One year ago, Minnesota Wild fans were introduced to a new television series called "Becoming Wild." Six episodes appeared on Fox Sports North through the summer, and for the most part, the series focused on how the Wild's front office was going about constructing its roster for the upcoming season and beyond.
This year, the behind-the-scenes look has been taken a step further in "Becoming Wild: Chapter Two" presented by Toyota. Every Tuesday and Thursday, a webisode has been launched on Wild.com, and beginning on September 6, six more half-hour episodes will air on Fox Sports North.
But unlike last year, when most of the shooting took place in and around Wild headquarters in downtown St. Paul, “Becoming Wild: Chapter Two” has been on the road, on the water and in the air.
This year's footage features Wild players living their daily lives in Madison, Wisconsin, Edmonton, Alberta and even Turku, Finland. Wild players have been visited at their homes by producer Pat O'Connor and cameraman Dusty Peterson.
O'Connor was born and raised in the Twin Cities, and he's been working on the Wild's television broadcasts since the team's inception in 2000. He's now taken on this project, and although it's taken him away from home in the summer (which is when this scratch golfer gets his rounds in), it has opened his eyes like he never anticipated.
In the span of less than two months, O'Connor spent time with Niklas Backstrom, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, Tom Gilbert, Mikael Granlund, Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu.
So what was O'Connor most impressed with in the presence of some of the best hockey players on earth? How ordinary the players are away from the rink.
"These are ordinary people with extraordinary talents," O'Connor said. "Their lives away from the rink are very similar to the lives of people who don't play hockey: hanging with friends and family, mowing the lawn, paying bills and putting gas in the car."
But O'Connor wasn't just impressed with how normal these of the guys are – because each player let the camera follow them through one of their workouts, which are about as far from standard as you can get.
"Their daily workouts are never optional," O'Connor noted. "Every player had an extraordinary workout every day, and sometimes twice a day. One of the neatest things about this project was getting to see the different ways these players keep themselves in world-class shape. Whether it's Clutterbuck wearing a 30-pound weight vest while doing pull-ups, Koivu running wind sprints deep in the woods of Finland or Brodziak running up a flight of 206 stairs six times."
O'Connor didn't just witness these guys improving themselves for the upcoming season. He was most impressed with what he saw from Cullen, who was improving his home community of Fargo-Moorhead.
O'Connor was there when the Cullen Foundation, founded by Matt and his wife Bridget, donated a jaw-dropping $1 million to the Sanford Health Foundation to benefit the local Children's Hospital. But it wasn't just Cullen's donation that left O'Connor with an image he'll never forget. It was what he saw after the check presentation.
"This wasn't Matt just putting his name on a project," said O'Connor. "On the day of his Cully's Kids Celebrity Weekend, I watched him stand out in 100 degree weather for two hours and greet every single kid that wanted to say "hi." He stood at home plate of his annual "Circle The Bases" event, and he had a smile and a hug for every single kid that crossed home plate. It didn't matter whether they ran, were carried, were on crutches or in wheelchairs. And every kid had a smile on his or her face."
O'Connor's schedule was pretty tight on all these trips, but that's not to say he hasn't enjoyed himself in parts of the world he'd never visited before. He says there are too many highlights to list, but there are a few he mentioned off the top of his head.
"Riding in a boat right under Niagara Falls, which is next to Clutterbuck's hometown was spectacular," he recalled. "Seeing the Interior of British Columbia where Heatley lives. Attending a Bruce Springsteen concert in Helsinki. And teeing it up with a couple players on their home courses wasn't all bad either."
And as the summer unfolds, we’ll be able to see it all on “Becoming Wild: Chapter Two.”