ST. PAUL -- With players on the ice, officially, for the first time on Friday, the gleam and excitement of the first day quickly turned to anxiousness and unease.
Players have known since July what Wild coach Bruce Boudreau's well-known conditioning test would entail, but that doesn't make it any easier.
Boudreau said on Thursday that he tweaked the test slightly, apparently lowering the times needed to pass the skating assessment, which tests players' conditioning as they enter camp.
Players skate in groups of five or six, starting on one goal line and skating to the far goal line and back two full times, finishing with one final push through the center red line. After a minute of rest, each player does it again, before a minute of rest and another cycle through.
Each player will skate at least three times; if they complete the test in a certain amount of time, they're finished. If not, two more cycles are required.
After a up-tempo 40-minute practice, even the best conditioned of athletes can struggle to pass the test.
"It seems like every coach has their own little signature way of getting you, so to speak," said Wild forward Matt Cullen. "But they all have their own that they like, and I think I may have done this one years ago. I can't remember where. But this was a good one. This was a tough one."
Daniel Winnik, in camp on a tryout basis, has experience with the test after playing for Boudreau in Anaheim. He said the Washington Capitals, the team he played for last season and another of Boudreau's former stops, employed the test last season.
"I think the not fresh ice makes a big difference," said Winnik, who passed the test. "I think when you see those couple guys miss, and they're doing four and five, you see how hard it is. After I finished the third, me, [Eric Staal], and [Cullen] were saying, 'God, I don't know how you do four and five.' My legs hadn't moved for about 15 minutes on the bench. It's tough."
Video: Wild Training Camp Conditioning Test Reaction
Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, who also passed, was attempting the test for the first time after not doing it a year ago. Several minutes after completing, his face was still a unique shade of red.
"I was telling these guys, I don't do any conditioning all summer and I come out and I can do that. Like, it's not even worth me doing the test," Suter said jokingly. "I'm thinking, I was telling Nino [Niederreiter], 'This is like a game in the second period maybe, it's easy.' It's all a mindset."
Minnesota's defensive pairings -- at least among its top 4 -- were remarkably consistent down the stretch last season, with Suter skating with Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin paired with Matt Dumba.
After trading Marco Scandella to Buffalo during the summer, those four will again anchor the Wild's defensive pairings. But on Friday, Boudreau came out with a bit of a different look, moving Dumba to the right side of Suter. Brodin and Spurgeon skated together in the second group on Friday.
While things could always change, the early pairings suggest Boudreau might be thinking about changing things up.
"I think we have, last year you guys saw it, we played a lot with a lot of different guys," Suter said. "I think we're just going to try that so we can get used to playing together early and we can always go back to the other [pairings]."
Dumba's 11 goals led all Wild defensemen a year ago, one more than Spurgeon. While there tends to be more risk in his game, being paired with a steady veteran in Suter could help accentuate Dumba's all-around game, if that's indeed the direction the pairings continue to take as camp progresses.
"We all complement each other in a great way," Suter said. "I think [Dumba] is a great player. I think with the group of [defensemen] we have, I think we can all play with everyone."
It wasn't Cullen's first time pulling on a Wild practice sweater, but it was his first time doing it with Boudreau as coach.
A 19-year NHL veteran who has skated for eight teams, Cullen has never played for Boudreau but liked what he's seen from his system in early meetings and his first on-ice practice.
"I was excited the way that all the meetings went, as far as trying to play an up-tempo game, a skating game, in people's faces. Obviously as a player who likes to skate and get up and down the ice, it sounds good to me, and that's the way I like to play," Cullen said. "That's the way we liked to play in Pittsburgh, too, so it should be a comfortable transition for me. The way the game is going now, that's kind of the way you have to play, and I think the personnel we have, that really suits us."
Cullen skated on a line with Winnik and Chris Stewart on Friday, and after spending the past two seasons competing against Winnik in the Eastern Conference, said he's eager to potentially skate with him should Winnik make the team out of camp.
"I've always thought he was a good player, and I've seen a lot of him the last couple years, obviously Pittsburgh and Washington. Smart player. Skates well. He's been in a lot of big games," Cullen said. "He understands the way he needs to play, especially a fourth-line role. I thought he was good."