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Pawlenty on ice
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Gov. Tim Pawlenty played hockey Thursday night as part of his inauguration week activities. His Team Minnesota defeated a team captained by former Gov. Wendell Anderson by a 6-2 score. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
Gov. Tim Pawlenty put politics on ice Thursday night, at least for a few hours -- at the Governor's Inaugural Hockey Game in South St. Paul. Despite some trash-talking leading up to the event, the match-up was all in good fun and for the love of the game. The final score -- Pawlenty's Team Minnesota beat former Gov. Wendell Anderson's Minnesota Old Timers 6-2.

South St. Paul, Minn. — At the start of the game, one thing was certain -- the governor's team would win.

Whether that would be the team led by Minnesota's former DFL Gov. Wendell Anderson, or the one led by the state's new Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, was anybody's guess.

Terry Mikutowski of Stillwater came to the game with her family. She wasn't sure if Pawlenty could pull it off.

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Image Members of the public skated before the game

"I think he has his work cut out for him. Governor Anderson is a pretty awesome hockey player I think," Mikutowski said.

True, Anderson has the more impressive resume. He played in high school at St. Paul Johnson, at the University of Minnesota, and went to the 1956 Olympics with the U.S. national hockey team.

Pawlenty, on the other hand, never rose above junior varsity level at South St. Paul. He describes himself as a recreational, but avid hockey player.

St. Paul resident Tom McNeely, a former hockey referee, was also among the several hundred people who turned up for this curious political matchup. He was impressed by the depth of the sport in the executive branch.

"We've got two governors who know how to play hockey, that's outstanding," said McNeely.

Pawlenty scored the first goal of the evening, with the collaboration of the Old Timers's goalie, who passed the puck to Pawlenty in front of the goal.

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Image The action underway

Pawlenty's Team Minnesota went on to score five more goals, and won by a score of 6-2. The new governor was beaming during the post-game huddle with reporters.

"I predicted a five-goal victory. We only beat them 6-2, and they gave me a charity goal to start the game off," Pawlenty said. "So, they over-performed, my hat's off to them. It was a gift, they were being nice."

Pawlenty's Team Minnesota was a bipartisan, coed group. Pawlenty recruited his two brothers and two DFLers -- State Rep. Tom Pugh and former Rep. Bob Milbert, both from South St. Paul. Most of Pawlenty's players were women, ranging from a 7th grader to an Olympic silver medalist.

Former Gov. Anderson credited the success of Pawlenty's team to the women, who scored four of the six goals.

"We clearly dominated the game when Governor Pawlenty and the men were out on the ice. When these young, talented hockey players were out there, the women, they dominated the play. And they beat us fair and square," Anderson said. "It was great to play against them, and I hope we can do it again. And they can leave Governor Pawlenty and his men home."

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Image Signing autographs

As for a hockey game as an inaugural event, Anderson says it beats the speeches.

There were a few politicians watching from the bleachers. Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, liked the new twist on inaugural events.

"I think it was fun. It was something that was bipartisan," Pogemiller said. "There were a few DFL traitors on Team Minnesota, but you know, Representative Pugh and Representative Milbert apparently felt that local homeboys was more important than politics. I think that's a good sign of the future of the next four years of government."

Pawlenty called the game "a gas," although he said his legs felt like lead and he was out of shape. He said playing in his hometown as the new governor felt like completing the circle of family and fond memories.

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