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Newcomers adjust to life in Minnesota

Wild's newest players enjoying first few weeks and months in State of Hockey

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

There are facets of life as a professional athlete that are unmistakably awesome.

You're paid well to play a game. At the highest levels, you travel comfortably and stay in nice hotels. You appear on TV every night and play in front of arenas jammed with thousands of screaming fans. 

But other parts that can be a lot more difficult to manage.

While most in the working world are allowed to choose where they live, a pro athlete can be traded on a moment's notice, forcing him or her to pack up and move out, often doing so alone.

It's sometimes made easier when a trade or a signing occurs in the offseason, when a player has time to go to his new home and check out a place to live, see the surroundings and test the commute a few times.

While the Wild has had a relatively stable roster over the years, it did bring in a few new faces, most notably forwards Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis in a June trade with the Buffalo Sabres. 

For both players, the deal was the first time in either player's career he had been traded. The fact they were able to come to the Twin Cities together -- as each had a familiar face inside the dressing room -- eased the transition.

Ennis had it even better.

When he learned he had been traded, Ennis was working out next to his best friend, Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon.

"Honestly, for me, it's been pretty easy," Ennis said of the adjustment to Minnesota. "I've been lucky in having 'Spurge' here and also having a lot of friends that live in Minnesota in the summer time. They've helped me out."

Ennis lives in the condo of former Wild forward Erik Haula in downtown Minneapolis. A native of Edmonton who played his entire NHL career in Buffalo, Ennis said the biggest adjustment so far has been the traffic.

"I have to sort of plan my day around it sometimes," Ennis said. 

He's also planned more than a few days around getting out to Edina, to visit with Spurgeon, his wife, Danielle, and their three children. That includes the occasional home-cooked meal from Danielle, who Ennis said is "a fantastic cook." He even lived in the Spurgeons' basement before he was able to move into his place downtown. 

"They've helped with the transition a lot," Ennis said. "It's nice to get over there and hang out with the kids and stuff too. Honestly, it's been about as easy a transition as you could possibly have."

While Ennis had his best friend ready and waiting in town once he moved here, the same can not be said for defenseman Kyle Quincey. 

A native of Kitchener, Ontario, Quincey had played for five NHL teams before signing with the Wild on July 1. In all that time, he hadn't experienced much of the Twin Cities outside of the bubble in downtown St. Paul.

"As visiting teams, we see the St. Paul Hotel and the walk across [Rice] Park and that's about it," Quincey said. "So we really didn't get to experience Minneapolis or Edina or any of those other places. I've been pleasantly surprised; it's a sneaky good city and we never knew because we had never experienced it. We like it."

His wife, Rachel, is pregnant with the couple's first child and has not yet arrived in Minnesota. She will join Quincey in Edina soon.

"In the summer, I didn't even come here, I just sort of called around [to my teammates] and they all said Edina," Quincey said. "I just got a place online. It's close to all the guys, so that's great."

Foligno and his wife, Natascia, have a home in Minneapolis and have found the change to be smooth. 

Both grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, a city with 150,000 people; not small, but certainly not the metropolis of the Twin Cities, which has more than 2 million inhabitants. 

"When her family comes in for the home opener, their eyes will be pretty big when they see how big the city is, too," Foligno said. "They're used to just lake life, which Minnesota provides, but downtown is different.

"It's the best of both worlds."

After growing up in Sudbury and playing in Buffalo, Foligno is already well prepared for what most would say is the most difficult part of moving to Minnesota: the winters.

"Can't complain; the weather has been phenomenal since we got here," Foligno said. "It doesn't snow as much as Buffalo, so that's good news. And I'm used to the cold, so bring that on."

Players' primary concern is usually how a move affects their families. Ennis, Quincey and Foligno don't have kids, but uprooting a significant other and moving her to a place where there's no safety net; no family, no friends and no familiar faces, can be a daunting challenge.

"Your wife is always overlooked," Foligno said. "[You think] it's easy for them to transition, but it's not. They do a lot of behind-the-scenes work and they're there making sure everything at home runs smooth. We're on the road a lot, so when you get home, you want to spend a lot of quality time together. But for her, she adapts really well and I think Minneapolis is easy for her to get along with. She's really enjoying it."

Perhaps the easiest transition has come with Matt Cullen and his family. A former Wild player, Cullen hails from Moorhead and lives in the area during the summer.

Bringing his three sons back to Minnesota for the end of his career was one of the big reasons why he chose to sign with the Wild in August. Another was the opportunity to provide them with a genuine "Minnesota experience," the same kind he and his brothers had growing up in the northern part of the state.

"That's the thing that excites me most," Cullen said. "Going to outdoor rinks, going to high school hockey games, college hockey games -- everything that comes with being home in Minnesota in the winter time.

"It's pretty unique and pretty special. The last time we were here, the kids were pretty young, so I look forward to being able to go through all that with the kids, build a backyard rink. That's one of my favorite things to do."

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