MINNEAPOLIS – It was 96 days ago, on a balmy September day, that Marcus Foligno and Matt Dumba appeared at Target Field to promote the event a few months before the puck launched.
Foligno and Dumba wore their Forest Green Winter Classic sweaters, donned Ray-Bans and posed for photos on the floor with the illuminated giant Minnie and Paul on their shoulders and the outline of where the rink would be on large floor mats. rubber background.
When Foligno rolled out of the same tunnel on Saturday afternoon for the Wild’s only practice on the ice before the Discover Winter Classic 2022 puck came into play at Target Field, the completed setup looked nothing like what he had imagined in the fall.
“It was much better,” said Foligno. “We walked out to the main hall level and up the stairs and we walked out where the fans would enter the stadium and I had my phone face down to make it look cool when I saw it for the first time and did it I didn’t realize how big the ice surface was. I thought it was going to look a lot smaller from the seats but it’s such a cool view from the stands. sure the stadium goes much higher than a hockey rink, so you kind of get that aerial view that a drone would have.
“It blew me away to see it for the first time. We had this beautiful sunny day in September… it was just a little shocking how cool it looks there.”
Needless to say, the weather forecast for Saturday will be a bit different from the September forecast, but that’s part of the charm.
The Wild won the 2021 Winter Classic two years ago, an event that was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately for the organization, the league came straight back to Minnesota and only pushed the game for a year.
But this additional year of hype and build-up has made players anxious to see the puck finally land on one of the NHL’s signature events, as the league’s eyes will be on the state of hockey for a few moments. Saturday night hours.
“Yeah, the guys are excited. It’s sure, ”said the Wild defender. Matt Dumba. “And a game of this magnitude is even more exciting.”
As Dean Evason stepped off the stage after his last pre-game media availability, the Wild’s head coach looked like tens of thousands of Minnesota kids every winter making their way to heated homes around the State of hockey for a quick warm-up between twirls on the ice.
“I have to get back on the ice,” Evason exclaimed with a smile on his face.
Evason had just emerged from the scenic ice cap straddling an area that normally occupies the second base bag and the shallow center of Target Field, the downtown skyline just beside it to the east.
“Standing there at one of the exercises, as I was standing on my own and you look up and see the surroundings, the surroundings. It’s amazing,” Evason said. “You can’t see nothing but the sky, can you? You see the stadium, and then all of a sudden it’s only the sky. I think if guys can understand that – we’ve talked about this before, we’ll talk about it again tomorrow – and use that experience to motivate us, energize us, excite us, but play like we want to play. “
Evason had just guided the Wild in their final dress rehearsal for Saturday’s game, but had to return outside for family skating, one of the highlights of the event itself. The players and their families were already participating and Evason didn’t want to miss a minute of the fun.
And from his appearance, it was fun.
Foligno, father of two daughters, was pulling one of his daughters around the ice with his hockey stick. The smile never left his face, and it hasn’t left his either.
“I was looking forward to this moment all day and all week. It was great to see the whole family there, everyone enjoying, soaking up everything,” said Foligno. “We’re very lucky to be placed in that position by the league. What a scene it is there. It’s amazing to be level with the ice and getting used to it. Definitely a special time to have. with family members and to experience it with them. “
Savage goalkeeper Cam TalbotTwin children were born just days before her first outdoor play experience. But on Saturday, they were able to join Dad on the ice for a ride around Target Field.
“It’s one of the most important things, they’ve been to three of them now and each time they’ll remember it a little bit more,” said Talbot. “These things are so special to share with them. That’s what makes these events so great.”
The team’s training beforehand gave Evason and the players a chance to finally acclimate to the freezing temperatures instead of just dreading them. The falling light snow provided the perfect snow globe shaped backdrop and provided the team with additional obstacles for a training frame.
“It actually wasn’t bad. The fingertips were really the only thing I felt with the cold,” Evason said. “I don’t think the guys were [cold]. It was a bit funky at first, a lot of snow was falling in our eyes and the shields were misting up. When it stopped snowing there, it got a lot better.
“It was tough moving the puck over a few drills, but it’s good to have that experience here today if we still have that tomorrow.
That bit of snow and the challenge it presented was one of the few things the Wild hadn’t been able to prepare for over the past two weeks, as a series of COVID-19 postponements and the holidays league requirements meant a lot of practice time before the Winter Classic.
When the Wild and Blues release the puck shortly after 6 p.m. local time on Saturday, it will be the first time in 12 days since Minnesota hit the ice for a game.
Needless to say, gamers are ready to kick the show off the road. They can’t wait to finish talking about preparing for a game that has been in the works for two years.
They are hungry to play it.
“They’re done with training. Hockey players want to play hockey, don’t they? They don’t want to practice hockey, ”said Evason. “So we had a good week with our rest and our workload. We got our keys. We got our rhythm.