TEMPE, Ariz. — Class is back in session.
After an eight-day layoff, the Wild restarted their season on Monday on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University for their first game at 5,000-seat Mullett Arena.
That's where the Coyotes will be playing for at least three seasons as they work to build a new arena in Tempe after leaving their former home in Glendale, another Phoenix suburb; the city of Glendale decided not to renew their lease with the Coyotes.
"It's not an NHL rink, but who cares what it is?" Wild coach Dean Evason said. "It's a beautiful rink. We've heard that the atmosphere is good."
Instead of practicing in the Twin Cities on Sunday when the team reconvened from the bye week and All-Star break, the Wild flew to Arizona and then skated at Mullett Arena to get acclimated.
A throwback to when players were at college or suiting up for junior hockey.
"There were some pretty cool rinks in college," said Brandon Duhaime, who logged three seasons with Providence College. "I'd say this one compares maybe to a Notre Dame."
Not only is the ASU logo at center ice alongside the Coyotes', but some of the seats are bleachers; that's the student section, with discounted tickets available to college students.
"It's nostalgic a little bit," said Marcus Foligno, who received a heads-up from former Wild teammate and current Coyote Nick Bjugstad that fans can hear the chatter on the ice. "You kind of go back to your junior days. Those were a lot of fun times."
Although the backdrop added a unique feel to the Wild's return, what's at stake wasn't new.
The Wild went into their hiatus in a competitive playoff race, and that's exactly what was waiting for them when they kicked off this two-game road trip through the Central Division; they'll be at Dallas on Wednesday before starting a seven-game homestand that's tied for the longest of the season. All but two of those opponents are division or Western Conference rivals.
"It's going to be close right to the end," Evason said. "We're very aware of that. It's been like that all year. There's so many teams in it. We have to have desperation every single night.
"It's great that we had a break, and it's wonderful to recharge. It really is. But now you have to use that recharge in the right direction."
Minnesota to Mexico
The Wild had a timeout from hockey but not so much from each other.
Most of the team spent the recent lull in Mexico where players hung out on the beach, went snorkeling and rented a boat.
"Every day you're showing up to the rink you're seeing the same guys, and it makes a big difference when everybody's happy to see each other," Frederick Gaudreau said. "There's not a guy that doesn't like another guy in this locker room. Everybody loves each other. It's awesome to be a part of a team like that."
The Wild didn't make any changes to their lineup over the break, rolling out the same forward lines and defensive pairings against Arizona that they used in their 3-2 shootout win vs. Buffalo before their schedule paused.
"We think we've got balance," Evason said. "We think we've got depth, and that's what we need to do to have success."
Mason Shaw and Alex Goligoski remained healthy scratches and Filip Gustavsson backed up Marc-Andre Fleury, who made his 971st appearance to tie Terry Sawchuk for the fourth-most games all time among goaltenders.
This was Fleury's fourth consecutive start, which matched his season high. The last time he started four in a row was Oct. 30-Nov. 8.