolation bracket, but this has been one of the best athletic years in school history.

The football team made it to the state semi-finals, and both swimming teams won their sections.

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They’ve also seen a number of individuals qualify for state in other sports.

John Lauritsen