MINNEAPOLIS -- As the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series draws closer, the excitement of Minnesota's alumni players has ramped up significantly.
While the game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET; NBC, TVA Sports, SN) has plenty of meaning in the standings, many fans in Minnesota still pining for the glory days have had the Chicago-Minnesota alumni game on Saturday circled on their calendars for months.
It has been no different for the players participating, and the anticipation has become more real with the building of the ice sheet at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota.
"It's awesome. None of us have ever played in front of 55,000 people. Most arenas that we played in only held 18,000-20,000," said former North Stars defenseman Brad Maxwell, president of the Minnesota NHL Alumni Association. "It's going to be pretty exciting. I just hope [the fans] have a pretty good time, because I know we will."
The last event held at TCF Bank Stadium was an NFL playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 10. The temperature at kickoff was minus-6 degrees; the third-coldest game in league history.
Fears of a similar forecast for the Stadium Series game appear to have been for naught. High temperatures for the game Sunday could reach the mid-40s.
It could be even warmer for the alumni game, with highs expected to be near 50 degrees; hardly your typical winter day in Minnesota.
"I guess we can leave the burlap blankets in the locker room," said former Wild forward Wes Walz, who will participate Saturday. "The fact that it may touch 50 is going to be incredible for the fans. They will be able to experience outdoor hockey and really enjoy it and not have to run back and forth between different spots in the stadium to stay warm."
While it's possible fans could wear shorts to the game Saturday, Walz said he had been envisioning more of a traditional setting for the game.
"Part of me really kind of wished it was going to be cold just so it could take you back to when you would get your hands frostbitten and you'd have to go inside to warm up," he said. "But I'm just thankful that the NHL is having the Wild alumni take part in this North Star-Blackhawks game."
The weather also could change Maxwell's plans for an easier Saturday at the stadium.
"A couple of months ago, I told [Minnesota alumni coaches] Tom Reid and Lou Nanne that if it's going to be cold, I just want to sit on the bench," Maxwell said. "It's going to be balmy. I wish the snow would have been flying. That would have been exciting."
The unseasonably warm temperatures are not expected to affect the ice surface. Stadium Series games in California over the past two years have proven quality outdoor hockey can be played in almost any temperature.
It may even have a fringe benefit.
"I talked to the beer guys to see if they could help us [stay hydrated]," Maxwell said with a laugh. "I don't know if they'll help us out or not."
Regardless of the conditions, Maxwell and Walz said on-ice preparations have been going well. Minnesota has been having sporadic practices at Xcel Energy Center over the past month, with almost all of the players who remain in town taking part.
Others, according to Maxwell, have reported doing work on their own in order to get ready.
"The guys come and go," Maxwell said. "I know Dino [Ciccarelli] has been skating in Michigan. I talked to Willi Plett and he's been skating on some ice down in Atlanta. So it should be good. It is what it is. You look at guys that are 55 and 60 years old, it's not going to be a Wild game. You're not going to see a Zach Parise skating out there, other than maybe Mike Modano. He probably should still be playing."
Alumni players will have a chance to get out on the ice Friday, ahead of the 5 p.m. ET faceoff Saturday. No matter what happens or what the outcome, Maxwell and Walz said it will be a game to remember.
"Now that it's here, you're starting to think more and more about it, there's no question about it," Walz said. "Two months ago, four weeks ago, you're not spending a bunch of time thinking about it, because you've got so many other things going on. But now that it's here and it's upon us, it's starting to hit me a little bit more.
"It's breathtaking. It's going to be an amazing experience and I can't wait. We'll put on a good show for the fans."