WINNIPEG – Marcus Foligno had to reach back quite a ways to recall the last time he wore a full cage mask. “I was 15,’’ the Wild forward said. “I was used to it my whole life before then, so it’s just something you’ve got to get used to again.’’
Foligno returned to the Wild lineup Friday at Winnipeg, sporting the cage to protect a still-bruised left cheekbone. The protective gear allowed him to come back quickly, missing only one game after breaking a facial bone in an Oct. 12 fight against Chicago’s John Hayden. With Mikael Granlund sitting out his fourth game in a row because of a groin injury and Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Zach Parise out for much longer, getting Foligno back gave the Wild at least some measure of relief.
At Friday’s morning skate, Foligno still was getting accustomed to the view from behind the grid. His bigger concern was reining in his instincts to flash his fists again, should the need arise.
“I just need to make sure my emotions are in check,’’ said Foligno, who with Chris Stewart forms the Wild’s one-two punch of enforcers — but both scored goals Friday. “I’ve still got to play a physical game. I can’t get away from that, or else I’m not effective.
“It’s going to be tough, for sure. When someone gets hit, or you want to stick up for a teammate, you really can’t. I’ve just got to play smart, play physical and just keep it clean.’’
Before his injury, Foligno had two assists and a team-high five penalty minutes.
Saturday marks a golden date in Minnesota’s NHL history. The North Stars played their first home game 50 years ago, on Oct. 21, 1967.
The finishing touches were still being put on the brand-new Met Center when the North Stars brought NHL hockey to Minnesota with a 3-1 victory over the California Seals. The charismatic Bill Goldsworthy, the franchise’s first star, scored its first goal. Wild radio analyst Tom Reid, who played for the North Stars from 1969-78, recalled being a visitor at Met Center that first season.
“I was playing for the Chicago Blackhawks that year,’’ Reid said. “I remember the building was very full; they definitely had good crowds. And the men wore hats and suit coats.’’
Reid, a defenseman, also recalled playing one game at right wing at Met Center that season, when some of his Chicago teammates couldn’t get to the Twin Cities because of a snowstorm.
A pair of Minnesotans who play for the Jets — Plymouth native Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien of Roseau — continued their productive play against their home-state team. Wheeler, who had six assists through the Jets’ first six games, set up Winnipeg’s first goal with a cross-ice pass to Patrik Laine, and he scored the winner. Byfuglien assisted on two goals in the first two periods.
Wheeler has 22 points in 27 career games against the Wild, and Byfuglien has 31 points in 36 games.
Winnipeg forward Matt Hendricks, a Blaine native who played at St. Cloud State, remains on the injured list and did not play Friday. Hendricks injured his foot while blocking a shot during the preseason. He has resumed skating but has yet to play a regular-season game.
Another Minnesota native — defenseman Tucker Poolman of East Grand Forks — was scratched Friday.
• The Wild scratched defenseman Gustav Olofsson.
• The Jets offered a touching pregame tribute to Gord Downie, leader of the Canadian band The Tragically Hip, who died last week of a brain tumor at age 53. Downie’s picture appeared on the video board as the crowd joined in a robust rendition of the national anthem. The band’s music also was played throughout the pregame warmups to honor Downie, a beloved musician whose death has been mourned throughout Canada.
• Wild forward Landon Ferraro left the game with a hip flexor injury after the first period and did not return.