Gearing up and growing in numbers

By Minnesota Hockey


To combat costs while introducing boys and girls to hockey, the Gear Up Minnesota! grant program – a joint effort between Minnesota Hockey, Total Hockey and the Minnesota Wild Foundation – awarded starter hockey equipment grants to 39 community youth hockey associations in Minnesota last year. More than $130,000 in equipment was provided to youth hockey families and associations in Minnesota.

North St. Paul Area Hockey Association, Sauk Rapids Youth Hockey Association and Sartell Youth Hockey Association are putting those grants to great use this season – and are already seeing a tremendous response.

Polar pride

North St. Paul received 25 sets of starter equipment from Total Hockey for this season, all of which are currently being used on the ice at their Mite I level. As a result, they’ve seen between 20-30 new Mites sign up.

“This is just a nice way for parents not to have to spend that money on equipment,” said Nicole Willms, marketing and fundraising director for North St. Paul. “This is huge for us.”

In addition to the Gear Up Minnesota! grant, North St. Paul has been very proactive on their own, reaching out to all the local elementary schools and preschools to get information into the hands of parents all over the community.

Willms believes this is critical to the association’s future.

“Our association is really based on our Mites. That’s where they start and we develop those kids together,” Willms said. “The more numbers we can get at our mite levels, we know that it’s going to build on our Squirt levels, Peewees and Bantams. It’s important to get any information we can out to every family in the area.”

North St. Paul also offers free hockey for first-year skaters. Families are not required to pay for their first year of hockey, as long as they put in a required amount of volunteer hours, whether it’s at the concession stands, helping out during tournaments, etc.

“That’s seemed to be a huge hit over the last few years,” Willms said. “That’s just another benefit to coming and skating with North St. Paul hockey.”

Storm’n Sabres strengthening

Sauk Rapids and Sartell work together as a co-op when it comes to girls’ hockey. This past season, they received a $500 grant, which was funneled directly into the growth of their girls’ hockey program.

They ordered t-shirts with the Storm’n Sabres logo on the front. On the back, they read: “Come play hockey with me” or “Follow me to the rink.” All the girls participated in local parades with the t-shirts on. They even decorated a float.

The Storm’n Sabres also hosted a Try Hockey For Free event during the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend, where more t-shirts were handed out to non-members who showed up for the skate.

“It was tremendous,” said Dena Walters, U8-U12 girls’ hockey coordinator. “We didn’t have to raise dues for any families. We were able to do some outside stuff and have it be fun for the kids. It’s huge.”

And it paid off. The Storm’n Sabres gained six new skaters at the upper levels this year between the two associations.

“In the past, that’s been unheard of. We’ve never gotten that before,” Walters said. “We were putting a lot of emphasis on learn-to-skate programs and intro-to-hockey programs – and we wanted to make that more cost-effective going forward. And with some of that money, we can get more ice time.”

Apply now for Gear Up Minnesota!

Gear Up Minnesota! grant applications are now being accepted for the 2012-2013 season. Equipment grants from Gear Up Minnesota! have been used by associations across the state to attract new players and make hockey more accessible. 

Apply online at and let us know what your association has done or is doing to earn a Gear Up Minnesota! grant.  It can be a novel concept that has never been done before or a program that worked really well at another association.  What matters is whatever it takes to get more boys and girls involved in hockey. 

The deadline to apply is February 28. The granting committee will consist of representatives from Minnesota Hockey, USA Hockey, and the contributing sponsors.  Grants will likely be for starter hockey equipment, but all requests will be considered.  Please call 651-602-5727 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any questions.

A special thank you to the Minnesota Wild Foundation, Total Hockey, Fruchi, West Bend Insurance, Subway and our other partners for making Gear Up Minnesota! a success.