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Nate Prosser and Josh Harding, back row, pose with Two Harbors Youth Hockey players Kody Costley, Corey Sandretsky, Wesley Beck, Caden Costley and in front, Felix Powell. Photo courtesy of Sue Powell.

MN Wild players stop by Two Harbors

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hockey Two Harbors, 55616
Two Harbors Minnesota 109 Waterfront Dr. 55616

Two Harborites don't need ice to play hockey.

On Tuesday afternoon, a pack of youngsters took over a portion of Waterfront Drive in Two Harbors, using hockey sticks and a plastic ball to play a pickup game, sans ice and skates. It wasn't impromptu, though--the hockey fans were there to meet two Minnesota Wild players and an NHL broadcaster.

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"It's a good opportunity to come together and celebrate hockey a little bit in the summer," said Sue Powell, president of the Two Harbors Youth Hockey Association.

Hockey fans don't usually get to experience the Minnesota Wild unless they make a special trip St. Paul for a game. On Tuesday, the Wells Fargo Minnesota Wild Road Tour brought the players to the people.

Goaltender Josh Harding, defenseman Nate Prosser and TV analyst and former NHL goalie Mike Greenlay greeted fans at the Thomas Owens Park Bandshell. A steady line of fans met the players and got autographs from 12-1 p.m.

"Our fan base extends all throughout the state. It's great," Harding said.

Harding was recently awarded the Masterton Trophy, an award given each year to the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis late last year and, in his first game post-diagnosis, stopped all 24 shots he faced against the Dallas Stars. Harding, a Canadian, was drafted by the Wild just out of high school, and has been with them the 10 years since.

"Everything happened really quickly," Harding said of his ascension to professional hockey. He didn't pick up goaltending until he was 14 but was a natural.

Prosser, from Elk River, Minn., is a newer addition to the team. He was drafted during his last year at Colorado College in 2009. He started playing at a young age and progressed through the Elk River ranks. Then, he played juniors before heading to college; the rest is history.

"I needed every step to grow and mature," Prosser said.

The group headed to Cloquet after visiting Two Harbors. They also made appearances in Ely, Virginia, Brainerd and Prosser's hometown of Elk River. Prosser said it's important for them to meet the fans who support them.

"I think it's good to give back," Prosser said.

The excitement was evident in Thomas Owens Park on Tuesday.

Powell said that, apart from the Wild meet-and-greet, another summer hockey event is taking place--THYH players are participating in the 10,000-shot challenge this summer. If a player logs 10,000 shots with a stick and a puck over the summer, he will be entered to win prizes come September.

"Just those shots off the ice make a big difference in their on-ice game," Powell said.

Powell has been the president of the THYHA for 3 years, and her son plays hockey.

"During the winter, there's not much else going on. It keeps our kids active," Powell said.

This fall, the THYHA will again offer incentives to new players. For the first year of hockey, the registration fee is always waived. In addition to that, the association has received some grants to give kids hockey gear.

"It's a great way for people who aren't sure about the cost to try it out," Powell said.

They try to keep costs low to encourage more players. To that end, parents spend a lot of time volunteering together, which Powell said builds a strong community.

Registration for hockey begins in September. Watch the News-Chronicle for information. Kids can sign up for the 10,000-shot challenge on the website, www.twoharborsyouthhockey.org.

One day, a former THYHA alum might be making his way back to Two Harbors to greet his fans as a Minnesota Wild player.

"There's a lot of benefits to at least giving it a try," Powell said

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