They arrived at the bar decked out in their No. 97 retro jerseys. One fan got his as a birthday present a few weeks ago, and what better way to break it in than at a meetup for Game 2 of the Wild's playoff series against Vegas.
The 9 p.m. puck drop on a work night was less than ideal, but the group of friends waited patiently through pandemic restrictions for this moment. A chance to get together, have some beers, enjoy one another's company and cheer on their favorite Wild player, rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov.
Technically, they are a Wild fan group. They love the team. But they LOVE their fellow countryman.
"I told my buddies, until this guy comes over here, we have no shot at Stanley Cup," said Iliya Berdichevski, one of the group's organizers. "Once he comes here and you give us a couple of years, we will be legitimate contenders. Now I look like a genius. I say, 'See, I told you.'"
They have a special rooting interest in Kaprizov's success. Their Facebook page is called "Russian Speaking MN Wild Fans." They have about 160 members and are looking to grow.
Berdichevski and friend Andrey Madan founded the group to connect Russians but also to show Kaprizov that Minnesota is home to a large Russian community. They hope to make him feel comfortable and welcomed as a 24-year-old who speaks little English living in a new place.
"We really wanted to help him," Madan said. "We want him to stay in Minnesota. When I came to the United States, I wish I had a Russian community to kind of help me out. It's helpful to know somebody."
Both Madan and Berdichevski grew up in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, a sister city to Minneapolis, though they didn't meet until about eight years ago. Neither was a hockey fan before arriving in the United States for college.
Madan, 42, earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science at Purdue. Berdichevski, 44, earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in business at St. Thomas. Each decided to make the Twin Cities their home.
A friend gave Berdichevski a ticket to the Wild's 2005 season opener. He was mesmerized watching Marian Gaborik and became a season-ticket holder.
"It was my No. 1 sport ever since," he said. "I fell in love."
Same reaction from Madan after attending his first Wild game five years ago.
"It was eye-opening for me," he said. "I was hooked."
Kirill's much-anticipated arrival has given them a stronger connection to the team. He is their guy, and they feel pride in seeing the Russian phenom perform magic tricks on the ice. They love the way Minnesotans have embraced the new star.
Madan stopped at a restaurant on his way home to watch the first period of a recent game. Two guys seated at opposite ends of the bar were wearing Kaprizov jerseys. Madan beamed.
Wearing his Wild clothing often leads to conversations in public places with strangers about the team or Kaprizov, which gives him a chance to talk about his native country.
"It sheds a lot of light into Russian American relationships," Madan said. "Russians are not evil people. They're actually kind of cool. I like that."
Berdichevski knows a few Wild officials through business dealings. He made sure they knew how to pronounce Kaprizov's name properly. He even offered to serve as Kaprizov's host family and open his basement to the rookie, but he had already settled in an apartment in Minneapolis.
The Facebook group started with the hope that Kaprizov would gain insight into the Russian community in the Twin Cities. In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 15,000 Minnesotans speak Russian, though Madan and Berdichevski believe the number is considerably higher, possibly as many as 50,000. They say the metro offers authentic Russian grocery markets and restaurants and concerts.
Not long after Kaprizov registered his first career hat trick on March 12, about 40 members of the Kirill Crew celebrated at an outdoor rink. They brought signs congratulating him, tossed their hats into the air and took pictures.
Member Max Vinogradov, a professional graphic designer, made a poster of the festivities, which was delivered to the Wild. Team employees gave the gift to Kaprizov so that he is aware of the group.
The cool part is that their children have become hockey fans after showing no interest before Kaprizov's arrival. Madan took his kids to a game recently and found a spot along the glass for warmups. They made signs in Russian that they held up. Kaprizov spotted them, smiled and waved.
Imagine their reaction.
"Ecstatic," Dad said.
Tuesday's Game 2 outing was adults-only. A dozen members met at Cowboy Jack's in Plymouth to watch on a big screen.
They cheered whenever Kaprizov got the puck, roared when Matt Dumba scored in the second period, then groaned when Vegas scored 18 seconds later.
The night ended on a downer. The Wild lost and Kaprizov watched the ending from the penalty box after a tripping call in the final minute.
It was near midnight when the group headed to their cars. They exchanged hugs outside. They already were talking about Game 3 back home.