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AVHA Spotlight Feature

Our AVHA Spotlight Series features articles on the amazing, wonderful, and creative things our Association members do! If you have a great story you'd like to share, email us at!

Everyone has a story...what's yours?

Charitable Gambling

Sometimes, we don’t know how lucky we are. While there are things we can clearly see: a fortunate puck bounce, the ref looking the other way when our kid trips someone, a shot hitting the post instead of going in…other things, are not so obvious. Our charitable gambling operation falls into that latter category. While you might not see the work being done, you absolutely feel its effects.

Apple Valley Hockey Association (AVHA) is a licensed charitable gambling organization, selling pull-tabs, tip-boards and running bingo sessions. We have three Apple Valley locations: Rascals, Wild Bill’s Sports Saloon and Panino Brothers. The proceeds are about equally divided between paying Minnesota state taxes, funding the gambling operation and (most importantly) funding our youth hockey association!

Our charitable gambling operation (like our hockey season) was deeply impacted by Covid-19. Employees faced numerous challenges, including substantially reduced hours. Despite the enormous challenge of working in bars and restaurants during a pandemic, they keep a smile on under their masks and were there to have fun with the customers. Next time you see them, make sure to thank them for the work they do.

The reason we have significantly reduced hockey bills (in some cases, no bills at all) is a direct result of the incredible dedication and work done by these amazing people!

Randy Olson has been the AVHA Gambling Manager since 2007 and is presently responsible for 26 employees. He is a man of many hats, including the one that keeps our operation in compliance with all state laws and regulations. Additionally, Randy manages human resources, selecting vendors, maintaining relationships with bars and restaurants and overseeing daily activity. He provides monthly reports to the AVHA Board during our regularly scheduled meetings.

Patty Leahy has been an Assistant Gambling Manager since 1996. She organizes bingo sessions, keeps the books, does payroll, tracks inventory and prepares the state and federal monthly reports. Patty is also responsible for making sure each location has adequate supplies and handles many of the day-to-day issues that arise regarding employees and staffing.

Carolee Nelson has been an Assistant Gambling Manager since 2008. She is not only a pull-tab seller and bingo overseer, but is also instrumental in planning booth and bingo operations at all locations. Carolee is responsible for researching and ordering games for people to play. She also manages publicity and is the link to our customers and works hard to keep people coming back and playing. Carolee also ensures booth aesthetics are up to standards and properly adorned for the different holiday seasons.

For the day-to-day work at our pull-tab locations, we have approximately five sellers working various shifts. They sell seven days a week, presently from 11 AM to 11 PM. We are fortunate to have a wonderful group of pull-tab sellers who know what “customer first” means while still making good long-term decisions for our business. Everything hinges on our seller’s performance and the results speak for themselves: as soon as bars and restaurants were allowed to open back up, our pull-tab operation came roaring back!

Then there’s the bingo gang. On Tuesday nights at Rascals, there are always five employees that run bingo games and sell meat raffle tip-boards (which are immensely popular). At the Wild Bill’s location, we run bingo on Wednesdays at 7 PM (8 games) and on Saturdays at 1:30 PM (12 games) along with gift card tip-boards. Saturday bingo is typically run by five or more bingo employees. Although not our top revenue generator, bingo is instrumental in bringing in customers for our bar and restaurant hosts, which in turn, is good for AVHA!

Even if you’re not a gambler, our restaurant and bar locations are all great places to eat, have a beverage of your choice and reminisce on the hockey season. We know you’ll find something you like at each of them. While you’re enjoying great food, drink and conversation, be sure you stop by the booth, buy a few pull-tabs and say hello to the employee on duty. Tell them you’re an AVHA hockey member, they would love that!

Hotdish Hockey

It’s been a crazy year for hockey. From “The Pause”, to spectator limits, to masks, to cancelled tournaments…this has been a tough year for many.

But from the darkness and frigid temperatures of a Minnesota winter, emerged an awesome hot new star called Hotdish Hockey…we’re talking Tater-Tot Hotdish levels of awesomeness here, folks.

In 2020, Christian McNellis (sons Sammy and Joey), Dave Smith (sons Talen and Reed), Clif Meier (son Jackson), and Matt Knutson (sons Bennett and Grant) cooked up the idea of Hotdish Hockey. Thus began a semi-regular broadcast schedule of Firehawks hockey games, transmitted live to YouTube, with all the fanfare of Hockey Night in Canada! What’s their secret recipe? Take a few hockey parents who love the sport as much as anyone, toss in a base layer of play-by-play calling, add one tripod, an iPhone, then sprinkle on some spicy commentary and you’ve got yourself some Hotdish Hockey. Mmm! Mmm! Good!

Sammy McNellis and Reed Smith

Joey McNellis and Grant Knutson

Jackson Meier and Bennet Knutson

We recently sat down (virtually) with one of the creators of Hotdish Hockey, Christian “Presiding Ignoramus” McNellis to get some insights into our new favorite meal.

AVHA: What exactly is Hotdish Hockey?

McNellis: Don't we all want to know? We provide a platform to stream games live on YouTube, for people to watch wherever they may be. But it's also parody and we have an unfiltered, live, good time bringing youth hockey to the masses. I bring you hotdish. Dave “Mr. Meaningful” Smith brings you hockey.

AVHA: Who is involved with Hotdish Hockey and what is their connection with our Association?

McNellis: Dave has coached Sammy along with Clif Meier, Eric Robb and Kevin Morris since mini-mites in 2014. Now that a couple of these guys are glass-lickers like me because their teams have real coaches, they've got nothing else to do. So there is myself and Dave that normally handle the broadcasts. Clif Meier and another guy we'll call Matt Knutson work recon and intel. Dave's wife, Jill, helps Dave get dressed everyday and we're all grateful for that. In addition she has provided the smoothest swiveling tripod in the game, microphones, and some really great social media/life advice. My wife, Melissa, has prevented me from doing some things - stuff you don't even know about - and you should probably thank her. Honestly, where would we be without the women in our lives? Maybe living together in like a middle-aged frat house? Sure that's better, but would we have still met? Tough question.

AVHA: What inspired you to create Hotdish Hockey?

McNellis: I've never been one to sit on the sidelines, and always figured I'd be coaching my boys in whatever. Problem is, I am a MN transplant from CO, and don't know dog squat from Shinola regarding this particular sport. A couple of years ago, I felt a way I could chip-in was to provide video footage for review to the coaches. I feel like especially with kids, this can be very effective for training (one reason we fight for the best view). Well, I'm egocentric and can't keep my mouth shut. I stumbled across what I think was "Ustream" at the time, and thought "everyone wants to hear me!” It was like Moses and the Burning Bush, really. Last year I created a Facebook page, Firehawks Hockey, and live-streamed there but discovered maybe not all Firehawks fans wanted to hear my opinions, so I decided to get creative. And this year, because there is a God, Dave is bringing meaningful hockey related content* with the insight I lack.

*Editor’s note: This statement has not been independently verified by USA Hockey.

AVHA: How can people watch your broadcasts?

McNellis: On the YouTube. But you can join The Flock on the Twitter and the Facebook. The 1,000th subscriber gets the $27 balance left on my gift card at Westwood!

AVHA: Can people request you broadcast a game or scrimmage?

McNellis: Honestly, we are having so much fun and each time we get a little better. So, yes! However, it is a little time consuming and probably won't be pro-bono forever.

AVHA: Anything else you'd like people to know?

McNellis: It’s important to try something new and to work with passion. The lessons I have learned just from unabashedly making mistakes and not being afraid of criticism, but learning along the way, has been another meaningful twist to an astonishing year. It's amazing how things come together sometimes. Also, we will never belittle any kid or team. But parents are fair game and we will question their parenting skills the entire broadcast. Oh, and games look better on bigger screens.