Twenty minutes before the doors opened for Sunday’s Development Camp scrimmage, hundreds of fans in Wild sweaters, t-shirts and hats were milling around Gate 1 of the Xcel Energy Center, many carrying fresh purchases from the Hockey Lodge.
Kids pulling new jerseys over their heads, emblazoned with the new Tenth Anniversary patch. Others were scooping up jerseys with names like Wellman, Cullen and Clutterbuck on the back. Many were querying their parents about the young men who were likely just as anxious in the locker rooms, ready for the culmination of the weeklong camp.
It's not often you see this kind of excitement around a group of prospects taking part in a scrimmage on summer weekend afternoon, but this is the State of Hockey, and its captain just signed a long-term deal, meaning these kids would grow up following Mikko Koivu
and his teammates for at least the next seven years.
This seemed like the perfect time to talk with many of these fans about the development camp, the Wild's offseason and the season to come. People were anxious to talk about Mikko’s contract, who will replace Derek Boogaard as the big, tough hombre and what to expect from newcomers like Casey Wellman and Matt Cullen
. Most importantly, they wanted to speculate about the potential of May hockey in St. Paul again.
James from St. Paul was looking forward to "getting to know the team, who we should pay attention to in the future and getting excited for the season with another year under the belt with the new system."
He wasn’t the only one excited about the new season. Grant from Wayzata is “cautiously optimistic.”
“It’s nice to get a quality #2 center, he said of the Cullen signing. “But, I’d like to see what’s going to happen with [Pierre-Marc] Bouchard and see if Guillaume Latendresse
and Martin Havlat can work with Matt Cullen
to provide a real scoring threat.”
Mike, a season ticket holder from Columbia Heights, at his second day in a row of development camp scrimmages was interested in “comparing apples to apples.”
“It’s one thing to see these guys play against their junior or college opponents, but when you put them with other NHL prospects, you can really see who stands out amongst their peers,” he said.
This idea of playing with guys in the same situation was heard elsewhere in the stands. An unidentified fan said, “I love seeing the college guys play these kids from juniors. It really shows that the NCAA game can develop some great talent.”
He was right, since two of the four goals in Sunday’s scrimmage came from Bemidji State’s Matt Read and former Colorado College Tiger, Chad Rau
. Of course, the most impressive goal of the day came on a remarkable shootout goal from Miami-Ohio grad, Jarod Palmer
Many fans were talking about the college free agents, including quite a few University of Minnesota-Duluth fans, like Donna Carpenter of St. Paul, who says that the Wild "should sign Justin Fontaine
, but NOT until after April,” she demanded, insinuating that she predicts a Bulldog appearance at Xcel Energy Center in April. “Make sure they understand that. After April!"
Other fans were excited about the prospect of seeing a bit more of the team’s free agent signees like Nate Prosser
and Casey Wellman. In fact, Kevin Shafer of Blaine went so far as to call the University of Massachusetts to purchase a game-worn Wellman jersey, which he proudly wore on Sunday.
"I'm just looking forward to seeing Wellman on the ice, seeing if he can show some poise,” he said. “I think he adds a lot of depth and will hopefully help get the Wild into the playoffs."
Goaltender Dennis Endras
, who was spectacular on Sunday in not allowing a goal in 30 minutes, was another hot topic.
Erik from Brooklyn Park was at the season ticket holder scrimmage on Saturday because he wanted "to see if [Dennis] Endras was as good as the team made him sound. Yesterday he looked so NHL-ready. You can tell he was playing in a professional league in Germany. Nothing seems to faze him."
Speaking of playoffs, many fans were discussing the possibility.
Beth from Stillwater had plenty to say in her positive outlook.
"I think with another season in the books, 12 more months of learning the new system, [Chuck] Fletcher and [Todd] Richards getting more of their guys in place, this team will definitely push hard at a home ice playoff spot, but the rest of the West got better too. It should be a great season, and I can't wait for October."
Erik was a little more philosophical.
"I think the Wild will definitely have a stronger start to the season, but with the moves made by Vancouver and others, who knows what that means in the long-run?” he wondered. That said, it's nice to see some of the moves to replace fighters with guys who take a regular shift like [Eric] Nystrom and [Brad] Staubitz."
Of course the biggest move this offseason happened just days earlier with the seven year extension signed by Koivu. One might think that was going to be the major topic of discussion. In reality, people were mentioning everything from "drafting mini-Mikko [Mikael Granlund
]" to "bringing in top European talent like [Johan] Larsson and Endras” to “addition by subtraction” and “being able to roll four lines,” or “reaching out to the college ranks.” No matter what specific prospect or draftee or free agent caught the attention of a fan, one thing was certain; everyone was just happy to have hockey back in St. Paul.
Young Wild fan, Tyler from Eden Prairie (age 9), said it best when he said (between mouthfuls of popcorn) “The Wild are gonna win!”
Whether or not he was talking Sunday’s scrimmage (which was in fact won by “the Wild”), or if he thought the Wild would win the Stanley Cup, but he sure was pumped up. Maybe it was the Coke and popcorn talking, but either way, October is closer than you think, and opening day brings out the excited nine year old in all of us.For more from Eide and the Wild fan’s perspective, check out www.hockeywilderness.com