Wild debut host looks forward to a freezing winter classic

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MINNEAPOLIS – Alex Goligoski grew up in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, precisely the type of northern community where a pair of hockey skates is as common a possession as the snowblower and parka.

Winter activity for Goligoski and his friends was an easy choice. They brought their sticks and pucks to the elementary school playground rink two blocks from his home.

Goligoski’s career on the ice is about to come full circle.

In the veteran defenseman’s first season with his national team, the Minnesota Wild will play in the NHL outdoor event for the first time on Saturday night when they face the St. Louis Blues in the Winter Classic at Target Field. .

The game that the Wild have long pressured the league to host has been delayed for a year by the pandemic.

“If any state would enjoy an outdoor game, it sure would be Minnesota. These are my favorite hockey memories growing up, playing on the outdoor rink, ”said Goligoski, one of nine players in the Wild roster who took part in an outdoor NHL game. He played for Pittsburgh at the Winter Classic in 2011 at Heinz Field.

There have been 637 draft players in league history who were born in Minnesota, according to NHL records. It is the most of any American state. Goligoski and his teammates Nick Bjugstad and Rem Pitlick are the Minnesota natives on the Wild among 49 players who have appeared in a game this season, also the most of any state.

“It’s a sense of pride that way. It’s obviously such a great organization, the way communities support the game and how important hockey is to this state, ”Goligoski said.

The Wild have played away once before, in a 2016 Stadium Series game at the University of Minnesota football stadium. Wild Cam goalie Talbot had a shutout in the Heritage Classic in 2016 with the Edmonton Oilers.

“The elements are different, but the game is the same,” said Talbot.

The Blues hosted the 2017 Winter Classic at Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals of Major League Baseball. This will be the 13th edition of the Winter Classic and the 33rd away game organized by the NHL.

“It’s so much fun,” said forward Marcus Foligno, of Buffalo, New York. “After school you say to your buddies, ‘Hey, let’s meet up here at 5 o’clock,’ and before you know it you’ve got 20 people playing.”

The Wild will not have quite its full crew. Captain and defender Jared Spurgeon and loyal forward Joel Eriksson Ek will not play due to injuries. Exceptional defenseman Jonas Brodin is on COVID-19 protocols, although the Wild were hoping he could be cleared in time for the game.

About this game: it’s going to be terribly cold, as it should be. The temperature in the Twin Cities on Saturday was expected to stay below zero all day, so the evening start time will not make the situation worse. It is expected to be about minus -5 degrees when put into play.

“I don’t know what to expect. I see how cold it will be, but I don’t know how cold it will be, ”Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington said earlier this week. “We will do our part to prepare and do our best to be ready.”

The NHL designed the snow-capped Minnesota Twins home to resemble a frozen lake, with a log cabin in the center of the field and eight mini-rinks to simulate a pond-style game alongside the main ice sheet. covered with 350 gallons of paint. The music scene was built like a wharf. Pine trees and deer statues completed the scene, as light snow fell on Friday afternoon as each team skated in light practice.

“It wasn’t bad actually. My fingertips were really the only things I experienced from the cold. I don’t think the guys were, ”said Wild coach Dean Evason. “It was a bit funky at first, a lot of snow was falling in our eyes and the shields were fogging up. When it stopped snowing there, it got a lot better.

Savage star Kirill Kaprizov won’t be fazed. He actually comes from Siberia.

“I loved playing when I was a kid and even recently, with a long hiatus, we got the chance to go play outdoor hockey,” Kaprizov said. “I love it. It’s always a lot of fun.

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