BLOOMINGTON -- Matt Cullen walked out of the team's dressing room at Bloomington Ice Garden on Sunday morning and had immediate déjà vu.
A native of Virginia, Minnesota who grew up in Moorhead, Cullen used to come down to the Twin Cities all the time as a kid, participating in several youth tournaments in the very same arena the Wild held a practice at on Sunday.
"It's fun, especially for me being a Minnesotan, a place like this, you have a lot of youth hockey tournaments, a lot of memories here," Cullen said. "It's fun to come back here. It's fun to see all the kids out here having fun and getting to experience an NHL practice and being around it. I know every guy in [the dressing room] enjoyed it."
The Wild's practice at BIG on Sunday was a part of highlighting its second-place finish in the Kraft Hockeyville competition over the summer. In finishing second behind the Rostraver Ice Garden in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, the Bloomington facility earned $75,000 in arena upgrades.
For Cullen, the return to Bloomington was somewhat bittersweet. When his Moorhead High School team would come down for holiday tournaments, they'd often play them across town at the Met Center. But come state tournament time, Cullen's Spuds and the Bloomington Jefferson Jaguars were two of the state's preeminent prep hockey powers. Jefferson even knocked Moorhead out of the state tournament when Cullen was in high school.
Seeing the Jefferson banners hanging in the rafters on Sunday sent a chill down Cullen's spine.
"I've never been comfortable with that baby blue," Cullen said. "They got us in the state tourney, I always had a hard time with that one."
Wild defenseman Mike Reilly was another who spent plenty of time as a kid playing in games and tournaments at Bloomington Ice Garden. From neighboring Chaska, Reilly's squirt, peewee and bantam teams played many games at the arena.
"Jefferson was our rival growing up, so we'd play here a couple of times per year," Reilly said. "Eventually, when I went to Holy Angels, we played sections here. I don't think we had the best results here in high school, but definitely a lot of great memories, came here all the time growing up with the buddies and it was always really special."
One day after defeating the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 at Xcel Energy Center, all but two of the players on the Wild roster were on the ice for practice.
With more than 2,000 people packed in the stands, a practice designed to be entertaining for the fans turned, predictably, competitive before too long.
"I'm not surprised at all," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "In the end, all athletes are very competitive and you put them in 1-on-1 situations with anything; whether it's cards, checkers, anything. And they do whatever it takes to win. When you put them into little athletic competitions out on the ice, you expect the same thing."
Even Reilly was surprised at the huge turnout. With it being a Sunday morning and the Minnesota Vikings on television playing an early game in London, he said he wasn't sure how many would show up.
"Kind of blew my expectations out of the water a little bit," Reilly said. "Obviously, Minnesota is crazy about hockey, so I'm not really surprised. But it's kind of fun when they're cheering you on out there."
Said Boudreau: "I love it when there's a lot of people watching hockey, especially when football is on.
"That is a great testament to Minnesota, right there."
Zucker with family
One of the two Wild players not on the ice was Jason Zucker, who was excused from practice following the birth of his son, Hendrix, on Friday.
Zucker's wife, Carly, is expected to leave the hospital on Sunday, so Boudreau told his winger to be there with his family.
Quincey given maintenance day
The other Wild player not on the ice was defenseman Kyle Quincey. He was in Bloomington with the team, but did not take the ice and was granted a maintenance day.
Quincey has three assists in nine games this season and is a plus-3, second-best among Wild defensemen.