On Tuesday, Minnesota Wild players traded in their hockey sticks for golf clubs and hit the links at the Troy Burne Golf Club for a round with the Wild's corporate sponsors.
Though the event was scored, and a winning team was declared after 18 holes, the day served as more of an opportunity to give Wild players and the sponsors a chance to connect in a different, more personal setting.
"It's great to see them in this environment," said Mike Kueppers, Director of Sales for Coca-Cola Refreshments. "Obviously we see them all winter long trying their hardest to bring that Stanley Cup back to Minnesota. To be able to interact with them on a more personal level, they're just all great guys, and the whole Minnesota Wild organization does a great job."
Kueppers' group was paired with forward Nino Niederreiter, whom Kueppers had high marks for when it came to his golf game.
"He's a pro athlete, and the rest of us are desk jockeys for the most part," Kueppers said. "He's a lot of fun to be with, he's a heck of an athlete, and a couple of us had a couple of good putts, but he was kind of carrying us down the course for sure."
Other Wild players brought less of a golf resume. Defensemen Ryan Suter said he enjoyed the time spent with his group, whom Suter won the tournament with two years ago, but that he wasn't doing much of the heavy lifting.
"I don't golf much. I've probably golfed more in the last two weeks since I've been here in Minnesota than I have all summer," said Suter, who said he would resist going the Happy Gilmore approach for his tee shots. "When I was younger I would try that, but not anymore. I'm getting too old; I don't want to pull any muscles."
Suter and Niederreiter both said the day gave players a chance to interact with people who are integral to the organization, time that was very well spent.
"Without them, obviously our team wouldn’t be what it is," Suter said. "It's important for us to be with them."
And for the sponsors, besides getting a chance to play a round of gold with a Minnesota Wild player, it also reignited the hockey flame with training camp two days away.
"It just fires you up, and gets it going in your blood," said Rick O'Gara, CEO of Carl Bolander & Sons. "You kind of forget about it, so it's really a nice event to get you going thinking about hockey, and starting up the season."