Brooks Suter raced ahead of his dad, Ryan, eager to get on the outdoor ice at TCF Bank Stadium. Brooks' skates already were laced up, his helmet strapped, gloves on and hockey stick in his hands.
Avery Suter was more interested in what was on the ice. Tucked in her dad's arms, she caught a glimpse of Nordy, the Wild's mascot, and smiled. By the time the family arrived rinkside, Avery was overwhelmed with excitement and squealed when Nordy met her at the edge of the ice.
Brooks sped onto the rink and began skating around.
Ryan, the Wild's star defenseman, took out his phone and snapped a photo of Avery with Nordy. He had to rein in Brooks for another photo of the many that Wild players and their families captured during Friday evening's family skate to kick off the NHL Stadium Series this weekend on the University of Minnesota campus.
About 100 grandparents, wives, sisters, brothers, parents, young children and one mascot skated across the freshly frozen ice surface on a mild night. Wild forward Justin Fontaine was impressed with how good the ice felt, even hours after a rainstorm moved through the Twin Cities.
"They get to share that special moment with them and I think it's a big night for everyone and you can kind of relax and spend time with your family and friends," Fontaine said. "Everyone was enjoying it. There were a lot of smiles out there and the weather was nice for you. It was raining. So it was a good night for everyone. … So I'm looking forward to Sunday."
The Wild host the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday in the first professional outdoor hockey game in Minnesota history.
Charlie Coyle enjoyed the evening with his sister, Jess, and girlfriend, Erin. The Wild center said the experience was a nice reminder that hockey should be fun after the trials the team has gone through over the past six weeks that led to the firing of coach Mike Yeo.
"Sometimes you got to remember you play this game to have fun," Coyle said. "Yeah it's a business and yeah it's your job, but you still have to have fun and I think when you have fun that's when you play your best and you play loose, so this was a nice change of pace.
"I talked to Nordy a little bit. A lot of kids were chasing him, so I thought about joining in, but I figured I leave it to them."
Rookie defenseman Mike Reilly skated with his brothers, Gophers teammates Connor and Ryan. The three were a part of the last outdoor hockey game played at TCF Bank Stadium two years ago.
All-Star goaltender Devan Dubnyk towered over his young son as he helped young Nathaniel skate around the rink.
Defensemen Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella invited 9-year-old Ty Olson and 13-year-old Connor Johnson, guests from Gillette Children's Hospital, to skate with them. Dumba and Scandella picked up jerseys for the two boys and got tickets to Sunday's game for their families.
Olson is rehabbing from a traumatic brain and spinal cord injury and healing well. Johnson recently underwent surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor and is recovering well from the procedure.
"To see the smiles on Connor and Ty's faces was crazy," Dumba said. "Ty kept talking about how much fun he was having and we were doing laps and coming back around and guessing how many people could sit in the stadium. … To be the only ones in there in the whole stadium at that time looking around was crazy. To just imagine what it's going to be like on Sunday is even more wild."