Last season, country music super star, Luke Bryan, played in front of a sold-out Xcel Energy Center crowd the day before the Minnesota Wild was set to host the Calgary Flames. With the ice covered beneath the arena’s temporary floorboards, Wild teammates Charlie Coyle
and Jason Zucker
figuratively traded their hockey skates for cowboy boots for a night of foot stomping and singing along.
Typically, the arena is where the Wild forwards perform as part of the main attraction. On this night, however, the friends were just like the other 16,000 fans in attendance — completely captivated by Bryan’s act and showmanship.
The concert was a life altering experience for the duo — if only as fleeting as a guitar solo. Like a child who attends his first Wild game and then wants to play hockey, Coyle and Zucker decided they wanted to learn how to play the guitar.
“We went to a concert last year, Luke Bryan, and he was playing the guitar and we were like, ‘We’ve got to go get guitars.’” Coyle said. “He was our inspiration. We were all jacked up to play.”
“Man, that would be cool to learn how to play guitar like that,” Zucker added.
The very next day Zucker went out and purchased instruments for each of them. The Las Vegas product was coming off an injury, and was rehabbing and working out. He would spend a couple of hours at the rink, but he was unable to skate, so learning the six-string would provide a good mental break.
“I was at the rink two hours a day and the rest I was home with nothing to do,” Zucker said. “The first couple of weeks we spent a lot of time learning.”
Eager students, they invested in music books and learn-to-play DVDs. The dedication, repetition and perseverance it takes to become an award-winning country artist is similar to the practice and sacrifice it takes to develop into a National Hockey League player.
How hard could it be to learn the guitar?
“We thought it would be a few strings and you’re good,” Zucker said. “Little did we know — it’s not easy.”
The same patience and training that it takes to develop an NHL slap shot goes into learning an instrument. However, the muscles used to fire a puck 100 mph are not necessarily the same ones you need to bend vibrato on an E-string.
The pair picked up a few chords and learned where to place their fingers, but quickly switching between arpeggios, it turns out, was much more difficult than a forward-to-backward pivot on the ice.
“It just made me think of Guitar Hero; I used to love playing,” Coyle said. “But I could never get my pinky involved. You’ve got to train them. It was tough.”
They also ran into another problem while trying to learn: the teachers on the instructional DVDs were a bit out there.
“We were laughing the whole time because there were some characters on those DVDs,” Zucker said. “I don’t know if you want to say they taught you.”
Following a long road trip and faced with the struggles of learning, the pair soon lost interest in the instrument.
After a summer of inactivity, Coyle left his guitar back in his hometown of Weymouth, Mass., to collect dust. Zucker cracked that he’d probably never see Coyle’s six- string again. The former University of Denver Pioneer brought his back to Minnesota, so there’s still a glimmer of hope that he’ll pick the instrument up again — some day.
“He actually brought his back, but its just been sitting there,” Coyle said. “We haven’t touched it or anything, but it looks good in the apartment.”
“I think I was better because, simply, I played one more time than he did,” Zucker said. “I don’t even know if we were good enough to say who was better, because neither of us were any good at all.
“Our plan of becoming lead guitarists for Luke Bryan is out the window.”
Not every member of the Wild is musically challenged.
Forward Kyle Brodziak displayed his six-string skills on “Becoming Wild” the behind-the-scenes television show that gives fans a peek into a player’s life away from the rink. The 30-year-old ripped the intro riff of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” during a visit to his home in Edmonton, Alberta.
As a teenager, he had a friend who played and would occasionally go to his house to jam. Brodziak ended up getting a guitar and learning a few songs. However, now with a family at home, he doesn’t get a chance to play the instrument much any more.
“It’s one of those things you have to put in the time to get better, there’s not a whole lot of time right now,” Brodziak said. “I still wish that I would get into a little bit more. Who knows? Maybe after hockey’s done I’ll pick it up.”
He did get an early education in music on the piano. His mother made him take lessons for years, beginning at the age of six. Brodziak had to endure 30 minutes of practice after coming home from school.
“The first thing you wanted to do was go outside and play with your friends or play road hockey,” Brodziak said. “We weren’t allowed to do that until we got in the piano practice.”
With three children in the family, looking out the window watching his friends run around the neighborhood, while his siblings plunked away at the keys, could be excruciating.
“If it was a day when you were third, that was the worst because you’d have to wait around and listen to my older sister or my younger brother play, or they’d have to practice before I’d get my turn,” Brodziak said. “It was tough some days.”
As a youngster, Brodziak not only had to practice, but also performed in front of onlookers at recitals.
“It wasn’t my favorite thing to do,” Brodziak said.
The center didn’t say if the audiences were receptive to his ability on the ivory, but his harshest music critics might’ve come a little later in life.
Before games, music can be heard bellowing out from behind the closed doors of Minnesota’s locker room. Assistant Equipment Manager Rick Bronwell makes a pregame playlist for the team, although he doesn’t get a lot of help from the players when it’s time to select songs.
“Tricky (Bronwell’s nickname) usually has the iPod going because there isn’t really a whole lot of ambition for guys to put theirs on there,” Brodziak said. “It’s a pretty tough gig because obviously everybody likes different music and everybody is pretty critical of what goes on there.”
Players flat-out reject the notion of having a say in the team’s music. However, they are quick to knock their teammates or Bronwell for playing a flat melody. The crowd in the room can be tougher than an opposing team’s building when the Wild is on the road.
“I don’t pick anything out; I just criticize when it’s bad,” Zach Parise said. “It’s really tough, that’s why I stay out of it because you cannot keep 20 people happy with music.”
Defenseman Marco Scandella is one player who’s willing to put his musical sensibilities on the line.
“(Bronwell) is the DJ and I’d say I’m his accomplice,” Scandella said. “I’ll throw him some tunes and see what he thinks.”
The 24-year-old is a fan of Progressive House Music and thinks that it’s a good way to get pumped up for games. Although he uses music as background noise in the locker room and prefers to interact with teammates prior to the contest, he does have a specific genre that shouldn’t be played before games.
“A lot of country fans here,” Scandella said. “I like country in the morning and it loosens you up. In the summer time it’s nice, but before a game there should be no country, ever.
“It doesn’t pump you up.”
Another player who likes beat-centric music is Nino Niederreiter. However, the forward listens to a wide variety of styles and enjoys finding older artists through newer tunes.
“Doesn’t matter how old the song is, think of Frank Sinatra, he made some great songs and some of those songs turned into techno music today,” Niederreiter said. “It’s great to find even older music that can move you.”
The Swiss forward might be one of the few players who would be okay with just about any style of music in the room. He’s seen performers in Minnesota as diverse as Kings of Leon to Taylor Swift to Miley Cyrus. He recently saw Garth Brooks in concert and said it was probably his favorite of the year.
However, not every player’s palate is a musical kaleidoscopic. That’s the problem with trying to DJ for the team. The crowd in the locker room isn’t as receptive as an artist’s audience, who paid admission to see their favorite act.
“A few years ago I DJ’d quite a bit and I’m not going to ever do it again — too stressful and too frustrating,” Brodziak said. “Sometimes it takes a lot of hours to put together a playlist and you bring it in and you put it on and guys are making fun of you.”
There is one song — a tune triggering such a positive emotional response that it makes even the worst dancers want to bust a move — all the Wild players can agree on.
“The Wild Anthem” is played after every Minnesota home victory at Xcel Energy Center. Inside the team’s locker room, the song that puts a smile on everyone’s face, is another celebration song: Montell Jordan’s “This is How We Do It.”
The 20-year-old R&B party jam has been revitalized in the Wild’s chamber after each victory.
“I’ll take credit for that one,” Parise said.
The forward said the team didn’t have a victory song when he came to Minnesota from the New Jersey Devils. Former Wild forward Brian Rolston brought the song to New Jersey’s locker room because, Parise joked: “It was his prom song.” So in a move that completed the crescendo, he and former Wild forward Mike Rupp put it on after a win. The song stuck.
“I don’t know if everybody likes it or not, but at least it’s something that gets a smile,” Parise said.
Some of the players on the roster were still learning the words to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” when the song came out. Although, when music moves you, it moves you, even if the reaction is a surge of laughter.
“I had heard it before because it’s so old,” Niederreiter said. “It still kind of puts a smile on my face when I walk in and hear that song. It’s still pretty funny.”
No one on the Wild is going to retire from hockey to pursue a career in the music industry. How- ever, they can see how there are similarities between a professional athlete and a touring musician.
“As soon as you go out there, you’ve got to perform and make sure you bring your best,” Niederreiter said. “It’s very cool to see, especially with artists. They’re so talented.”
“Being on the road all the time — I never played an instrument growing up, so I don’t know if I could relate,” Scandella said. “But I could see how the lifestyle of being on the road and entertaining and trying to live out your dream is very similar.”