Wild's outdoor practice a hit with fans

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 19, 2011 - 8:33 PM

Smiles were on most players' and fans' faces at the team's open practice outdoors.

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Defenseman Brent Burns signed autographs Saturday at the Wild’s practice at the John Rose Oval in Roseville.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Jose Theodore wore shades under his goalie mask, looking like Dale Earnhardt on ice. Other players wore eye black to deal with the sun and toques over their helmets. Just about everybody wore a smile.

"It was fun, being outside with the guys," Wild center John Madden said.

The Wild held its first-ever outdoor practice Saturday at the John Rose Oval in Roseville. It was open to the public, and the place was packed an hour before the 11:30 a.m. practice began. The Wild's generous estimate of the crowd was 1,800. It appeared that just about everybody, including team owner Craig Leipold, seemed to have a good time.

"The guys were way into it," center Matt Cullen said. "They were all having fun."

The team arrived by bus already in uniform. They went into a locker room to don their skates, then they hit the ice for about 45 minutes of work. The team did some drills then took part in some four-on-four scrimmaging. As practice ended, it looked as though some of the players didn't want to leave; some of them jumped the padded boundary of the rink and took a lap around the complex on the speed-skating oval as the crowd roared.

"This is awesome -- this is returning to your roots right here," Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said.

Said coach Todd Richards: "It's great to get outside. The sound of the skates on the ice, it's a little different. It takes you back."

Well, some of them, anyway. Many of the younger Wild players probably didn't do a lot of practicing on outdoor rinks growing up. But others, like Cullen and Madden, grew up learning the game outside.

"Kids nowadays have so much structured stuff, after school, off-ice, all that. We didn't have that when I was young, so we were just out on the ice all day."

Leipold liked what he saw so much that he said he'd like to see the team practice outside at least once a season going forward.

Perhaps the next step is getting an outdoor NHL game, the Winter Classic, in Minnesota.

"I think the state deserves it," Richards said. "I think the fans deserve it. I mean, this is a lifestyle here, in Minnesota. I grew up with it."

Cullen, who played high school hockey in Moorhead, did, too. He'd love to play in an outdoor game.

"That's one of those things where I get jealous every time I watch the Winter Classic," he said. "I think that's about the coolest thing, and I think it would be so fun."

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