They represented both teams, played different positions and boasted experience levels that varied from established veteran to first-game rookie.
But what eight players who suited up for the Tuesday meeting between the Wild and Rangers at Xcel Energy Center had in common was their upbringing, as they all grew up in Minnesota — just the second time in the Wild’s history it's been part of a game that featured that record number of natives.
“It’s the State of Hockey for a reason,” Wild defenseman Nick Seeler said.
Just days after New York defenseman Neal Pionk (Hermantown) became the 50th Minnesotan to skate in the NHL this season, Eden Prairie’s Seeler bumped that number up to 51 when he made his debut against the Rangers.
“I didn’t know it was that many,” winger Zach Parise said. “That’s a lot of players. I guess it speaks a lot for what’s being done at the youth level here. Again, we say it all the time, that’s just what kids grow up doing here. I think it shows.”
Aside from Seeler and Parise, the Wild had three other locals in the lineup Tuesday — forward Matt Cullen, defenseman Nate Prosser and backup goalie Alex Stalock. Winger Vinni Lettieri (Excelsior) and defenseman Brady Skjei (Lakeville) were the other Minnesotans who appeared for the Rangers. St. Paul’s Ryan McDonagh is injured.
Eight natives also played in a Wild vs. Islanders game Dec. 9, 2014.
“It’s awesome,” Skjei said. “Obviously, it’s a huge hockey state and we take a lot of pride in our hockey, our high school hockey. It’s just fun to see a bunch of your buddies you grow up with watching or even playing with have made it to the NHL. It’s a lot of fun.”
Coach Bruce Boudreau kept Cullen and Parise united with winger Charlie Coyle for a fourth straight game, a decision that’s flattered the trio.
Since they formed a line last Tuesday against the Blues, the unit has combined for three goals and four assists.
“All three of us work hard,” Parise said. “I think the biggest thing for us [is] when there’s been a lost puck or 50-50 puck in the corner or even in the offensive zone, we backcheck and try to get it back right away. I think that’s a big reason why we’ve been spending a lot of time in the offensive zone.”
In a rhythm
With the Wild’s next back-to-back not until Feb. 22 and 23 when it’s visiting the Devils and then Rangers, it’s possible Stalock goes nearly three weeks between starts.
That would be his longest layoff of the season, but the team is considering giving him a game this week at home.
“We’re thinking about it,” Boudreau said. “But, hey, [Devan Dubnyk] was third star of the week. He’s starting to get into a groove. It’s not like he’s been overtaxed. We’ve played nine games in the last 29 days. As much as Alex’s numbers are fabulous at home, it’s tough to sit there and not play Duby.”
Dubnyk made his fourth straight start Tuesday, his first appearance since he was crowned the NHL’s third star of the week for a 2-0-1 showing last week in which he posted a 1.96 goals-against average and .950 save percentage.
The stretch reminded Boudreau of how Dubnyk played the first half of 2016-17 when he was dynamic, setting the tone for the Wild’s best regular season in franchise history. But Dubnyk isn’t paying much attention to the past.
“I knew coming into this year not to put any expectations and just to work on my game, and I feel good about my game,” he said. “At the end of the day, winning games is really all that matters. So obviously when I’m at the top of my game, it’s going to help us do that. So I’ll take the compliment, but I don’t think too much about last year.”