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Published February 20, 2014, 03:54 PM

State hockey tournament means busier businesses in Grand Forks

The launch of the state hockey tournament Thursday is not only the high point of the high school teams’ seasons, but it also represents a shot in the arm for the local economy.

By: John Hageman, Grand Forks Herald

The launch of the state hockey tournament Thursday is not only the high point of the high school teams’ seasons, but it also represents a shot in the arm for the local economy.

Grand Forks has been the host of the North Dakota boys hockey tournament almost every year for the past 50-plus years. And every year, high school hockey teams from across the state not only bring players and coaches, but they bring family, friends and fans to fill hotels and restaurants.

While there’s no firm dollar figure on what kind of economic impact the annual event has on Grand Forks, or even how many people travel into town, local officials and business owners agree it provides local businesses with a mid-winter boost.

“Youth sports provide a tremendous economic impact because, typically, the participants are bringing brothers, sisters, parents and sometimes grandparents,” said Julie Rygg, executive director of the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau. “So youth sports (often have) a larger impact than the adult athletics because they bring so many family members with them.”

By the bus-full

Eric Knudson sees it every year.

Players and parents stop by the Gerrells Sports Center/Hockey World shop on South Washington Street during the three-day event, which now includes a girls tournament. But while Knudson, the store’s manager, said he doesn’t sell a lot of new equipment — it’s the end of the season, after all — players may pick up some tape, clothing and other miscellaneous items. They may also try to get a look at the latest equipment that may not be available in their hometown shop.

“Heck, they might have broken a stick during a game or practice and they need a new one,” Knudson said.

The weekend is also an important one for the Red Pepper, an old haunt for visiting UND alumni parents, said co-owner Jeff Tellmann. The new Campus Place location also sees fans coming in by the bus-full, he said.

“We mark this weekend on our calendar,” he said.

The influx of people into Grand Forks follows a trend for youth sports.

A 2012 study commissioned by the Traverse (Mich.) City Area Chamber of Commerce estimated that a typical youth sports tournament brings an additional 2.14 people for every athlete. More than 85 percent of attending families ate at one or more restaurants, and more than half visited downtown and shopped at one or more retail stores.

It’s difficult to pinpoint how many people travel into Grand Forks for the hockey tournament considering some attendees were in town to begin with, either as fans of one of the local schools or as a casual hockey spectator.

Mark Rerick, the athletic director for the Grand Forks Public Schools, said 1,100 three-day passes and around 6,000 daily tickets were sold for last year’s tournament. Based on that, around 5,000 to 6,000 people likely attended the tournament, he said.

And because only one Grand Forks team qualified for each the boys and girls tournaments last year, there was more room for out-of-towners.

“With only two of the 16 teams being here, I would think a significant number of (fans) would be from outside Grand Forks,” Rerick said.

Next year

Grand Forks businesses will have to do without the hockey tournament next year.

The tournament will be held in Fargo in 2015 — the first time it’s been held there since 1971 — partly due to a scheduling conflict with UND and the emergence of Scheels Arena as a viable alternative to Ralph Engelstad Arena.

“We would love for the tournament to be here,” Knudson said. “But that’s the way it works.”

The break will be short-lived, however. The next few years after the 2015 tournament are scheduled to be held in Grand Forks — although that is subject to change if, for instance, both UND teams end up needing the ice that weekend, Rerick said.

“I think the sport of hockey in general has been growing in interest across the state,” he said. “It’d be difficult for anybody to argue that Grand Forks hasn’t been the hockey Mecca in North Dakota for a long time.”