Last week, defensemen Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella found themselves in a conversation about the events leading up to the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, specifically the family skate.
And Dumba and Scandella each realized they had something in common: neither player's family would be able to attend the event.
Needing some guests to invite, the duo decided on turning to Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare, and Children's Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota, after visiting earlier this year, and seeing firsthand the kind of impact they can make.
"We had a couple of hospital visits early in the year, and we just wanted to do something special, and have a good moment with one of the kids from the hospital," Scandella said.
That's where Ty Olson, age nine, and Connor Johnson, age 13, came in. Avid hockey fans and children who have suffered from serious health issues, the two and their families got hooked up with Dumba and Scandella for the skate, but that was just the beginning of what turned into a special evening.
"We had done some stuff with Children's, and Gillette, and we were really touched when we went there earlier this year," Dumba said. "We thought it was another way to give back, and I'm so happy we could. As much as it made Ty's day it made mine as well."
Dumba, along with Ty, and Scandella, paired with Connor, each took laps around the rink, situated in the middle of TCF Bank Stadium.
As much as there was the shock-and-awe factor for their guests, it was also the first time Dumba, Scandella, and the rest of the Wild got a chance to visit where they'll play the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series on Sunday.
"The ice was great out there, the venue is really nice, and it was just really nice to get to know Connor as a person," Scandella said. "We were just talking about life, talking about playing video games, and just hanging out."
As Dumba and Ty inched toward center ice, his two sisters, and mother Cindy, with camera in hand, watched from the bench.
"Ty is a pretty reserved young boy, but he got a pretty big grin on his face, and said, 'I really get to skate with him,' and I was like, 'You really get to skate with him,'" Cindy said. "He was pretty excited."
Just seeing her son out there, with or without Dumba, was a remarkable sight for a mother.
On Jan. 3, 2014, Ty, and his brother and father, were on their way home from a Gopher men's hockey game when they were involved in a head-on car accident. Ty sustained a spinal chord injury, was in a wheelchair for a few months, and his family didn't know if he would ever walk, talk, or eat.
"This winter is the first time he's put his skates on and actually skated since his accident two years ago," Cindy said. "So it’s a big deal, and we're pretty proud that he's able to do this."
A wide-eyed Ty stood next to his new friend in the Wild's locker room after skate, beaming about his day on the ice.
"It was like a once-in-a-lifetime to skate with someone that's in the NHL," Ty said. "It's really fun."
Ty had warmed up after coming back inside from the ice, both figuratively and literally, after shyly declining an interview by the bench.
"Go beast mode, Marshawn Lynch, no answers," Dumba said.
In the Wild's locker room, Scandella was putting the finishing touches on one of his gifts for Connor, a Wild jersey that each player signed. A few signatures short, Scandella tracked down Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, handing them a silver Sharpie and introducing them to his new friend.
Connor was diagnosed with a large malignant brain tumor. He was rushed into surgery, and has nine months of intensive chemotherapy ahead of him.
"Connor's a great guy, and it was great to have him come on board with that," Scandella said.
As the players and families chatted, the evening coming to an end, Dumba and Scandella pulled out one final surprise: tickets to the game on Sunday for Ty, Connor, and their families.
The final gesture produced more smiles, and the cherry on top to a special night.
"That's what it's all about: Just to see the smile on his face, and how happy the family was," Scandella said. "Just to make a special night for them, and it was special for me, too."