A sun-soaked infield greeted the Wild on Monday afternoon when team personnel and a few players got a glimpse of Target Field ahead of the Winter Classic, but that's not how the ballpark will look for the game on New Year's Day.
Puck drop between the Wild and Blues will be at 6 p.m., the first Winter Classic the NHL has scheduled for the evening.
"It's going to be so entirely different," Wild owner Craig Leipold said while tucked into the shade just off home plate. "What we're going to remember on Jan. 1 is that we sat out here [Monday] in the hot sun with sunglasses on. It's probably going to be zero degrees. It's going to be fun. It'll be surreal."
After clamoring to host the NHL's signature event for years, the Wild had to wait a little longer for the spotlight.
The team was originally awarded the 2020 Winter Classic, but the season was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the game ultimately scrapped from the schedule. In June, the league green-lighted a 2021 version and presented it back to the Wild. A weeklong celebration is expected to be part of the festivities, with alumni and youth games a possibility.
"We just sat back and said, 'OK. Let's just keep everything,'" Leipold said. "We had the jerseys ready. We had everything ready. A lot of the work was already complete. This is an easier transition to get to because we had so much done."
Target Field was always the desired backdrop for a Wild-themed Winter Classic, and the rink will cover second base with the end boards stretching toward to each base line. Season-ticket holders from the Wild, Blues and Twins had first dibs at tickets, and the response has been "great," Wild president Matt Majka said; only a limited number of tickets will be available to the public. Seating capacity is pegged at around 40,000, and the game will be televised on TNT.
Tickets go on sale to the public at 10 a.m. Wednesday through Ticketmaster.
"For a big stadium, it's going to feel intimate and that's going to make it special," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who was also on hand at Target Field.
Since 2008, the Winter Classic has become an annual tradition on the NHL calendar, but the league has never organized a night-time showdown until this one. Some outdoor action, however, has happened in the evening; last season's meeting at Lake Tahoe between Colorado and Vegas had to be postponed to later in the day after ice conditions deteriorated from the afternoon sun.
"We know that the sun can play havoc with us," Bettman said. "That won't be an issue, so that will be great."
In the team's only other outdoor appearance, the Wild scored a resounding 6-1 victory over Chicago on Feb. 21, 2016, at TCF Bank Stadium. Defenseman Matt Dumba scored the game's first goal.
"That day was one of my favorite NHL experiences, favorite hockey experiences," said Dumba while wearing the team's Winter Classic jersey that's a nod to the Twin Cities and the state and has vintage vibes such as elbow patches.
Dumba and captain Jared Spurgeon are the only holdovers from that Stadium Series matchup, and just three players (Alex Goligoski, Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello) have participated in a Winter Classic. This will be the first NHL outdoor game for many, like winger Marcus Foligno.
"It'll be cool, 'specially just under all the lights here," Dumba said. "I know me and Marcus came to a Twins game the other night and we were just kind of trying to picture it in our heads, seeing the ice rink in the middle of the field and how cool it'd be under the lights at night, and I think that's going to be real special. It's kind of cool that we're the first ones."
Although the event is still months away, the stakes are already clear.
Facing a Central Division rival in St. Louis is always a key clash, but a midseason rendezvous should have an intensity indicative of teams jostling for seeding — significance that isn't lost on the Wild.
"This is a game where you can bring a team together," Foligno said. "It can be a building block for a team to propel in the standings or just push for a playoff spot. So we're really looking forward to being in a good situation coming into this game and then coming out of it on the right side."