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Hockey Day Minnesotans: Wild celebrates in style

Led by Prosser, all four active skaters from State of Hockey tally points in Saturday's victory over Tampa Bay

by Phil Ervin / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- A remote, a Rau, a return and a "Skol" chant.

This was a day made for Minnesotans. And those on the Wild roster apparently weren't immune to the festivities.

On the 12th annual Hockey Day Minnesota, all four active skaters from the State of Hockey found the scoresheet in the Wild's 5-2 victory Saturday over league-leading Tampa Bay. Defenseman Nate Prosser of Elk River did that and more, rifling home the eventual game winner at 7:11 of the second period after energizing his club and crowd by dropping the mitts with Ryan Callahan just minutes into the contest.

The fight came in defense of teammate Tyler Ennis, who had taken a hard hit from Callahan. So Prosser did what's endeared him to this fan base, and dressing room, since Minnesota claimed him off waivers from St. Louis on Nov. 30.

He got the people going.

"He plays a simple game, he does the easy things and he takes direction extremely well," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "When he has a game like that where he chips in a goal and he defends his teammate, generally doesn't make too many mistakes, I think it's great."

Video: TBL@MIN: Prosser squeaks wrister past Vasilevskiy

So when Prosser scored from the circle -- a similar shot to his famous 2014 Hockey Day Minnesota goal -- for his second marker this season, the ear-to-ear grins spreading all across the Wild bench were understandable.

"I think that says it all," Bloomington native Zach Parise said. "He's a very well-liked guy on our team, great person, and you want to see guys like that do well. So when he does, our team gets really excited."

So do fans who know Prosser's story of hometown boy turned journeyman who's bounced between the Wild and Blues organizations since 2010 and is used to being either a healthy scratch or AHL assignment to make roster room.
Not lately, though. He's played in all 22 of Minnesota's games since his return.

Watch: Youtube Video

"That is a rarity, but I'm just trying to be consistent with my game," Prosser said. "Night in, night out I want to make sure I'm stabilizing that third set. Whether it's with Ollie (defenseman Gustav Olofsson) or (Mike) Reilly, it doesn't matter. Shift in, shift out, I want to make sure that we're making good hard plays and we're usually playing against the other team's third and fourth line, so they're going to come hit us. They're going to finish hits, they're going to try to bang and get pucks into the net and get greasy goals."

As for his momentum-seizing kerfuffle? "I just wanted to jump in and stick up for my teammate. Just trying to get the building going, trying to get the team going. If that's what gets the guys going, I'll do that every night."

After being named the game's first star, Prosser skated back out of the Xcel Energy Center tunnel and promptly led the remaining fans in a Vikings-inspired "Skol" chant.

"He loves Hockey Day Minnesota," Parise cracked in the locker room afterward. "He's a point-a-game player on Hockey Day Minnesota."

Tweet from @mnwild: ��Elk River's Nate Prosser with the number 1 star of the night on @HockeyDayMN! �� He capped the night by starting the #Skol chant for the @Vikings! pic.twitter.com/xsCutanAb4

It was a pivotal night, too, for Parise, who scored his first goal since returning from the back injury that kept him out of Minnesota's first 39 games. His deflection of a Ryan Suter slap shot took a weight off Parise's shoulders; the 33-year-old said he's feeling like his self from two years ago, before the nagging pain in his back and legs began to take over and eventually required surgery.

"It's nice to get rewarded," Parise said.

Virginia native, former Moorhead Spud and St. Cloud State legend Matt Cullen knows the feeling. After watching FOX Sports North from the Wild's players lounge as his high school alma mater won in overtime to cap the outdoor portion of Hockey Day at Lake George, the 41-year-old assisted on Marcus Foligno's goal for Cullen's 700th career point.

Next came a standing ovation, one that Cullen said took him off guard.

"I think all of us Minnesotans feel a lot of pride," said Cullen, who's played 19-plus seasons with Anaheim, Florida, Carolina, the New York Rangers, Ottawa, Minnesota, Nashville and Pittsburgh. "It's a fun day to celebrate hockey in Minnesota, and it was a good night."

Instagram from @minnesotawild: Double tap to congratulate Minnesotan Matt Cullen who tallied his 700th @nhl point (fittingly on @hockeydaymn)

On the opposite end of the experience spectrum, former University of Minnesota phenom Kyle Rau had an assist in his Wild debut. He and his brother Chad became the first sibling pair to both suit up for the Wild.

Kyle's parents, aunt and uncle and "all my high school buddies" from Eden Prairie were in attendance. But before he connected with any of them, Kyle had Face-timed with his brother, who's 12 hours ahead of Kyle as a member of the KHL's Kunlun Red Star team.

Tweet from @mnwild: �� Hear from the Minnesotans after #mnwild���s win on #HDM2018 presented by @wellsfargo. pic.twitter.com/o3jE3cZFjV

It was Rau's sixth Hockey Day as a player -- four with the Gophers, and one with Eden Prairie. His brother's debut also came on Hockey Day -- in 2012.

"I think you could tell I was a bit nervous in the first period, but after that I felt more and more comfortable as the game went on," said Kyle, who signed with the Wild as a free agent this past summer. "First game, obviously the speed's different, so you play it safe then make a couple plays. I wasn't trying to do anything crazy, that's for sure."

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