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Five Takeaways From Stadium Series Weekend

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Following Wild games, Content Coordinator Evan Sporer will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at the Wild's 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series weekend.

FIRST TAKEAWAY

As snow began to fall in the first period, with a gametime temperature of 35.6 degrees, the 50,426 in attendance at TCF Bank Stadium and the thousands watching across the State of Hockey had to wonder if what they were watching was fiction.

With an overcast sky painting the perfect backdrop — aesthetically and condition-wise — the Wild scored two goals in the first period, two in the second, and two in the third, treating the crowd a big offensive afternoon.

"I was trying to soak it all up," Ryan Suter said. "Standing on the blue line for the National Anthem and trying to look around and take it all in. TV timeouts, you're definitely looking up into the crowd."

On the weekend, a combined 88,348 fans took in the NHL Stadium Series Alumni Game and 2016 Stadium Series Game. They witnessed two Wild victories, and were treated to an atmosphere fitting of a weekend that showcased Minnesota's love affair with hockey.

"It was awesome just to see the support of the fans, and everyone who came out and supported us," Matt Dumba said. "It was snowing all the way through the first and second, so for the fans to bear through that, it was just phenomenal."

From the tailgaters, to the Spectator fan plaza, the pageantry and atmosphere that accompanied this historic event exceeded the hype entering Stadium Series weekend.

"You're caught in awe and you're looking around and enjoying the moment," Jason Pominville said. "You go out and there are fireworks. The plane. Everything is just great. It's a treat to be able to play in one of these. They never get old."

SECOND TAKEAWAY

The Alumni Game bridged the gap between two hockey generations, incorporating the former, of North Stars-lore, and the present, of Wild and Saint Paul.

Minnesota has more registered players (55,450) with United States Hockey than any other state in the country.

Lou Nanne, who coached the alumni team on Saturday, told a story in the postgame that illuminated the aura of the weekend. A Wild alumnus turned to him during the third period, Minnesota in command, and suggested he put out all North Stars on the ice, a moment for the fans and the players.

"I said, 'no, no,' we're all one," Nanne recalled. "We're going to have a mixture lineup out there. I don't care about all North Stars because, we're part of their culture, they're part of our culture, and it’s just ingrained. It was a great, great event for the meshing of the two teams."

Then on Sunday, the Wild's Minnesota natives like Ryan Carter got a chance to be a part of an event that was so meaningful for the community he grew up in.

"Being back home, the setting was kind of set," he said. "The snow flew in the first. 
"I looked up in the stands, and there's a group of White Bear jerseys, too.  And you hear the band playing and it brings you back to your college years a little bit.  It was kind of like a time warp through my career and into pro hockey."

A few weeks ago, Suter said he wasn't sure how much this game would take him back to his days as a child, growing up in Wisconsin, skating on Lake Waubesa with his brothers.

But what Suter did offer was that his four-year-old son Brooks, who skates on the Suters backyard now, Sunday would be an opportunity for a member of the next generation of Minnesota hockey to experience a setting he imagines in his head.

"I know Brooks was really looking forward to coming and cheering us on," Suter said. "For us to be a part of it, hopefully we can be a part of more of these, because it is the ultimate experience for your family."

THIRD TAKEAWAY

There were so many small moments that were easy to miss, but when added together, very much are emblematic of the larger importance of this weekend.

On Friday, during the Wild's family skate, defensemen Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba each invited a child from a local hospital who has suffered from serious health issues to be their guest. They took a twirl around the outdoor rink before receiving surprise tickets to the Stadium Series game

Before the Alumni Game on Saturday, the widows of three North Stars players — Donna Parise, Helen Oliver, and June Ness (Goldsworthy) — dropped ceremonial first pucks.

Minnesota-natives Isaiah Escobedo (16) and Chase Kaltved (17) got to meet with the referees prior to the Stadium Series game, and pick their brains as aspiring officials. Maybe one day they'll wear the stripes and call the shots in the NHL, and can reflect on the 10 minutes they spent years back and the information they gleaned.

And maybe the most special moment of the weekend came when Josh Karels skated out on Sunday as the flag-bearer.

Karels, 15, is a Cottage Grove native who has a rare immune deficiency disease called Hypogammaglobulinemia.

But Karels has continued to play hockey through his terminal illness, now for the Cottage Grove Bantam A hockey team. On Sunday, he got a chance to introduce the crowd 50,000-plus to Minnesota's first-ever outdoor NHL game.

FOURTH TAKEAWAY

The University of Minnesota was a very hospitable host for the Wild, and the Wild's Golden Gophers alumni obliged by combined for two goals and three assists.

There was a Minnesota-sports theme to the weekend, from the message inscribed on Devan Dubnyk's special Stadium Series mask — "Minnesota Vikings hockey featuring the Dubnyk family," to the game being hosted in a stadium both the Gophers and Vikings called home this season.

"You can certainly see why the football players get fired up when they run onto the field," Dubnyk said.

At an NHL hospitality event on Saturday night, Blackhawk legend Tony Esposito said the event was the best Chicago has been to yet, and this was the fourth outdoor game in the past six years the Blackhawks has taken part in.

Between the second and third periods, a video montage played, calling out different Minnesota hockey figures across the State of Hockey, with the likes of growing Apple Valley legend Taylor DeForrest, to the Wild's own Zach Parise. Hockey Hall of Fame member Phil Housley made an on-ice appearance to help close out the proceedings.

There were plenty of characters with local ties, who live in both Minnesota and elsewhere, and they helped make the weekend special.

FIFTH TAKEAWAY

Take all of the above ingredients at face value, take the setting, the score line, the script that preceded it for the Wild, and put it all in a blender, and this was a special weekend for Minnesota hockey.

Take that it was Chicago on the other side, the emotions, the importance, and the 'everything' was amplified.

"It is. We never wanted to let up," Matt Dumba said. "They sure haven't on us over the years."

The dislike between these two franchises, which reached historic heights when guys like Dino Ciccarelli and Denis Savard were combatants in the 80's, is heating back up with the Wild having bowed out to Chicago the past three postseasons.

The Wild will get two more cracks at Chicago this season, and then, maybe, for a fourth consecutive year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, if the stars align.

But when the former stars took the ice on Saturday, it was in all likelihood their final chance to defeat a heated rival, and the opportunity wasn't lost on head coach Nanne when delivering his pregame speech.

"It wasn’t impassioned," he said. "I said, 'We're going to go out here, we're going to have fun, we've all enjoyed hockey throughout our career and this is a big rivalry, but we are going to win this game.'

"I said, 'If I have to sit some of you guys during this game, I'm going to sit you,' because this is the last game we're going to play against the Blackhawks, and I do not want to go home a loser to the Blackhawks, and I don't think you do, either."

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