Skating in his best friend's backyard rink in Waterloo, Ontario, Don Beaupre had grandiose visions of playing professional hockey.
He'd imagine himself as different players, probably on the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens, competing in different venues, but there was a common thread among those visions: They were indoors.
"There's no doubt about that. I never played outdoor organized hockey as a kid," Beaupre said. "We always played indoors."
It's where Beaupre would grow up to make a living, playing in the National Hockey League for 17 years, nearly nine of them as a Minnesota North Star.
Beaupre has made his home in Minnesota. He has stayed active in the organization as a member of the Minnesota NHL Alumni group. Friday, he'll be back at the rink to make the "Let's Play Hockey" announcement prior to the Wild taking on the Chicago Blackhawks.
It will serve as a very early reminder for Beaupre of what's to come, as he'll be a part of the alumni game leading up to the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.
"It makes you think about it, no doubt," Beaupre said. "Everyone is really looking forward to it, all the guys that I have talked to who are playing in it. Everybody in this area that watched the North Stars, and knew the rivalry (with Chicago) and how intense the games were, and what they meant, and the emotions that were involved—it's going to be neat to relive it for a few hours, and to be a part of that once more."
While the Wild and Blackhawks are in the midst of establishing a new rivalry in the 21st century, Beaupre's North Stars and the Blackhawks originally lit the flame of this mid-western matchup.
If meeting in three consecutive postseasons appears to have created some sparks and bad blood, consider that the North Stars and Blackhawks met six times in the playoffs between 1982 and 1991, including four consecutive seasons from 1982 to 1985.
"To have the players that are going to play from the North Stars, and to look at the roster for the Blackhawks, and most of the same guys from the early 80's that are all going to be at the game, it's going to be a few hours of reminiscing to a great time in every guy that's going to there's career," Beaupre said.
Having ingrained the Minnesota hockey culture into his identity, Beaupre, like many residents of the State of Hockey, was elated to learn the Wild would be participating in an outdoor game.
Beaupre himself would have never had a chance to do so at the professional level. In 1991, the NHL played an outdoor preseason game between the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers in Las Vegas. Fast-forward 12 years later to 2003 and the first regular season outdoors game was played between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. Outdoor games became an annual occurrence beginning with the inaugural Winter Classic in 2008.
Fourteen games have been played outside since that 2008 meeting between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres.
"It's something that we have waited for probably since they have started this," Beaupre said. "It's like, why can't it be here? I'd guess they'd say that in California, but 'it should be here' is what's being said in Minnesota."
Outdoor hockey is something Beaupre has passed on to future generations. Every winter he uses the pond behind his home to create a rink, where his children and grandchildren have skated.
"It's just one of those things that's meant to be, and a lot of people think is overdue because it's such a natural (fit) that the game is played here," Beaupre said. "Outdoor hockey is—there are not a lot of states that have as much outdoor hockey as we do here."
The simple fact of the Wild playing an outdoor game in Minnesota is special. Add to it that it's against the rival Blackhawks and the stage is set for a truly iconic series of events.
"Just to be outside and play like you did when you were a kid, and then thinking back 30 years ago or more, the rivalry with Chicago, it's going to bring back a lot of great memories for the players, and for a lot of the fans," Beaupre said.
And though two points won't be on the line in the alumni game, it doesn't mean it will be a game taken entirely too lightly.
"To say the score doesn't matter, I would say that everybody cares; everybody wants to go out there and win," Beaupre said. "There's still competitiveness in everybody, and nobody wants to look bad, and if you're going to play the game you might as well win it."
The game itself just might not mirror what it did when the rivalry peaked in the mid-80's.
"It's going to be competitive at the level it can be," Beaupre said. "I've thought about it, so I'm getting my equipment together. My skates aren't sharp yet, and I haven't had the need to get on the ice yet, but by January I'll start playing pretty regular.
"It's one game, you're not getting ready for a season, so I'll be on the ice a few times before. Nobody wants to look bad, and nobody wants to get hurt taking a hard stride that they maybe haven't taken for years."Related Items: