Former Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly is only 22 and just signed with the Wild a month ago after becoming a free agent. He’ll embark on his rookie pro season soon, but there is one area in which he has more experience than virtually all his new teammates: big-time outdoor hockey. At the news conference Wednesday to provide more details about the Feb. 21 game at TCF Bank Stadium between the Wild and Blackhawks, the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand caught up with Reilly about the outdoor experience and other topics:
Q You’ve been here, done that in terms of an outdoor game at The Bank, having played here with the Gophers two winters ago. What was that game against Ohio State like?
A It was great. Right when it got announced that an outdoor game was going to be played, all the players were jacked up for it. It’s kind of hard not to in that sense. But you just try to play well up to that point and really prepare for the week, get used to the ice. Obviously since it’s outdoors it’s a little colder and the ice conditions are a little different. But overall it was an unbelievable experience. I’m glad I did it. … I’m coming here now and hopefully I make the team, and if I’m in the situation where I’m playing here [again] I’ll be really excited.
Q Does the setup feel strange as a player when the boards are so far removed from the crowd, and does it take a while to get your bearings in a big stadium?
A Yeah, a little bit. Sometimes it can catch you off guard. I played in another outdoor game in Soldier Field my freshman year at the U, and the ice was not as good there as it was here. There are going to be a lot of TV timeouts to get the ice in as good [of] condition as possible in a short amount of time. But to see the crowd support — I think we had over 40,000 people at the U, and everyone was cheering. It was cold, but everyone was having a great time.
Q Is the game itself any different in terms of focusing?
A I mean, points are on the line. You want to come in and win. It’s a great experience, but it’s always better when you win. We won 1-0, and it was awesome. If we would have lost, the spirits would have been a little different.
Q You’ve only been with the Wild organization for a short time, but what has it been like so far to wear the logo like you are right now?
A It’s starting to sink in a little here. The process I went through was kind of unique, and it was a good experience for me to go through, I guess. Coming to development camp I was really excited. I didn’t know what camp I’d be going to, but I was excited I went to that. I met a lot of great people and got familiar with the coaching staff.
Q What went into the decision to choose Minnesota instead of other teams?
A I think I just feel comfortable. There are a lot of great coaches that like to work with young players. There are going to be ups and downs, a learning curve especially as a young defenseman coming in. But I think there is a lot of great leadership on the team. It’s a great mix of young guys, too, who want to win, and they’re all kind of hitting their prime.