Over the course of an 82-game National Hockey League regular season, few games match the feeling of Opening Night. There is always a great opening ceremony, the entire lineup is introduced, the players are chomping at the bit to start meaningful games and State of Hockey fans are jacked like a sixth grader after a six pack of energy drinks.
So with all that as the backdrop, the Minnesota Wild hosts the Los Angeles Kings tonight in the home opener at Xcel Energy Center.
During today’s morning skate, news came out on Wild.com that Jason Pominville was signed to a five-year contract extension. On the ice, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo broke the news by saying, “I know a guy who can afford to buy you all lunch.”
Throughout his career, Pominville has been a model of consistency. He is 28th in the league in regular season goals and 27th in the league in regular season points since 2006-07. He has scored at least 20 goals in a season 6 different times and has scored 60 or more points in 5 different seasons.
“It was something we wanted done before the season so it wouldn't be a distraction,” Pominville said after the morning skate. “I'm really excited to be a part of this team for the next six years.”
Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher is also glad to have another cornerstone piece locked up long term. The team now has a core of valuable veterans to go along with the youth coming up in the organization.
“It’s exciting that he wanted to commit to us,” Fletcher said. “To me it sends a strong message that he believes in the direction we are going and we’re thrilled to have him.
“We’ve looked long and hard at [our cap] and I think every team will have some challenges,” Fletcher said. “But I think we had much greater challenges this past summer then we’ll have in the next couple of summers.”
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, because tonight is the home opener and the task at hand is taking on the Kings.
The Wild will go with more of a veteran lineup on the blue line. Clayton Stoner will be paired with Keith Ballard, so Mathew Dumba won’t make his NHL debut tonight. Baudette native Ballard will wear the Forrest Green for the first time tonight after signing a one-year deal with Minnesota this summer.
After practice, Yeo said that Dumba looked ‘a bit jittery’ the last few days of practice. The Lighthouse knows that feeling well, drinking a few too many cups of coffee this morning for Opening Night. Yeo added he likes Stoner’s presence and size on the blue line against a big Kings squad.
Up front, Pominville will be with Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. Both Koivu and Parise talked about the importance of locking up Pominville long-term and what kind of a player he is. Also, Koivu genuinely talked about what Opening Night is like with all the pomp and circumstance that comes along with it. He said that, even as a veteran, there are some nerves, but once the puck drops they go away quickly. Those vids will be available on WIldTV shortly.
Making Wild debuts at forward are Nino Niederreiter and Matt Cooke. Cooke signed as a free agent, while Niederreiter came over in the draft day deal with the New York Islanders. Cooke will be on the wing with Kyle Brodziak and Mikael Granlund. Niederreiter will round out the large line of Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley. With the trio all over 6-foot-2 and 200-pounds, it is the Wild’s most physically imposing line coupled with a ton of skill.
Making his NHL debut will be former University of Minnesota-Duluth forward Justin Fontaine. After two years in the American Hockey League with the Houston Aeros, Fontaine is primed to stick with the big club after a very good training camp.
No surprise in net, Niklas Backstrom is tonight’s Wild starter. He is 8-6-3 with a 2.45 GAA, a .913 SV% and two shutouts in 19 games (18 starts) lifetime against Los Angeles.
Injured forward Mike Rupp skated with the team, but will sit out tonight. Defenseman Nate Prosser will join Dumba as the other healthy scratch.
Tonight’s game is a sellout, but a limited number of additional seats have been released and can be found on Wild.com.
Due to weather uncertainty, the outdoor pre-game party has been cancelled. Some elements will move inside, including:
•Fan Souvenir Opening Night Photo booth – inside of Skyway entrance to Gate One
•NHL Alumni Autographs at the Bud Light Fan Zone from 5:45pm – 6:30pm
•Face Painting in the main concourse
Fans can be a part of Opening Weekend by attending Saturday night’s game against the Anaheim Ducks. The game includes the blaze orange cap giveaway, and, weather permitting, plans for the same pregame party outside.