"For us as a league to just support [inclusion] on all spectrums is what this day is all about," said the Wild's 2019 Hockey Is For Everyone ambassador Jason Zucker, whose nephew Caden Hronski has Down syndrome and takes part in Minnesota Special Hockey.
Video: Hockey is for Everyone: Jason Zucker
Zucker said he aims to carry that message in the Wild locker room and throughout the various community work he and wife Carly take on, including their Give 16 campaign benefiting the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. So do most of his teammates in their own different ways.
That includes fellow forward J.T. Brown, who donates many of the proceeds he generates streaming live video gameplay on Twitch to the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone fund and other similar initiatives. Just Friday, Brown pledged $3,000 to Black Girl Hockey's Go Fund Me page to support that group's efforts.
It's all about checking one's personal biases at the door and actively acknowledging the human dignity of every teammate, coach and fan, Brown said.
"It's such an important program to make sure that this game is inclusive for everyone," Brown said. "Whether that's your race, religion, sexual orientation, all of that goes out the window. This game is for everybody.
"You may not believe in somebody else's opinions or their beliefs, but at the end of the day, you have to respect them. You have to respect that someone else can have a different view than you."
That goes beyond one celebratory night at a professional game; it's an everyday mindset Brown and Zucker say needs to be adopted throughout every sport, at all levels.
"I think it's simple things as far as making people feel like they're included, doing campaigns as the NHL is ... there's so many that they're doing now making sure that players, fans, families, trainers, coaches, ownership, everybody is involved," Zucker said. "I'm trying to do my part in this room and make sure that other guys are buying in, as well. Whether everyone does or not is always their own deal, but for me, it's something I'll always be included in and make sure that I support and make sure we continue to grow that message."
To raise awareness to that end, Monday's contest will feature the Whitecaps' Kalli Funk and Blake High School girls hockey player Ruth Goldenberg making the Let's Play Hockey call on behalf of You Can Play, which works to ensure the safety and inclusion of all in sports, including LGBTQ athletes, coaches and fans. A portion of proceeds from a special ticket pack available for purchase will benefit the community groups represented on Hockey Is For Everyone Night.
And the Wild will also bestow the 2019 State of Hockey Legacy Award posthumously upon the late Larry Hendrickson, whose Hendrickson Foundation has raised thousands of dollars for organizations such as Minnesota Special Hockey, Minnesota Warriors, Minnesota Sled Hockey and the Wild blind hockey team.
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Hendrickson served as the strength and conditioning coach for the 1980 U.S. Olympic men's team, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota North Stars. He also coached in various capacities at Richfield, Apple Valley, Buffalo and Benilde-St. Margaret High Schools before founding the Hendrickson Foundation in 2011.
He passed away this past summer at the age of 75, but the foundation continues to grow, raise funds and make hockey more accessible for those with disabilities.
"He'd be humbled," said Wild assistant coach Darby Hendrickson, one of Larry's four children -- all of whom will be at Monday's game with their families and Larry's wife, Jane. "To see the amount of people and lives he touched has been just amazing. You just feel very fortunate to have had a dad like that."
Five for a fighting chance
So packed have the NHL Western Conference standings become that even a 6-1-2 record since Feb. 21 has the Wild sitting precariously in the West's final playoff spot heading into Monday's contest.
It's what makes the next five home games so crucial, especially with division rivals Dallas and Colorado coming to a place where Minnesota has surprisingly struggled at times this year.
Video: Wild returns home to face Sharks
The Wild is 14-13-6 at Xcel Energy Center this season -- 19-15-2 on the road.
"There's no way around it," goalie Devan Dubnyk said. "For whatever reason this year, it hasn't gone our way at home, but this is the perfect opportunity to grow on the last two games here (an overtime win and a shootout loss). We're definitely going to need it here down the stretch."
Coach Bruce Boudreau said he didn't have to remind his players what's at stake in the season's final 13 contests.
"If we don't know after 69 games how big these games are, then we're in bigger trouble than we think," Boudreau said after morning skate Monday. "Again, we're playing one of the elite teams in the League, and a team that's playing well and has the reason to play well. So it's going to be a great test for us, and it's a great test at home."
Here's how the Wild's pregame on-ice gathering, which included taking its annual team photo, looked Monday:
In case you missed it
From Wild.com beat writer Dan Myers' report from Sunday on Rask nearing a return: "These guys have been taking good care of me, the trainers, so it obviously took a little longer than we thought," Rask said. "As long as I get back healthy, it could have been way worse than it was."
The Wild Radio Network's Kevin Falness caught up with Rask, Boudreau and forward Ryan Donato ahead of Monday night's matchup:
The Wild and Minnesota Minute Men announced Bryce Brodzinski from Blaine High School as the 35th annual Minnesota Mr. Hockey Awardrecipient. Charlie Glockner from Minnetonka High School received the Frank Brimsek Award in recognition of Minnesota's top senior goaltender. Jeff Poeschl (Mahtomedi High School) and Mark Manney (Andover High School) received The John Mariucci Award, given to the Class A and Class AA high school coaches of the year. Bruce Johnson received the Cliff Thompson Award, presented to the "Old Timer Coach" of the year, and Doug Woog was the recipient of the second annual Mr. Hockey Ambassador Award, given to an influential leader dedicated to the growth and development of hockey in Minnesota.
Here is a preview of tonight's matchup via the Wild.com Wild Warmup.
Swimming with Sharks
Expected to return from a lower-body injury after missing nearly a month, Victor Rask centered a line with Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala on Monday morning.
Here's how the Wild's projected to line up against the Sharks:
Jordan Greenway - Eric Staal - Jason Zucker
Zach Parise - Victor Rask - Kevin Fiala
Ryan Donato - Joel Eriksson Ek - Pontus Aberg
Marcus Foligno - Eric Fehr - J.T. Brown
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Brad Hunt
Greg Pateryn - Anthony Bitteto
San Jose is 7-2-1 in its past 10 games and currently holds the Pacific Division's No. 2 spot, just a point behind Calgary. One recent storyline is the resurgence of Joe Thornton following offseason knee surgery.
Thornton has at least a point in each of his past four games and recently passed Gordie Howe for ninth place on the NHL's all-time assists list.
"He's playing as good as he did five years ago right now," Boudreau said. "If you take him for granted because he's 39, you're in real trouble, because he's anchoring that team right now, I think."
Here's how the Sharks are slated to line up Monday:
Timo Meier - Logan Couture - Joe Pavelski
Joonas Donskoi - Tomas Hertz - Gustav Nyquist
Marcus Sorensen - Joe Thornton - Kevin Labanc
Michael Haley - Barclay Goodrow - Melker Karlsson
Radim Simek - Brent Burns
Tim Heed - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Brenden Dillon - Justin Braun
Watching/listening to tonight's game:
- The game will be televised on NBC Sports Network
- It can be streamed live via NBC Sports
- It can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM, the Wild Radio Network or via the Wild NHL App
Attending tonight's contest? Here's what's going on:
Video: Wild Vision: Mar. 11 vs San Jose