In the locker room after the morning skate Saturday ahead of the Wild’s game against Pittsburgh, Jason Zucker relayed the story of holding his newborn son for the first time to teammate Mikko Koivu, a father of two.
The first thoughts that ran through Zucker’s mind? “Oh my god,” and “don’t hurt him.”
Zucker and wife Carly welcomed Hendrix Scott Zucker, 7 pounds and 19 inches, on Friday, joining Carly’s 7-year-old daughter Sophia in the family.
“Scott is my dad’s name,” Zucker said. “Hendrix is a name that both of us just loved. It was a bit unique for us and also not one he’s going to hate us for in 20 years.”
The winger said everyone on the team has been “awesome,” sending him messages wishing him luck and checking in on his wife. But the main tip the other dads on the Wild passed on was a pretty simple one.
“Sleep,” Zucker said. “Just sleep as much as you can. That was the No. 1 thing I heard.”
He’s already doing well on that front; Zucker said he slept for six hours Friday night. But with Carly confined to bed Friday, Zucker did all the first diaper changes, so he wasn’t so lucky there.
Zucker said the whole day was “surreal,” with the only hitch being when their appointment ended up running 45 minutes late. A cool and “really cute” moment was when Sophia immediately wanted to hold her little brother and eventually went down to the gift shop to buy him a stuffed animal.
“He was really content. He was really relaxed,” Zucker said of his son. “Carly said he’s identical to me in that sense. Just no emotion all the time. I know it’ll change, obviously, but he wasn’t crying at all yesterday. He slept a lot of the day. He was pretty quiet. He was perfect.”
Zucker said he planned to stop by the hospital after lunch to see his son one more time before the game.
“Hopefully, he gives me some luck,” Zucker said.
Return of the champ
Pittsburgh forward Jake Guentzel’s third NHL game ever was at Xcel last November. Almost a year later, the Woodbury native and former Hill-Murray player, who is also the son of Gophers associate head coach Mike Guentzel, is back with a Stanley Cup championship to his name.
“You don’t really remember much. You’re just coming up for your first time, and you get to play in your home state. Yeah, I was really nervous,” Guentzel said of that first pro visit to Minnesota. “It’s a crazy year, and it’s hard to fathom how it all went. It’s been fun.”
After working his way up last season as a rookie, he finished his 40 regular-season games with 16 goals and 17 assists before becoming the leading scorer in the playoffs with 13 goals. He has three goals and four assists in 11 games so far this season and sits in the locker room between stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“Jake has always had a quiet confidence about his game,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “I’m sure coming in after the experience that he’s gone through last year, the second half of the season being a big part of this team and the playoff run that he had, should give him a boost of confidence. … He has to be a more confident person coming into this season, just based on what this team and him as an individual have been able to accomplish over the last year.”
Guentzel was probably looking for a victory Saturday at Xcel. Pittsburgh lost last November’s meeting 6-2, and Guentzel still remembers finishing second in the 2012 Class AA state tournament there. But playing on his hometown ice again will be gratifying regardless of the result.
“Just doing it in front of family and friends, it’s pretty special,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy it.”
Put a ring on it
With his former team in town, Matt Cullen enjoyed more than just a reunion with his old squad.
He also received a new accessory.
Between the Wild’s and Pittsburgh’s morning skates Saturday, Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford presented the center with his 2017 Stanley Cup ring with Cullen’s wife and three sons in attendance. It was actually the third time Rutherford and Cullen had executed a little ceremony like that. Cullen, a two-decade, eight-team NHL veteran, also won a Stanley Cup in 2006 with Rutherford’s Carolina Hurricanes and in 2016 also with Pittsburgh.
While Cullen’s August move back to his native Minnesota meant he didn’t see the banner raise, this was probably the next best thing.
“You’re filled with pride seeing it go up, obviously being a part of it brings back a lot of memories,” Cullen said Friday. “It’s an odd feeling not being a part of it. I think more than not, you’re just happy for what happened, and you just kind of relive those experiences.”