FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. — When he first set foot inside the grounds of the Minnesota State Fair last weekend, Minnesota Gophers junior forward Brannon McManus made a shocking admission to is teammates that had come along.

“When I got here, nobody knew it was my first time,” admitted McManus, who hails from Newport Beach in Southern California. “So right when we stepped inside the gate, they were freaking out and giving me a list of 30 things I had to try, and I was like, ‘Hey, I’m only here for six hours!’ The first thing I tried was fried alligator.”

As the second Californian to play for the Gophers — although defenseman Ryan Johnson, who will be the third, will officially hit the ice in a matter of days — McManus has heard all of the jokes about a “left coast” diet heavy in avocados, kale, tofu and herbal tea. On Tuesday, when he made his second State Fair trip to participate in a question-and-answer session with fans, his increasing acclimation to life in Minnesota was obvious.

“I get into food on a stick,” said McManus, who skated for Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, and has spent considerable time in the Midwest in recent years. “When I go home, it’s like a culture change. It’s way different, the way that people live there, so I consider myself more of a Minnesotan now.”

Gophers forward Brannon McManus. University of Minnesota Athletics
Gophers forward Brannon McManus. University of Minnesota AthleticsCourtesy of University of Minnesota Athletics

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State Fair worker

His guide, and the unofficial guide for all the Gophers when they come to the State Fair, is senior defenseman Tyler Nanne. He’s from Edina, but Nanne’s uncle Tino Lettieri — a former pro soccer goalie — has run an Italian food stand at the fair for many years and everyone in the family takes turns working there. As recently as last weekend, Nanne worked a few shifts alongside his cousin Vinni, who skated with the Gophers and currently plays in the New York Rangers system.

Gophers senior defenseman Tyler Nanne worked a few shifts at his uncle Tino Lettieri's popular State Fair food stand for the 10th consecutive summer last weekend. Jess Myers/The Rink Live
Gophers senior defenseman Tyler Nanne worked a few shifts at his uncle Tino Lettieri's popular State Fair food stand for the 10th consecutive summer last weekend. Jess Myers/The Rink Live

“This was year 10 in a row for me, and I think I’ve only missed one year in the last however many,” Nanne said. “I worked Saturday and Sunday with Vinni. We do everything, putting pizzas in the oven and making lemonade, you name it. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The debate that rages every year about this time is between Minnesota and Iowa, with both laying claim to having the nation’s best State Fair. Gophers star softball pitcher Amber Fiser, who hails from eastern Iowa but has been winning games in Minneapolis for the last three seasons, admitted this week that her tastes lean toward her home state.

“I go to the Iowa State Fair every year. This is my second or third time at the Minnesota State Fair, but I’m not really familiar with it yet,” said Fiser, adding that barbecue and fresh-squeezed lemonade are her go-to foods in Des Moines, and the deep-fried cookie dough she tried in Minnesota recently was a bit rich for her taste. “The one in Iowa is more comfortable for me than this one because I know it better, but I like the crowd here. It’s fun.”

Minnesota softball pitcher Amber Fiser admits that she is a regular attendee of the Iowa State Fair in her home state, but is learning to like the Minnesota version. (John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press)
Minnesota softball pitcher Amber Fiser admits that she is a regular attendee of the Iowa State Fair in her home state, but is learning to like the Minnesota version. (John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press)

While sophomore forward Sammy Walker plunked $5 on the counter at the Pronto Pup stand next to the U of M booth for some lunch, McManus surveyed the crowd. The greater Los Angeles metro area is home to more than three times as many residents as there are in all of Minnesota, but it can seem like all 5.6 million people who get their mail in the State of Hockey come out to the fair at some point.

“It’s unreal. There’s one in Orange County, pretty close to me, and the one in LA County that I’ve been to, but it’s nothing like this,” McManus said. “I came on Sunday and apparently they broke the attendance record by 10,000, so it was shoulder to shoulder everywhere you went.”

With that he and the other Gophers blended into the crowd, headed off vaguely in the direction of the grandstand. Or maybe it was toward Tino’s, looking for a slice of pizza.