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Wild Players Have Fond Memories Of U. Of Minnesota

by Dan Myers / Minnesota Wild

Few places in college hockey boast the tradition and grandeur of Mariucci Arena.

The building may be just 23 years old, but if you look up at the rafters and on the walls of the arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota, you can glimpse into the storied history of Golden Gophers hockey.

Across Oak Street from Mariucci is TCF Bank Stadium, site of the 2016 Coors Light Stadium Series game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET; NBC, TVA Sports, SN).

For Wild players and Minnesota alumni Thomas Vanek, Erik Haula and Mike Reilly, the opportunity to play another game on the campus will bring back memories.

"It's very special. Something that I've always wanted to do was play there again, and I'm sure it'll bring back some good memories," Haula said. "Just being around over there, I'm sure it'll be a really special event."

Haula spent three years on campus, scoring 42 goals and 142 points from 2010-13, helping the Gophers to two NCAA tournaments and a berth in the Frozen Four in 2012.

As a sophomore, Haula and Minnesota needed a win against archrival Wisconsin to win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship. Trailing by one in the third period, Haula scored a shorthanded goal to tie it. Almost three minutes later, defenseman Nate Schmidt (Washington Capitals) scored the game-winner for Minnesota.

"I don't think I'll ever forget that. The place was going absolutely berserk," Haula said. "There are so many [memories], I don't know where to begin."

Haula said the Stadium Series will join that game against Wisconsin as two of his favorite hockey memories.

"It's going to be fun," he said.

Vanek is no stranger to outdoor games. He played in the Winter Classic in 2008 (with the Buffalo Sabres) and a Stadium Series game in 2014 (with the New York Islanders).

But this one will be much more special for Vanek, who helped Minnesota to its most recent national championship, in 2003, when he had 31 goals and 62 points as a freshman. Vanek scored the winning goal in each Frozen Four game, including the championship-clinching 5-1 victory against New Hampshire, then was selected by the Buffalo Sabres with the No. 5 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft.

Vanek, who has spent each offseason in Minnesota since leaving school to turn pro in 2004, said sharing the outdoor experience with friends and family will make it more special.

"The best part of playing in these outdoor games is everything that comes with them," Vanek said. "Especially for us players, I think the night before or two nights before, we have the family skates. My boys love that. And the game itself is awesome. Walking out of the tunnel and seeing a football field jam-packed with crazy fans, it's a lot of fun."

If Reilly plays Sunday, it will be his second game at TCF Bank Stadium; as a sophomore, Reilly helped the Gophers to a 1-0 win against Ohio State in the Hockey City Classic on Jan. 17, 2014.

"It must have been zero degrees; it was freezing. I know the fans enjoyed it and battled through the cold weather," said Reilly, an All-American with the Gophers last season. "We ended up winning the game, which made it that much sweeter. Something to cherish for the rest of your life, and I'm glad I was a part of it."

The Stadium Series game also would provide Reilly with an opportunity to do something he never thought he'd get to do again: play on campus.

"I know it's been circled on a lot of guys' calendars, including mine," Reilly said. "Being a former Gopher, it makes it that much more special."

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