Less than a week after an emotional John Torchetti walked into the Iowa Wild’s locker room and said, “Boys … I just got called up,” the new Minnesota Wild coach received a video from his old Iowa players huddled and chanting, “3-and-0, 3-and-0, 3-and-0!!!”
Sunday afternoon, in front of more than 40,000 hockey fans at TCF Bank Stadium, Torchetti will make his “home debut” against the Chicago Blackhawks, the rival that has eliminated the Wild from the past three postseasons. Torchetti hopes to see that 3-0 record extend into the Wild’s first four-game winning streak of the season.
“Usually happens every day, doesn’t it?” Torchetti said of the abnormal first home game behind the Wild’s bench.
After Friday night’s family skate and Saturday afternoon’s practice on the outdoor sheet, Torchetti said the “fun’s over.” Despite all the fun and hype that surrounds the Stadium Series game, it must be business as usual during the first NHL outdoor game in Minnesota history.
The Wild might have just won three games in four nights on the road, but this is the unenviable spot the team has put itself in by winning three times in the first 45 days of 2016.
Technically, the Wild, which hasn’t won at Xcel Energy Center since Dec. 28, will be looking to avoid stretching its home winless streak to a team record nine games (0-5-3).
“The situation that we’re in right now, we can’t afford to let too many more points slip away,” Zach Parise said. “So as much as we want to enjoy the whole thing, we have to win.”
Saturday’s practice was a cool one. Most players sported eye black, although guys like Erik Haula, Christian Folin, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella wore “eye green.”
Matt Dumba skated over to assistant equipment trainer Rick Bronwell and said, “Give me the Ray Lewis,” then proceeded to have eye black pasted onto his cheeks.
“You need it though,” Dumba said. “They put that cotton around the rink [to look like snow], and then the white ice surface and just the reflection of the natural lightning bouncing off your cheeks, it gets in your eyes.”
The Wild might get defenseman Scandella back from an upper-body injury. Devan Dubnyk, who has won two consecutive games and brushed off a scary shot to the neck in Saturday’s practice, wants to keep the streak alive.
“It was great out there,” he said.
This is a special game for the community.
“I’ve been here a long time,” said captain Mikko Koivu, drafted in 2001 and in his 11th season. “I know what it means for the fans here. Even for myself, this feels like my home, so it’s a big deal.”
For the Blackhawks, the novelty has worn off. This is their fourth outdoor game, and they are expected to be announced as the opponent in next year’s soon-to-be-announced Winter Classic at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium.
They are a star-studded team that a few days ago attended the White House to celebrate a championship for the third time under the same presidency. But they still get a kick out of playing in the fresh air.
“It’s not like you’re doing it every day of your life,” superstar Patrick Kane said after Saturday’s practice.
The fact Torchetti debuts at home against the Blackhawks is special.
He was on Chicago’s bench as an assistant from 2007 to ’10, the first three seasons of the Kane-Jonathan Toews era. He was Joel Quenneville’s assistant for two of those years, winning a Stanley Cup together in 2010.
“I remember he would always bring me and Toews on the ice early before practice and work on different things he was teaching [Vincent] Lecavalier and [Martin] St. Louis [when he was an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning [1999-2001],” Kane said. “He’s a good offensive-minded coach and I really liked him as a person.”
Toews and Kane called Torchetti an offensive-minded coach who did a great job with Chicago’s power play.
“He made things simple for us, never overcomplicated things,” Toews said. “He allowed our skill to go out there and make things happen offensively. … He did a great job reassuring guys on the bench and making sure guys knew they’re playing a game.
“It’s nice to see him having success and getting an opportunity as a head coach at this level.”
Torchetti has said Sunday’s game isn’t about him, though. It’s about the team, his new players and wanting to continue building what it started on the road in western Canada.
Twelve players scored goals on a trip that produced 15 goals. The Wild is back on the tails of Colorado and Nashville for a playoff spot. It wants to continue that momentum, and Torchetti wants to see “where they’re at” despite the unusual and uncertain conditions of playing outside.
“[Sunday] is only fun if you win the game,” veteran Thomas Vanek said of his third career outdoor game. “That’s got to be the focus from here on out.”