EAGLE, Colo. – The planning started in July, back when the Wild was assembling its schedule for the upcoming season.
With some players recently signed and others being late arrivals during the previous campaign, a retreat focused on team bonding was deemed a necessity.
And it was a no-brainer that this trip would include golf, reinforcing the stereotype that all hockey players — no matter their age, nationality or position — also swing clubs.
“Every single hockey player golfs,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “If a guy doesn’t golf when they’re coming up, they’re going to learn how to golf because everybody golfs.”
Before getting back on the ice Tuesday for a practice at the Eagle Pool & Ice Rink outside Vail, Colo., where the Wild shifted training camp for this three-day excursion, players, coaches and staff members spent Monday at Beaver Creek Golf Club for a four-person scramble that was treated like a tournament.
There was a digital leaderboard updated in real-time that players checked on their cellphones, and prizes awarded.
Each group was organized by the Wild’s director of team operations and player relations Andrew Heydt, who mixed veterans with youngsters and up-and-coming defensemen with established ones.
“Let’s shut our brains off from hockey and get to know each other,” Heydt said of the outing’s mission.
It was a competitive vibe, with teams getting heckled as members made their way to the 18th hole, where the parties that already had finished gathered. But there was also conversation that allowed players to connect.
“You’re not talking about the neutral-zone forecheck,” Dubnyk said. “More just telling stories of different things that happened in the past.”
That seems to be one of the reasons why golf is a pastime of NHLers.
As players move from hole to hole, there’s time to chat. The activity isn’t draining on the body, and the offseason overlaps with the perfect time to hit the links.
“It’s like, ‘You don’t golf?’ ” winger Marcus Foligno said. “It’s one of those things like, ‘What’s wrong? What do you do in the summertime?’ ”
How serious everyone is about the sport, though, varies.
Center Eric Staal is considered one of the best golfers on the Wild, and he’s been playing since he was 7 years old.
Growing up, Staal would earn free rounds after laying down sod at golf courses.
“I’ve always loved it,” said the 34-year-old, who has a 3 handicap. “It’s one of those games it’s competitive on your own. You can compete against other people, but it’s your own game. It’s up to you. There’s no excuses. There’s no one else to blame. So it’s fun, and you’re outside. You have beautiful weather, a beautiful course. You can’t beat it.”
Winger Jordan Greenway, 22, started getting more into golf just in the past few years, while Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin plays only when it’s part of a team function.
“I’m really bad,” Brodin said.
Still, there are some NHLers who don’t partake at all.
“I’ve met a couple,” Dubnyk said, “but they’re very rare.”
Golf, however, wasn’t the only item on the Wild’s agenda while in Colorado.
Players went whitewater rafting Tuesday afternoon. In the evenings, they had a team meal before sitting around the campfire at their resort to share stories.
They also heard a speech Monday morning from motivational speaker Gian Paul Gonzalez, whose “All In” mantra is the same motto the Wild has adopted for 2019-20.
A teacher in New Jersey who also works with the NFL’s New York Giants, Gonzalez expresses a message of being fully committed — like when poker players push all their chips to the center. Wild players were given poker chips that held a ball marker for their golf tournament, and they also had grey T-shirts embossed with “All In” on the back. The Wild’s logo is on the front, and poker chips are on the shoulders.
Those are some of the tangible takeaways from this detour to the mountains, but the Wild hopes more show up during the season.
“For some reason always after the rookie dinner, the team always gets behind each other and then you go kind of on a nice streak after,” Foligno said. “Why not do that early in the season so you get a jump ahead of it? I just think you want everyone on the same page and inside jokes, things like that. It helps make you jell, and you want to play for each other.”