They hadn't played in a game since March 11, when the Iowa Wild lost 4-1 to Grand Rapids in an AHL contest. The next day, sports across North America shut down because of the pandemic, and hockey's top minor league was no exception.
Fast forward 10½ months later, and last year's Iowa trio of Luke Johnson, Gerald Mayhew and Kyle Rau was thrust into the NHL club's lineup for Sunday's game against Colorado at Xcel Energy Center. The three are part of the Wild's taxi squad — a group of up to six players for each team that the league instituted this season to help alleviate roster deficiencies caused by COVID-19.
The Wild, hammered in a 5-1 loss to the Avalanche on Saturday night, got the news Sunday that Marcus Foligno was placed in COVID-19 protocol. With Kevin Fiala already serving the second game of a three-game suspension, Marcus Johansson out because of an undisclosed injury and Matt Dumba out because of a lower-body injury, coach Dean Evason called in the reinforcements from the taxi squad.
Into the lineup came Johnson, Mayhew and Rau.
Did that spell gloom and doom against the mighty Avalanche? Nope. The Wild ended a six-game homestand with a 4-3 overtime victory, and though the taxi squad group didn't factor in the scoring, it did help set the tone Evason wanted.
"What we liked about all three of them is how physical they were," Evason said. "You saw every one of them engaged in a physical confrontation early, and that says a lot to the group that they're not just out there being tentative and, 'Oh, boy. This is my first NHL game.' They've all played NHL games, but it was their first this year.
"They didn't dip their toes in. They finished checks right away, they were on top of the puck."
Rau and Mayhew started the game on the fourth line with center Nick Bonino; Johnson began on a line with center Nick Bjugstad and Zach Parise. Their energy was noticeable, especially on the forecheck.
"They played well," defenseman Ryan Suter said. "They kept it simple; they were physical; they were skating. They played a really solid game for us, and it was a big part of us winning today."
Mayhew led the taxi squad forwards with 10 minutes, 14 seconds of ice time, earning a plus-1 on Victor Rask's goal that tied it 3-3 in the third period and delivering three hits. Johnson played 9:42 with one hit. Rau saw 8:19 with three shots and one hit.
Defenseman Jonas Brodin, whose goal 18 seconds into overtime off a pass from Jordan Greenway secured the win, appreciated how players rallied around each other.
"Everyone's got to do their job, and then it comes down to work ethic," Brodin said. "If everyone works really hard and goes out there and plays for each other, it's a great team win."
The Wild wasn't the only team relying on its taxi squad Sunday. Colorado was battling injuries, too, missing defensemen Erik Johnson and Devon Toews and forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Matt Calvert. And star center Nathan MacKinnon didn't play in the third period because of a lower-body injury.
Because of the compressed schedule and COVID-19 issues on top of the usual injury concerns, Suter believes adaptability will be key.
"You look around the league, and teams are losing guys left and right," he said. "The teams that are most resilient, the teams that deal with adversity the best are the ones that are going to have the most success.
"That was our mind-set going in. 'Let's go have some fun. Put a smile on our face. It doesn't matter who's playing, let's have fun, leave it all out there and see what happens.' "