Their adventure started with almost burning down an apartment, and ended with nearly being ejected from Nationwide Arena for jumping over railings because they were determined to throw hats on the ice to celebrate Zach Parise’s hat trick.
In between, they avoided flooding in St. Louis, stayed at a ratty motel in Tampa, got accused of stealing gas in Fort Lauderdale and drove 17 consecutive hours from South Florida to Ohio all to watch their favorite hockey team.
Love of the Wild had 21-year-olds Kayle Hanson, Brooks Nelson and Zach Holloway and 22-year-old Cole Grandgenett spending 60 hours road-tripping the country and crammed into tiny hotel rooms with two beds and one bathroom. Starting Dec. 30, the four pals from Minnesota borrowed Grandgenett’s mom’s Chevy Tahoe with 143,000 miles on it and drove 5,000 miles through 15 states to see the Wild play in St. Louis, Tampa, Sunrise, Fla., and Columbus.
Their speedometer broke and they had to use a TomTom GPS just to know how fast they were driving.
“We’d be going 70 down the freeway and the RPM’s would be on zero,” Hanson said.
“But even the bad stuff has been awesome,” Holloway said.
Nelson, Holloway and Grandgenett grew up together in Eagan. Hanson, who’s from Forest Lake, met Holloway at Wisconsin-Stout three years ago. Because the school didn’t get Fox Sports North, they purchased NHL GameCenter and would rig a laptop to a television to watch every Wild game.
“We were asked to leave the dorms many times for cheering too loud, especially during the playoffs,” Hanson said.
Around Christmas, the four buddies decided to make this trip. They searched for tickets on StubHub and hotel rooms online. They drove in shifts, blaring Pop2K on SiriusXM Radio (“Taylor Swift is my go-to,” Grandgenett said proudly) and watching movies like “Miracle” over and over.
Using a GoPro, they plan to make a YouTube documentary of their trip.
An eventful start
The foursome started by driving to Ames, Iowa, where Nelson goes to school. That night ended with the boys forgetting they were cooking sweet potato fries in an oven set for 520 degrees. Three hours later, fire alarms were blaring.
It was a fitting start to a trip that included New Year’s Eve in St. Louis after first arriving at the wrong hotel. There’s more than one Marriott property in Missouri, they learned.
After the Wild beat the Blues, they went out on the town to ring in the New Year but were disciplined enough to begin their New Year’s Day trek to Tampa at 6 a.m.
“It was a rough morning,” Hanson said.
“And day,” Holloway added.
On Day 3 Nelson was out of clothes. He ran into a gas station in West Virginia to buy a T-shirt that read “Whitetails Taste Fantastic,” even though he never has hunted. “I’ve shot a gun once,” Nelson said.
They arrived in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa at 2 a.m., and the first thing they spot is a family walking down the street with an infant in a stroller.
“Horrible, disgusting, sketchy,” is the way they described the hotel with neon lights and a front-desk clerk sitting behind bulletproof glass. The room had stained sheets and towels and a dirty bathroom floor.
“I had tea for breakfast,” Nelson said.
Tailgating before the game, they were heckled by a marching band of Lightning fans. They thought it would be fun to try to buy one of the Lightning’s birthday ticket packages. Who wouldn’t want to meet Thunderbug and eat cupcakes, after all? But a sales rep told them it wasn’t for college kids.
At the game, when officials were reviewing Ryan Suter’s third-period goal, Nelson bet a Lightning fan $100 the goal would count. It didn’t.
“All the fans in the section heard and wanted me to pay up,” Nelson said. “The guy was great though.”
“He offered to buy Brooks a beer,” Holloway said.
In Sunrise, they misplaced their tickets and got caught in a torrential downpour while tailgating. Afterward, they went to a bar to watch the Vikings-Packers with some Wild fans they met in Tampa. They couldn’t believe it when they ran into Fox Sports North’s Anthony LaPanta.
The hat trick
The next morning, they left Florida at 8 o’clock for Columbus, which turned out to be the highlight of the trip, and not only because they got to meet “Gorgy” (Fox Sports North’s Kevin Gorg).
Red-eyed, they rolled up to their hotel at 2:45 a.m. They were all dead tired, Holloway carrying a half-open duffel bag with crumpled Wild jerseys hanging out.
“That was brutal,” he said of the endless drive.
Nelson, an oddity as a youngster who is not into social media, calls himself a 90-year-old trapped in a 21-year-old’s body. “He drives like one, too,” Holloway said.
At one point, as Holloway and Hanson sat in the back of the Tahoe watching, “Django Unchained,” they looked up and see Nelson driving 45 miles per hour in a 70 zone. “Brooks, we’re trying to get there by game time,” Holloway yelled.
But they were still up early Tuesday because they got to attend the Wild’s morning skate. Later they went to Starbucks and spotted Parise, Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter and Chris Porter making their pregame coffee run.
Wearing Wild jerseys, the four sheepishly told the players of their four-city Wild adventure; the players were amazed, and posed for pictures.
A short time later, the travelers were pressed against the glass watching pregame warmups. Grandgenett kept yelling, “Starbucks;” Parise and Porter began laughing, and Porter flipped Grandgenett a puck, which he handed to a little kid.
In the second period, after Parise scored his second goal, Holloway, not wearing a hat, sprinted to the Nationwide Arena store to “buy the ugliest Blue Jackets hat I could find” in anticipation of a hat trick.
For $30 Holloway earned the right to throw that blue hat with a cannon on the front onto the ice after Parise scored an empty netter.
The friends finally made it back to the Twin Cities on Wednesday night, slowed a bit by being pulled over in Indiana.
They said seeing the different rinks and cities was the highlight of the trip. They were blown away by how cool Columbus was and loved the Panthers’ BB&T Center.
“I wished I lived there,” Hanson said. “The arena is really nice and the tickets are dirt cheap.”
They kept a spreadsheet with all their expenses. With hotels, tickets, food and gas, they spent well more than $2,000.
The friends hope to make this an annual thing.
“We joked we’re going to send our expense report to [Wild owner] Craig Leipold,” Hanson said.