EDINA -- As he looked over his shoulders and saw the faces of kids pressed against the glass, goaltender Devan Dubnyk was reminded of a time when he was the one looking on in awe as some of his favorite players took to the ice.
The Minnesota Wild participated in its annual outdoor practice in front of more than 2,500 patrons at Braemar Arena on Monday, providing fans with their first glimpse of one of the NHL's best teams in the new year.
For many players, it was an opportunity to reflect on their younger days, when many played with their buddies -- or even practiced -- on outdoor rinks.
For Dubnyk, whose three-year old son Nate just started skating this year, it offered him a chance to hit the ice in a similar setting to one in which he himself learned how to skate.
"That's the important part, you see everybody with their families and to be able to enjoy it," Dubnyk said. "They're out there smiling and having fun. That's what outdoor hockey is all about."
The timing of the outdoor practice couldn't have been better.
With many kids enjoying the final day of winter break before heading back to school, Wild players put on a show that was quite unique. After a basic puck handling drills that many in attendance probably work on regularly, players broke off into what coach Bruce Boudreau called "Olympic Competition Day."
First was a full-on 3-on-3 game. The puck never stopped moving, with players split into two teams and Boudreau's whistle indicating when it was time for an on-the-fly line change.
After battling to a draw there, coaches moved the nets to one offensive zone for a condensed 3-on-3 game. After several minutes, they moved the game to the other offensive zone before finally placing the nets at each blue line and conducting a sort of 2-on-0 scoring relay, with each team sending in a duo alone on each goalie. The first duo to score twice and skate back to their team won the group.
Team White, led by Dubnyk, was the winner.
"When we used to do that in the minors, we'd get the guys to play for something," Boudreau said. "They don't get the lunches in the minors like we do here. It would get quite heated and competitive."
Of course, gather athletes -- regardless of sport -- and there is bound to be some level of competition, no matter the activity. Players from Team Black will indeed buy a to-be-determined lunch on the road at a later date.
"We were having fun on the ice and the fans seemed to be having fun as well," Dubnyk said. "That just makes for a good day."