Wednesday’s news conference at TCF Bank Stadium announcing some of the details of the outdoor game between the Wild and the Blackhawks on Feb. 21 had a perfunctory, prepared feel to it as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and others took turns at the podium.
These outdoor games have become routine, particularly now that there is the Stadium Series — with Wild/Blackhawks being one of three outdoor games on the 2015-16 NHL schedule. The Wild had to wait so long that the Gophers won the race outside with their TCF doubleheader a couple of years ago.
The game itself will certainly draw interest as the time nears and the weather in Minneapolis isn’t 80 degrees as it was for Wednesday’s outdoor gathering. But one thing can truly make it intriguing and unique — and it was the very thing described at the news conference by Lou Nanne, the man who turned Wednesday’s stiff affair into an old-time hockey history lesson.
The day before the current Wild and current Blackhawks take the ice, there will be a game featuring alums of the Blackhawks vs. a squad of alums from the Wild and old North Stars. Even Wild owner Craig Leipold said he is almost as excited for this game as the main event.
Wild vs. Blackhawks is becoming a pretty good (albeit one-sided, so far) rivalry thanks to three consecutive playoff meetings. But North Stars vs. Blackhawks was the stuff of legends.
Nanne, a former player, coach and general manager for the North Stars — who was correctly called “the face of the State of Hockey” at Wednesday’s event — knows as much about it as anyone. It’s clear how he feels about the rivalry.
“I remember one night playing an old-timers game against Chicago,” Nanne said after the official part of the news conference was over. “I hit Keith Magnuson. He said, ‘Louie, there’s supposed to be no checking.’ I said, ‘I just forgot.’ ”
The rosters are a who’s who of the rivalry days: Dino Ciccarelli, Neal Broten, Mike Modano, Bobby Smith are highlights from the North Stars, with popular former Wild players like Wes Walz, Darby Hendrickson and Andrew Brunette mixed in. Chicago’s squad features Denis Savard, Ed Belfour and Jeremy Roenick … and, even though he’s not yet listed on the official roster, Al Secord is expected to play as well.
“You’re getting the guys you want to see in an alumni game,” Nanne said, noting that Ciccarelli still inspires catcalls in Chicago while Secord, even decades later, makes the blood of Minnesota fans boil.
But do you really think Secord will get the business at an alumni game?
“Yes, he will,” Nanne said.
It could make the warmup act just as interesting as the main event.