When Darcy Kuemper
would make the five-to-10 minute walk from his childhood outdoor rink to his Saskatoon home, his postgame cool down was a little different than it is now.
"Sometimes the feet would be frozen leaving but I'd get home and mom would have the hot water ready to thaw my feet in them, and thaw them out," Kuemper said. "Sometimes that didn't feel too good, but, it was fun; we had a blast when we were out there."
On Saturday, when Kuemper leaves the ice at SaskTel Centre, family will still greet him. He'll trade in the feet-thawing water for a warm shower. And other than that, it will be a very familiar experience for the Saskatoon native, and one that's been on his mind for some time.
"Not to the point where I'm counting down the days, but it's something that's in the back of my mind, I knew it would be fun, and I kind of had my fingers crossed I'd be part of it," Kuemper said.
On Saturday, the Wild will play the Edmonton Oilers in a preseason game in Saskatoon, with Kuemper starting in goal. The 25-year-old goalie has had a while to think about what Saturday could be like: The game was announced in January, in the middle of the 2014-15 season.
Nine months later, Kuemper knows he'll have a host of friends and family there to cheer him on as he backstops the Wild, though the exact number is up for interpretation.
"It’s hard to ballpark," Kuemper said. "Let’s say 50."
The rink itself is even familiar to Kuemper: Playing for the Red Deer Rebels in the Western Hockey League, Kuemper played in the same conference as the Saskatoon Blades, who play their home games at the SaskTel Centre.
"It’s a big hockey community. Hockey definitely trumps everything else there," Kuemper said." It was a good environment to grow up in and I have a lot of good memories."
As a child, Kuemper played hockey at every opportunity he got, including breaks in his school day.
"We'd go out there for 15 minutes," he said. "We wouldn't be on skates, but we'd be running around with our shoes and our hockey sticks."
He's also not a stranger in Saskatoon now in any regard. Kuemper said he returns every summer to see his friends and go fishing on the lake. Many of those same friends will be in the stands come Saturday.
"I was just there a couple weeks ago, but it’ll still be nice to see all my friends again and see the family," Kuemper said. "That’s what brings me home every summer...spending time with my buddies again."
It was on Wednesday Kuemper spoke about his homecoming game, 246 days after it had been announced the Wild would play in Saskatoon, and three days prior to the game.
A lot can change in 246 days, but with an opportunity to play a professional game in the place he spent his formative hockey years, Kuemper was hoping his intuition was correct.
"You never know for sure but I had a strong idea I would probably be a part of that game, with it being my hometown," Kuemper said. "I've been kind of looking forward to it since then."