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Wild Gets Outdoor Tune-Up Before Big Show

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

It's been unseasonably warm in Minnesota to kick off winter, making outdoor hockey rinks, a cold-weather staple for the State of Hockey, harder to come by.

Everything on Tuesday though, from light snowfall to the balmy 20-degree temperature was perfect as the Minnesota Wild held an outdoor practice in Edina in front of 1,000 fans.

"It's been tough this year, not a lot of outdoor hockey, but the weather is certainly looking like it's changing its mind, and starting to bring what it's supposed to bring this time of year," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "I'm sure the outdoor rinks will get going; I know the lakes are starting to freeze."

Regardless of the temperature, the Minnesota Wild will head outdoors February 21 when it plays the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at TCF Stadium.

Practice on Tuesday served as the appetizer before February's main course, which has been stewing in the kitchen since the NHL created the Winter Classic in 2008.

"Right now, things are building, and it's not too far away now, and it will keep getting more exciting," Yeo said. "I know it's going to be an amazing event. It's something that, finally we have one here, and it's obviously deserved, in this market, with this fan base, and the history of hockey here."

It's why practice took on more of a "fun" feel on Tuesday just hours after the Wild defeated the Red Wings 3-1 at Xcel Energy Center to finish up a four-game homestand.

"That was fun. It was a neat atmosphere," Ryan Suter said. "Brooks, my son plays out there, so I always get to watch him play. It was neat to be out there."

Brooks plays on an Edina youth team. What advice did he have for his father playing on his home rink?

"He told me to wear some long underwear, and I didn't listen to him," Suter said. "It wasn't bad. It was cold at first when the wind was going, but then after that, once you got sweating, it was nice."

Wardrobe choices were another topic of conversation. Some players like Mikko Koivu wore hooded sweatshirts under their jerseys.

"I did try it (without a hood), and it was too cold for me," Koivu said. "I'm getting old."

Other players like Justin Fontaine had on toques over their helmets. With the Wild having revealed its uniform for the February game, some of the only fashion mysteries lay on its coach.

"I've been a little paranoid about that; I've been asking every day," Yeo said. "As long as I don't have a big pom-pom on top of my hat — I'm not crazy about that look."

The lighthearted mood was consistent throughout practice, which began with a reverse-handed, two-puck shinny game. Thomas Vanek and Nino Niedereiter decided to shift to defense, while Nate Prosser found himself leading the offensive rush.

"The couple of hard rims I had, they pay guys $4.5 million for that, so I think I did a good job," Vanek joked. "I've got a future there."

Vanek is one of four Wild players along with Jason Pominville, Ryan Carter, and Jarret Stoll to have played in an outdoor NHL game.

"Like I've told the guys, this is the best part," Vanek said. "Even the outdoor game, it's having a practice, having your family come out. The game itself is usually a little bit sloppy, but everything that comes with it, that's the fun part of it."

And the weather?

"If guys ask, I've mentioned to them the biggest thing I've learned in both of them is you're not as cold as you think you are," Vanek said. "You are moving, the benches are heated, the only thing is your under-gear maybe you're changing in-between because you're wet, and you're going into the warm, and then you go back out."

Practice on Monday shifted to a four-on-four game, and ended with a shootout, with the catch being, every player kept shooting until he scored, or at least, until one player was held without a goal.

The final two remaining were Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin. After Dumba had a successful attempt, the pressure was on Brodin to match, but he was stopped.

There were some lessons learned on Tuesday that the Wild will carry with it into February, when two key points will be on the line against the Blackhawks.

That includes the pecking order should regulation and overtime not be enough to decide the game.

"If we get into a shootout outdoors, [Brodin's] chances are not good," Yeo said.

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