Part of the bonus of being up with the Wild is two-time University of Minnesota leading scorer Erik Haula could attend Friday’s frigid Hockey City Classic and watch his beloved Gophers shut out Ohio State in front of an announced 45,021 fans at TCF Bank Stadium.
Haula, the Wild rookie who Saturday night against Dallas scored on a first-period breakaway for his first NHL goal, took rookie goalie Darcy Kuemper along for the ride. They watched two periods — one outdoors, the other from inside the much warmer M Club.
“It was really awesome, but I felt like I had frostbite on my feet after the first period,” Haula said. “It’s quite incredible all the people who stayed ’til the end.”
Haula hopes to one day play in an outdoor game with the Wild. “It’s probably just a matter of time before it happens,” he said.
After Friday’s game, Gophers coach Don Lucia said his team, which played at Soldier Field against Wisconsin last year, will take a break from playing outdoors.
“It’s special to be a part of it, but I think you can do it too much,” Lucia said. “Quite frankly, the next team that deserves to play in this game is the Wild. I think our fans would really embrace that. Hopefully the NHL will come here. I think TCF is a great place to host it.”
With captain Mikko Koivu injured, the Wild needs a center and Haula is playing mostly a fourth-line role. But he’s learning every day what it takes to be a professional and was excited to play on “Hockey Day Minnesota’’ on Saturday.
Haula might be from Finland, but the 22-year-old has lived in Minnesota since his days at Shattuck-St. Mary’s.
“[At the U], it became a tradition where after the pregame skate, go home, watch a little high school hockey, pregame nap, play and maybe watch the Wild later,” Haula said. “It’s a great day.”
Haula also keeps one eye on the Gophers, who are ranked No. 1 in the country despite losing Haula, Nick Bjugstad, Nate Schmidt and Zach Budish from last year’s team.
“They always have great talent, they have great coaching and [goalie Adam] Wilcox has been a rock,” Haula said.
Three goalies possible
Coach Mike Yeo said if Kuemper, who made his fourth consecutive start over veteran Niklas Backstrom on Saturday, keeps playing well, the Wild conceivably could keep three goalies on the 23-man roster.
“If he keeps winning games, we’re not going to send him down,” Yeo said. “I can’t see why we would do that. These things always have a way of sorting themselves out. We can’t start looking too far ahead.”
Josh Harding (illness) has missed nine consecutive games and 13 of the past 15 but has practiced all week.
Yeo said the team will “keep going day to day and figure out how he’s feeling. He’s making progress and he looks good and I’m kind of waiting for a final word or a little bit more information as far as what I’m told from the trainers and the doctors.”
Blum back to Iowa