In a scene that has played out countless times in his NHL career, All-Star defenseman Dustin Byfuglien glided his 265-pound frame to the penalty box. Only this time, while in there, he signed autographs for children and posed for selfies.
This wasn't Winnipeg's MTS Centre in the thick of the NHL season. It was Braemar Arena in Edina, Minnesota, in early August.
Welcome to Da Beauty League: hockey's most star-studded (and possibly most fun) summer beer league.
"I'm not sure how successful anyone really thought it might be, as far as fans coming out to see it. But it was awesome," Arizona Coyotes defenseman Alex Goligoski said. "They did it the right way. For me, personally, it couldn't have gone better."
Goligoski and Byfuglien were two of the first players approached about the league at the start of the 2015-16 NHL season. By the time the summer hockey league officially kicked off on July 12, it was an All-Star extravaganza featuring Minnesota's hockey elites, including 45 NHL players and an array of top AHL and college players.
Goligoski was among the league captains who sorted out the six team rosters, along with Brock Nelson, Ryan McDonagh, Taylor Chorney, Nick Bjugstad and David Backes. With former NHL players Ben Clymer, Mark Parrish and Brian Lawton among the coaches, the league was set, and a Minnesota hockey phenomenon began to take shape.
"We've been talking about it for years. We just decided to take the plunge this year and make a go of it," said league organizer Ben Hankinson, a former NHL player who now works as a player agent with Octagon Hockey.
"It's cool. Just to see the kids wanting autographs and hanging over the glass. The parents are taking pictures. It's really cool to see how passionate hockey fans are in Minnesota. We had some really hot, humid nights that our games were played on. So it was a nice place to come beat the heat and cool down a little bit."
With some of the world's best players competing and tickets only $5 each, hundreds of fans turned out to watch the twice-weekly 4-on-4 games. Money raised from ticket revenue and the auctioning off of game-worn jerseys was also given to charity.
As the intensity of play on the ice ramped up week after week, so did the size of the crowds. It wasn't long before the State of Hockey went all-in on Da Beauty League.
"The pace was amazing. It was a lot of fun to watch," said Keith Ballard, a former NHL player who served as a Beauty League coach.
"It seemed like every game there was more and more people coming. There were over 1,000 people there, which is pretty impressive for a 4-on-4 summer deal. I give those guys a lot of credit for being there each night and putting on a good show. Guys stayed after and signed autographs for the fans and threw pucks in the crowd and sticks. It was a really cool experience all around."
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In the end, Chorney's team featuring NHLers Byfuglien, Drew Stafford and James van Riemsdyk took the league title with a 9-5 championship-game win over Nelson's crew, which included New York Islanders teammate Anders Lee and veteran Nashville Predators defenseman Matt Carle. Stafford was named the first Beauty League MVP after leading all players in goals and points.
For NHL players and fans alike, the league truly served as a summer hockey paradise. But perhaps no one benefited more from the monthlong exhibition than the college and AHL players looking to take the next step in their careers. For prospects such as brothers Nick and Jordan Schmaltz and Brock Boeser, it was an invaluable opportunity to get summer reps alongside the likes of Zach Parise, Nick Leddy and Paul Martin.
"The pros don't put up with the kids not putting in full efforts," Hankinson said. "That's probably the biggest lesson I think these guys learn: how hard the pros work and how serious they are about it. Those guys don't mess around. They're taking time away from their families."
Perhaps more than anything, the league was a celebration of hockey in a region that reveres the sport as much as any on the planet. Where else could so many world-class players volunteer their time in front of a packed house at a suburban community skating rink?
The games featured plenty of indelible moments and perhaps none greater than an arena-rattling ceremonial puck drop before the championship game. That honor went to reigning All-Star Game MVP and "very part-time honorary commissioner" John Scott, after whom the league's championship trophy was named.
There was plenty of fun to be had in Edina, which is located southwest of Minneapolis. But make no mistake: The ultimate objective for every player involved was to win.
"The last regular-season game, whoever won was in the playoffs and whoever lost was done," Ballard said. "It went to overtime, 3-on-3 to 2-on-2, then back to 3-on-3 and then a shootout. It was up and down and guys back-checking and blocking shots and getting in corners. It was great. In Minnesota, I don't think there has ever been anything like this."
— DaBeautyLeague (@DaBeautyLeague) August 11, 2016
With the arena's website promising free admission to anyone shorter than Byfuglien's stick, some fans reportedly traveled up to two hours to watch. Between the carefree summer spirit and the quality hockey, Da Beauty League was a resounding success.
"I don't think I've ever played in front of any fans in the summer," Goligoski said. "There's not anything else like it."
All indications are that Da Beauty League will be back in 2017, with players already looking forward to another go at the John Scott Cup.
"Oh, yeah. I'm in. I'm in 100 percent," Goligoski said. "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't come back."