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Wild Works Out Outdoor Kinks With Practice

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

As Matt Dumba walked down the tunnel at TCF Bank Stadium back to the Minnesota Wild's locker room, he had a message for the media lined up in the hallways.

"Ray Lewis," Dumba said as he walked by.

It was an explanation for the optical design painted below Dumba's optics. He was one of many Wild players to don eye black on Saturday when the Wild practiced at TCF Bank Stadium to prepare for the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series Game.

"You need the eye black out there," Dumba said. "To put it on, I just went over to [Wild Assistant Equipment Manager Rick Bronwell], and he was putting it on, and I was like, 'Give me the Ray Lewis,' and he did his best job to throw that on."

With a Saturday practice that ran just under an hour before the Wild plays Sunday in the first outdoor NHL game in the history of Minnesota, it was a good opportunity to work out some kinks, and experiment with different elements pertaining to the elements.

One of the main decisions though was whether or not to wear eye black.

"I'll be going with it tomorrow," Jason Zucker said, face clean of any markings. "I wanted to try it without it today. I don’t know how much it's really going to help, but for the game it's going to be fun to wear it."

The practice also gave the Wild a chance to get adjusted to the conditions, like the ice, which got positive reviews, the boards, and any quirks that could come into play on Sunday.

"When you throw some pucks up off the glass, it’s a different bounce so you have to take those things into consideration and just play around with it," Charlie Coyle said. "But for the most part it’s great out there. They did an awesome job."

There's also the roof, or lack thereof, which makes for different acoustics. With the rink situated in the middle of a football stadium that seats 50,805, it's not like playing at Xcel Energy Center.

"It felt a little like — I don't know if it was because of the spacing and dimensions, it felt weird," Zach Parise said. "It felt like the ice sheet was smaller. Other than that, it was fun. It was just cool being out there."

Mikko Koivu came into the Wild's locker room wearing eye black, but didn't go out that way. He said he decided to wear it for half the practice, and then make his decision on whether to use it again tomorrow.

But the Wild's captain said he would definitely use it on Sunday, after getting teary-eyed from the wind and sun.

"I've never experienced that before," Koivu said.

The eye black can help with both the sun and wind. With the white ice surface, and cotton that covers the ground around the rink the help create a wintry scene, there's plenty of surface area to create bounce the light back.

"Playing outdoor sports, playing a lot of sports when I was younger the main thing is just the reflection," Dumba said. "The white ice surface, and the reflection of the actual natural light bouncing off, and even off your cheeks.

"It gets in your eyes, so to have it on actually makes a difference."

Devan Dubnyk said he had no problems adjusting to the conditions. Goalies use visual cues on the ice as benchmarks in arena for where things are, but Dubnyk was able to acclimate to TCF.

"All my stuff is on the ice anyway," he said. "They're all markings on the ice, and on the boards, so none of that changes for me.

"If anything, when it gets up around the glass, it's brighter than a normal arena anyway, so if anything, the vision is better."

Dubnyk said he would absolutely be wearing eye black, not knowing when he would get another chance to do so in his professional hockey career.

"It does its job, and once it's on there, you don't know it's on there," he said. “You have to have fun with it."

As for fully assuming the persona of Ray Lewis, Dumba said he tried his hand at the longtime Baltimore Ravens' signature “squirrel” dance, but might have to shelf it come Sunday.

"I did it at the end there," Dumba said. "I lost some skate guards when I was walking past [Bronwell], so I think we'll have to save that for another time, maybe after."

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