At long last, Wild back on home ice

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 8, 2013 - 9:59 AM

An excited group of 18 Wild players -- free from the NHL's lockout -- hit the sheet at Xcel Energy Center. "Oh yeah!'' Kyle Brodziak yelled.

Monday technically wasn't the opening of training camp, although it sure felt like it.

Wild management was in the stands. Players, wearing authentic sweaters with the Wild logo on the crest rather than "NHLPA," tore up a sheet of ice with a giant Wild emblem painted at center ice.

For 18 Wild players who had been locked out since Sept. 15, the padlock was removed from the front of Xcel Energy Center. It officially was an informal skate. Coaches weren't allowed on the ice. But after the NHL and NHL Players' Association came to a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement Sunday, players finally got access to team facilities Monday.

"Oh yeah!" center Kyle Brodziak screamed as he walked through the tunnel to the ice. After a 75-minute skate, Brodziak said, "You see the smiles on the boys' faces today. Everyone is pretty excited. It feels good to get back to the rink, hang out with the boys, see the trainers and start to get ready for the real thing.

"We're a group again. The team's back together."

For the first time in their careers, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, who signed 13-year, $98 million deals with the Wild last July, slipped on the practice jersey of a team that wasn't New Jersey or Nashville, respectively.

"Zach skated by the crease, and I said it looks good on him," goalie Josh Harding said. "The buzz is coming back. It's great to see those guys on the ice with us."

Of his first twirl in a Wild sweater, Parise said, "It was great. It was fantastic."

Suter, who had been skating for his father's midget team in Wisconsin (which is coached by Suter's brother, Garrett), was nervous because he had not previously skated with many of his new teammates.

Baby-faced Jared Spurgeon, 23, who has played 123 games and is Suter's anticipated defense partner when training camp begins, schooled Suter on the Wild's system. It's different than Nashville's.

Suter said slipping on the Wild sweater was "an exciting feeling knowing that it's a new start and just knowing that I'm here."

Up in the stands, coach Mike Yeo couldn't help but get excited.

"It was a different feel coming into the rink today knowing that players were going to come here," said Yeo, adding players looked in good shape. "Seeing [Parise and Suter] in 3-on-3 drills, there were a couple oohs and aahs. You really get a chance to see the skill level and how they think the game."

The question is when the "real thing," as Brodziak called it, will start. A memorandum of understanding is expected to be complete Tuesday, and the owners are expected to ratify the CBA at a Board of Governors meeting Wednesday.

The NHLPA is delaying matters though, conducting an electronic vote that might not end until Saturday. That would delay the start of training camp until Saturday or Sunday, meaning a 48-game schedule almost assuredly won't begin until Jan. 19. This also delays the release of the schedule, something for which fans are yearning and something that teams need to conduct business.

"We're ready for any contingency," General Manager Chuck Fletcher said from a hockey operations standpoint.

There was a roller coaster of emotions for the players throughout the lockout. Unfortunately, the fans were dragged along for the ride as owners and players quarreled.

"We definitely have to apologize for putting the fans through that," Suter said.

But now players look to turn the page and begin to grow the game again.

"Everyone just wants to play. It's been our whole life," Brodziak said. "Usually September comes and it's hockey time. When you don't get that for a couple months, you miss it and you realize how good we have it.

"Our job as players I think now is to try to put our best product on the ice. Hopefully we'll win some of the fans back with how we're playing."

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