ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — The boys State High School Hockey Tournament is underway at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Fans from St. Cloud to St. Peter arrived in droves Wednesday morning to cheer on their teams in the beloved tournament, which is in its 75th year.

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Hockey fans arrived early to get a good seat for all the action. Fans say they love this time of year, when young athletes putting it all on the line for a chance at a championship.

“There are people coming from all over. We have family coming and they live all the way up in Zimmerman,” Melissa Peterson said.

Everyone arrived dressed in their teams’ colors.

“It’s the effort they want to win the championship at any cost — play hard, check the body into the boards, and come home the winner. We all want to be a winner,” Golden Valley’s David Hansen said.

Fans like Hansen and Peter Farley say it’s all about the love for the game. They love watching kids leave it all out on the ice.

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“This is the best thing ever. Come watch all these kids play their hearts out, it’s great,” Farley said.

Tournament time also means big business for people who have set up shop near the arena.  For more than 35 years, teams in the tournament have been featured on T-shirts, pucks, caps and hats. Rink Rats is part of this boys high school hockey tradition. For Mark Schwartz, his passion for the game increases during tournament time.

“I’ve been around this game for a long time. I played high school hockey back in the early ’70s. And to think, 75 years of high school hockey going on, it’s kind of crazy,” Schwartz said.

It’s a time when dreams can come true, and everyone can celebrate with friends.

“I took three days off of work because the boys from out of town come in every year and we just check out the hockey tournament,” Mitch Robinette, of Worthington, said. “Every kid in Minnesota wants to play here, so even when you get older you think about what it would have been like to play in this type of arena in front of all these people.”

Friday’s schedule included North Branch facing off against St. Cloud Cathedral. Then Minnesota River vs. East Grand Forks, followed New Ulm taking on Mahtomedi. Later, Delano will play against Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin.

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The games are slated to continue through the rest of the week, with consolation rounds being played at 3M Arena at Mariucci on the University of Minnesota campus. The championship games are scheduled for Saturday.

Reg Chapman