ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — More fans are showing up to see high school students play hockey in Minnesota than at some NHL games across the country.

Thursday’s early and evening sessions for the Boys State Hockey Tournament averaged 18,815 fans at the Xcel Energy Center — more than nine out of the 12 NHL games played that same day.

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With thousands of visitors likely coming from outside the metro area, a lot of money is being spent at Twin Cities businesses.

Ticket scalpers were also hoping to cash in this weekend. Many were selling tickets for as high as $80 for Friday’s evening session, featuring a matchup between Edina High School and Duluth East High School.

Zach Possehl searched for tickets outside the arena. The box office inside was selling them for only $17 each.

“They’re a little more expensive than we thought they would be,” Possehl said. “And wait in line for four hours, that’s not on my agenda.”

Hundreds of hockey fans cram into Xcel Energy Center (credit: CBS)

It painfully was on the agenda for a sea of hockey fans.

“Last year, we were halfway down that hallway, and we were here like two hours early,” said Mitch Lau.

He showed up three hours before the box office opened for the evening session this year, getting him a spot in the front of the line.

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Only 600 seats were being sold, and the rest of the tickets would be for standing-room only.

Lau would rather spend extra time than extra money.

“I ain’t gonna pay $40 or plus for a ticket [outside],” he said.

That is because he has to save that money for other expenses. Visiting from Moorhead, Lau said his family has been eating at restaurants every day of the tournament.

Speaking of which, many of bars and restaurants surrounding the arena were packed with people who could not find a ticket, or who did not want to break a $100 bill to do so.

No matter where you went, money was being spent. Even T-shirts bearing the names of the teams in the tournament were being sold along West Seventh Street.

“Hockey fans, State of Hockey,” Lau said.

He said he luckily has relatives to stay with while in town. But many fans finding their seats Friday were there to cheer on Duluth East, meaning it’s possible they had to spring for a hotel stay.

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Based on attendance in recent years, it is likely more than 100,000 people will pass through Xcel’s ticket gates over the weekend, and more than 20,000 for the championship game alone.

Jeff Wagner