Da Beauty League got back underway on Wednesday, signifying the third season of the six-team four-on-four outfit stocked with big-name NHL talent keeping themselves ready for the season.
Established in 2015 by local Minnesota businesses trying to keep hockey going year-round, the league doubles as an offseason training ground for pro players out of Edina’s Braemar Arena. Games feature two 23-minute halves and all the rules of hockey, including offsides, icing and more—sans hitting—though the first rule is pretty clear: Have fun. Teams play an eight-game schedule on Wednesdays, with four teams making the semifinals before a championship game to play for The John Scott Cup, named for the former enforcer and 2016 NHL All-Star Game MVP.
This season rosters feature a number of born-and-bred Minnesotans, including up-and-comers like Kieffer Bellows, Casey Mitteldstadt, Charlie Lindgren and Hunter Miska, as well as established NHLers Zach Parise, Nick Bjugstad, Ryan McDonagh, Brock Boeser, and Dustin Byfuglien. There's plenty of room for out-of-staters, too, like Jake Guentzel and Jason Zucker, all representing teams Bic, Walser, RBC, Velocity, TRIA and Tradition.
The recognizable pro hockey names are an easy draw for locals, but Da Beauty League makes itself accessible to fans far and wide with free live streams while sharing game highlights and thank-you videos from players.
“I was hoping it would be a fun environment for the players,” NHL agent and league co-creator Ben Hankinson told KTSP Sports. “I had no idea from the fans perspective that it would be as fun and as entertaining as it was. I think the more fans are here, the more guys don’t want to embarrass themselves.”
For some players, the laid-back, fun-fueled league can be a bit daunting at first.
“The first time I pulled in the parking lot, I thought I was just going to play a pick-up 4-on-4 hockey game,” Bjugstad told NHL Network. The Panthers' forward tied for the DBL lead with 11 goals in 2017 and finished in a tie for second in scoring with 18 points in eight games. “The parking lot was full. You pull up and it changes the pace because the whole arena is sold out. The kids are into it and it makes everyone else get into it in July.”
The league’s community-mindedness doesn’t stop with the on-ice product, as proceeds also benefit charities like the United Heroes League, the Herb Brooks Foundation and Shine a Ligh7 Foundation—including those from the annual jersey auction, which allows fans to bid on sweaters worn by their favorite players (provided for the first time by partner Adidas this year), including those who haven’t made it to the NHL just yet.
“They throw the college kids in there, too,” Bjugstad said. “They usually end up helping the team most, because they work super hard and they’re usually in midseason form in the summer.”
For players like Boeser, it’s a helpful tool to get back in shape, as the Vancouver Canucks winger played in a competitive game for the first time since a back injury ended his rookie season in March. The sniper, clad in a green-and-yellow Bic jersey, racked up a hat trick in the league’s opening game on Wednesday night, a 6-4 win over Team Tradition. Minnesota Wild forward Zucker earned plenty of cheers for his two-goal performance in Team Walser’s 5-3 win over RBC, while Velocity bested Tira by a 5-3 score behind a strong outing from Coyotes goalie prospect Miska to open up the 2018 season.
There’s clearly no shortage of high-scoring matchups, though that appears almost by design—sorry, goalies.
“It’s a very competitive league and it’s definitely good to just try new stuff and to get into that competitive flow,” Bjugstad said. “It’s good competition to get you ready for the season."