On a cloudy day, with a little bit of snow -- or was that sleet? -- falling, the Wild descended on the John Rose Oval in Roseville for its second outdoor practice there in two seasons.
Coming the night after a much-needed victory, with the place packed with fans and the players wearing tuques over their helmets, it appeared everyone was having a good time.
Which begs the question: Shouldn't Minnesota be hosting a Winter Classic outdoor game here sooner rather than later?
Wild owner Craig Leipold thinks so. And he is convinced it will happen soon.
"I have a high sense of confidence we'll able to get that," he said. "It looks like [the Winter Classic] will be in Detroit next year. I guess I was a little disappointed to hear that. But it is what it is. I would like to think the year after that we'd be ready."
Word is next season's game, hosted by the Red Wings, would be held at the University of Michigan football stadium in Ann Arbor. If Leipold's hunch is right about the following season's game perhaps landing in the Twin Cities, where would it be played? Target Field or TCF Bank Stadium?
Leipold said that decision is up to the NHL and NBC, which televises the game.
But, Leipold said, there are signs the league is taking a hard look at Minnesota. "They're asking me questions now that they've never asked me before," he said. "Logistical questions. Like, what's your opinion on this? And who would you want to play? And how could you guys make it unique and different? Would you go to a different type of jersey? It gives me a lot of confidence that they're thinking hard."
So who would Leipold like to play? "There are some marquee rivals that we have," he said. "We'd be interested in some of those. Chicago would be great, St. Louis. Dallas would be good, get that whole Dallas/North Stars thing going again. I say [to the league] you guys pick 'em. We'll play."
Soaking it in
After practice ended players and coaches signed some autographs before heading back to the bus for the trip back to Xcel Energy Center. But the bus had to wait. Until, finally, Chad Rau, smiling, came jogging down the ramp and onto the bus after lingering to sign his name a few more times. What a way to wrap up an amazing 36 hours for the former Eden Prairie star.
"I can't really describe this," Rau said after practice. "In some ways I feel like I've been along for the ride, just enjoying every minute of it."
Rau was among four players called up from Houston for Saturday's game with Dallas at Xcel Energy Center. Rau arrived in the Twin Cities on Friday night. On Saturday morning, before pregame skate, Wild coach Mike Yeo jokingly told Rau the team saved his NHL debut to coincide with Hockey Day in Minnesota. Saturday night, not long after younger brother Kyle Rau had helped the Gophers defeat Colorado College, Chad went out and scored his first NHL goal, a hustle play that came moments after he had been checked to the ice behind the Dallas net.
"It was a thrill," Rau said of Saturday's game. He has played at Xcel in the high school state tournament, and again in the WHCA Final Five when he played for Colorado College. To get his first NHL goal there, in his first NHL game, with his parents watching (thanks to tickets that came courtesy of Wild assistant to the general manager and Houston Aeros GM Jim Mill)?
Well, ask Nate Prosser, who played with Rau both in college and in Houston. "I have never seen him so excited," Prosser said. "When he scored that goal, and he was coming through the [congratulations] line? His eyes were wide, as open as they could be. He is such a great guy. It couldn't have happened to a better person."
It came at a price. Rau didn't get to sleep until about 2:30 in the morning, after meeting with his family after the game, then spending a long time responding to texts and e-mails.
"He's been working for that opportunity his whole life," Yeo said. "I'm sure he grew up admiring this team. To have the opportunity to do that, to play his first game, and to score his first goal in front of family and friends? I'm sure it's something he'll never forget."