When it comes to arena design, Karl Jaeger is often the teams’ first call

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“I always imagined being a sports artist,” said Jaeger, now 46. “I had no idea how I was going to get there, but I always tried to improve myself as an artist.”

In an example of the late Ralph Engelstad mantra that dreams only come true after you wake up and go to work, Jaeger’s art can be seen today not in galleries or at- above the mantle of stately homes, but on the walls of sports venues throughout the region. and all over the country.

Jaeger is the main face behind KJ Branding, which is based in Buffalo, on the outskirts of the Twin Cities, and currently has 10 employees (although he stressed that they are not only looking to expand their workforce but also its 5,000 square feet building). Over the past decade, the company has worked with hockey programs and their arenas to make it a place that feels right at home and honors the history of their program.

Karl Jaeger. Contribution / KJ branding

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Serve their country

The company is responsible for the new mural seen upon entering the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, which depicts the Huskies’ run to the 2021 NCAA title game. They are the ones who created it. the Goldy Gopher skating logo, backlit with gold neon lights, that the Minnesota Gophers see just outside their locker room in Minneapolis. KJ Branding created the mural commemorating the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs’ first NCAA title of 2011 that you see when you walk into the hockey offices at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. And more recently, a part of Blaine’s Super Rink makeover to feel right at home for the players who will skate for the United States women’s hockey team at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, has been. a bit of a rushed job over the summer for Jaeger and his crew.

A large-scale, gold-backlit Goldy skating logo greets the Minnesota Gophers outside their team's locker room at 3M Arena in Mariucci in Minneapolis.  Contribution / KJ branding

A large-scale, gold-backlit Goldy skating logo greets the Minnesota Gophers outside their team’s locker room at 3M Arena in Mariucci in Minneapolis. Contribution / KJ branding

“They took priority with us. The Olympic team jumped the line on many different projects and we were able to get a good start for them before the team moved in, ”Jaeger said, noting the wall which shows highlights of the past successes of the season. team in the Olympics, and the space they’ve left for an update in about six months. “Twenty-two is sitting there with a big white dot, and it’ll look really good with a gold medal on it.”

Jaeger previously worked for Katie Million, who is USA Hockey’s Director of Women’s National Team Programs and oversees their residency program at Blaine. When Million was the WCHA Women’s Hockey Commissioner, Jaeger worked in the league’s offices in Bloomington. Needing to make their part of the Super Rink a real home for the American team, Jaeger was Million’s first call.

“He got him out of the park for us with this USA Hockey project,” Million said. “Like many rinks, the play was quite simple and indescribable. We wanted to give women a sense of professionalism and the feeling that this is their home base.

First successes in Duluth and Bemidji

He already had some success as a sports artist, but Jaeger’s work with arena projects really hit a new speed in 2010 with the construction of the Amsoil Arena in Duluth and the Sanford Center in Bemidji. He worked on both facilities, incorporating team logos, photos of former players and coaches, tributes to players who have moved on to professional and Olympic teams and other designs to make it a true ‘home ice cream’. For Bulldogs and Beavers. From there, word quickly spread that KJ Branding was the place to be for ice rink design.

All of the American Bemidji State Beavers players are remembered on a wall near their dressing room inside the Sanford Center in Bemidji, Minn.  Contributed / KJ Branding

All of the American Bemidji State Beavers players are remembered on a wall near their dressing room inside the Sanford Center in Bemidji, Minn. Contributed / KJ Branding

“That’s how it all started with us doing the wall graphics,” recalls Jaeger, who noted that they weren’t doing any marketing or advertising. “We had no idea what the result would be and then we started getting questions from other teams and coaches. It’s pretty much taken over our business and that’s really all we’re doing now.

When coaches from other teams began to see the work that had been done on Duluth and Bemidji, word of mouth about Jaeger’s work spread faster than a slapshot from the blue line.

Design work at Amsoil Arena in Duluth, including a wall showing former Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs in the NHL, was one of the first large-scale arena projects completed by KJ Branding in 2010. Contributed / KJ Branding

Design work at Amsoil Arena in Duluth, including a wall showing former Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs in the NHL, was one of the first large-scale arena projects completed by KJ Branding in 2010. Contributed / KJ Branding

“I can’t tell you how many times a coach will say to me, ‘Hey, I was just visiting this rink. We need something like that, ”Jaeger said. “Or the folks at Duluth will call me and tell me I’m going to hear from another coach who just visited and wants something like what we have. All of these coaches are friends, but they are all competing with each other so they see what someone else has and want to do it a little better.

Huskies Homemade Ice Cream

St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson was an assistant to Minnesota Duluth, his alma mater, when Amsoil opened and went on to work with Jaeger. Now running the Huskies program, he said the elements KJ Branding brings to their rink – including this new Frozen Four 2021 mural – are an important part of what makes the facility and program appealing.

“You paint a picture of your program, from past to present. The alumni love it because it brings back memories every time they walk through the locker room, and the rookies love it because it gives them a feel for the program, ”said Larson. “There are several elements here, but the rookies really like the NHL wall in front of the locker room. It’s a beautiful display lit up with the logo of each NHL team and the names of the guys who have been drafted or played for those NHL teams. Obviously that’s the goal for most of our guys to get there, so being able to highlight our success in player development is good. “

Much like an athlete, Jaeger said they are constantly trying to improve their work, which includes other athletic programs like the Minnesota Timberwolves, many college basketball teams, and the Ryder Cup of golf.

“We’re a small company, but we do big things,” he said. “Our team is great and we all learn as we go. Everything is personalized so there is no real guide so we make it up but we are all constantly improving.


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