If you're a native Minnesotan, you know there's nothing quite like autumn in the Upper Midwest.
After a dry, hot summer and before a cold, snowy winter, there really is nothing like a crisp, clean fall morning.
It's something that Wild goaltender Cam Talbot is experiencing for the very first time as he preps for his second season with the club that signed him to a three-year contract 11 months ago.
Unlike last season, when Talbot, his wife Kelly and their twins Sloane and Landon, arrived in the midst of a Minnesota winter just a couple of weeks before an abbreviated campaign, the Talbots got to Minnesota before the start of school.
"It feels like fall weather, but you can still get out golfing in shorts," Talbot said last week. "It's really nice. Kids are in school full time, so maybe I can still sneak in nine quick holes after practice and before I have to go pick them up."
Getting to Minnesota under more normal circumstances will also allow the Talbots to become better acquainted with the state and the Twin Cities community, something they were unable to do much of during the heart of COVID last winter.
"We're looking forward to submerse ourselves into the community a little more," Talbot said. "That's something my wife and I have done in the past and we want to get the kids into it as well. We're looking forward to a little more normalcy in that regard and becoming more involved in a community that really seems like a great one."
Talbot's first season in Minnesota was an unquestioned success, as the 34-year-old University of Alabama-Huntsville product posted a 19-8-5 record during the regular season to go with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage - numbers that were nearly identical to his career averages.
Talbot was good in the playoffs too, twice shutting out the Vegas Golden Knights, as Minnesota came up short in a Game 7 loss at T-Mobile Arena. He stopped at least 35 shots in three of the seven games.
But the shortened timeline of the season took its toll.
"It was hard on the body," Talbot said. "I'm getting a little bit older, so I have to be a little bit smarter with my body. Sometimes you've gotta listen to it and take a day off here and there."
Despite a shortened offseason, Talbot said he's been able to get into more of a normal routine as the 2021-22 season approaches, one that is set to begin on a more traditional mid-October timeline.
That routine is important after last season, when Talbot wasn't able to use the couple weeks before camp to get to know his new teammates and surroundings like he would have in a normal offseason. He got to Minnesota just a few days before the start of camp, had no preseason tuneups and then he was off and running.
This time around, Talbot has been a regular at preseason captain's practices and will hit the ground running when training camp officially begins with on-ice workouts next Thursday.
The Wild will also have six preseason games before the regular season begins next month. Talbot won't see action in all six games, obviously, but he'll still be able to settle into more of a groove and get his body in game condition faster than last season, when he sustained a lower-body injury in the season's third week - one that kept him sidelined for nearly a month.
"Last year I got here a little later, just because of when camp started, Christmas and travel and all that stuff," Talbot said. "Being here three weeks before camp this year will make it a lot easier to ramp it up and be ready once camp starts."
Between last season, when Talbot was the new man in the crease, and this season, where half of the Wild's defensive core will be turned over, there is plenty of change on Minnesota's back end.
Newcomers Dmitry Kulikov, Jon Merrill and Jordie Benn will bring a different vibe to the room while also adding some veteran experience and a little more grit, something Talbot says can be an advantage for the team, and for him and goaltending partner Kaapo Kahkonen, who enters his second full NHL season.
"Last year, we did some good things and we're ready to build off of it," Talbot said. "We had a great six last year, and it didn't matter which pairing was back there, you could trust them against anybody on the ice. It hurts losing the three guys, but you bring in the guys that we did and they're just gonna step in, and hopefully bringing in veteran guys like we did, it makes the transition that much easier.
"I don't see any big issues [back there]. I think we brought in some really good talent to replace the guys that we lost. Last year, I think we had one of the best top-6s in the League and I think we will this year too."
This season will certainly look a little different for Talbot, who backstopped the Wild to a third-place finish in the West Division against teams like Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose and Arizona, clubs he had grown accustomed to playing regularly when he was in the Pacific Division with the Edmonton Oilers.
Now, Talbot will get his first taste of Central Division rivalries, like Winnipeg, Chicago and Dallas for the first time as a member of the Wild.
The shorter flights to those cities won't hurt either.
"Man, coming out of the Pacific, with the three, four, five-hour flights, they take a toll on your body," Talbot said. "The travel this year will be a little bit nicer, but I am looking forward to those rivalry games that I didn't get a chance to experience last year. That's going to be fun, but getting back to an 82-game season and traveling to every city, that will be fun too."
Photo by Erin Loughrey