MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — High school hockey is not only a pastime in Minnesota, it’s a big business.

The state tournament normally brings $2 million worth of business to St. Paul. This year, with COVID-19 precautions, that’s projected to be off by about 75%.

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When the walk signal comes on, that’s the cue for swarms of hockey fans to cross the street and get to the Xcel Energy Center for the high school tournament in a normal year. But that’s not the case due to the capacity limits at The X — and that’s having a ripple effect on a lot of the businesses in this area.

From the roads, to the restaurants, traffic is down considerably around the arena. The tournament that easily draws around 20,000 fans per game is now restricted to 250.

(credit: CBS)

That massive difference is felt down the street at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub, where COVID restrictions aren’t the only reason there’s more space. Kathy Gosger is the general manager.

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“In the prior years, pre-COVID, we would fill up the minute the doors opened, and we’d stay busy wall-to-wall with people till we closed at 2 a.m.,” Gosger said.

Less fans also means more vacancies. Hampton Inn and Suites is normally 100% filled during the tournament. They’re just past 50% this year, but managers admit that number would be even lower if not for the tournament.

It’s why simply having hockey games is a reason many are thankful, including St. Thomas Academy parent Becky Cunningham.

“I have three boys that play hockey and all three got to have a season this year, and I know a lot of places around the country did not,” Cunningham said.

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Thursday, capacity at The X will increase significantly from 250 people to 3,000. Families of players will then be allotted up to eight tickets instead of just four.

Jeff Wagner