Because so many people ask Jason Zucker if he thinks he'll sign with the Wild after the college season ends, the University of Denver freshman just assumed that's what was meant when he was asked how much he hoped to wind up back at Xcel Energy Center in three weeks.
"If it happens, great. If not, I'll be really excited go back to Denver. It's a great place, great coaching, great team ..." Zucker said after the Pioneers lost 3-2 in double overtime to North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five championship Saturday night.
Told the reporter meant the "NCAA Frozen Four," the WCHA Rookie of the Year said, "Oh, oh, oh. Yeah, that's the goal. To get back here. We've got to win two more games, and we'll give it our best shot."
Zucker, a force for much of Denver's season and especially in the first overtime Saturday, was excited to get a taste of playing at the X, where he hopes to play a lot someday. He missed much of the second period because of an elbow injury.
"It'll be fine," he said.
The Wild doesn't want Zucker, a 2010 second-round draft pick, to worry about becoming an NHLer yet.
"He's played in a lot of big games at the world juniors, and now he gets a chance to play for a national championship," assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. "It's great experience and great for his development."
The Wild will evaluate after the season whether it should sign Zucker. But it seems unlikely. Zucker is 19 and has a chance to be a true star at Denver next season.
"You just look at where's he best suited to develop," Flahr said. "Obviously he's got to put on weight and get stronger. He's in a good program. They're a good young team. They're going to be good again next year. I think he enjoys it there.
"I think it's a pretty good place to develop. We're happy, and I think he's happy."
One interested party in the press box for the WCHA Final was Wild director of player development Brad Bombardir.
The former Wild defenseman used to be roommates and defense partners with North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. The two were in each other's weddings.
"I was a 22-year-old junior when he was a 17-year-old freshman," Hakstol said. "We had some good times. I was the old man and he was the young guy coming in, but I learned an awful lot from him.
"It was pretty obvious to me early on who the better player was and who was going to have a chance to have a long career in the game, and that was definitely him. He might be a little younger, but he was a guy you looked up to."
Hakstol did the "Let's Play Hockey" announcement before Saturday's Wild game against Columbus. He was loudly booed by the many Gophers fans in the crowd.
"I wasn't shocked, put it that way. But Bomber asked me, 'Was that boo or Sioux?'" Hakstol said, laughing.
• Defenseman Marco Scandella is expected to miss three weeks because of a broken finger. He should be back for the AHL playoffs, Houston Aeros GM Jim Mill said.
• During the Wild's six-game winless streak, the Wild has been outscored 11-2 in the first period, 28-9 combined, trailed by three or more goals in four games and led for only 12:39 of the 364 minutes, 26 seconds (roughly 3.4 percent of the time).
• Gophers football coach Jerry Kill did the "Let's Play Hockey" on Sunday.