Everyone on the Wild has their own personal memories of March 12, 2020.
All the players reported to Xcel Energy Center that morning with the Wild set to play the Vegas Golden Knights that night.
Obviously, that game never happened, as the NHL decided to suspend its season due to COVID-19 concerns.
“I remember getting to the rink and (director of team operations Andrew Heydt) told me I had to go home,” winger Jordan Greenway said. “I just bounced and I went home. I didn’t really ask any questions to be honest. It was a lot of uncertainty. I had no idea what was going on. I don’t think many other guys did.”
More than 10 months have passed, and the Wild finally returned to their home arena on Friday. They started their day with a morning skate and ended it with a scrimmage.
“Haven’t been in such a big arena for such a long time,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “It just feels weird without fans. It’s different. We have to find ways to get going within the team, and I’m sure we will. We are working hard every day, so we are really excited to get back.”
Asked why the Wild decided to hold the scrimmage at night rather than during the day, coach Dean Evason said it had everything to do with routine. He wanted his players to get used to reporting to the rink in the morning, going through their routine in the afternoon, and getting ready to play at night.
“Just get that feel, get that buzz, get that excitement of coming to play for a home game,” Evason said. “It’s 100 percent about routine.”
Here are five things we learned from the scrimmage.
1. KIRILL KAPRIZOV IS VERY GOOD
Kirill Kaprizov has made a habit of doing something impressive pretty much every day of training camp. Whether it’s a ridiculous saucer pass through traffic, or a nasty shootout move, the Russian winger has absolutely lived up to the hype. He continued that trend on Friday night, accepting a pass from defenseman Ryan Suter at the blue line, racing past a number of defenders like they were standing still, and completely undressing goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen in the crease. The kid can play.
2. THE POWER PLAY NEEDS SOME WORK
The pieces are in place for the No. 1 power play to produce. You’ve got Kaprizov, Zach Parise, and Kevin Fiala in front, to go along with Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon in back. That’s some serious offensive firepower on paper, though that didn’t necessarily translate to the scrimmage. In total, the Wild went through about 10 straight minutes of work on the power play, initially, with both units struggling to find the back of the net. The highlight came later in the night as Kaprizov found Parise in close for a beautiful goal.
3. CAM TALBOT STANDS OUT
While it’s tough to put too much stock into the scrimmage, goaltender Cam Talbot looked pretty darn good. That’s a good sign for the Wild as he takes over for longtime goaltender Devan Dubnyk between the pipes. The most encouraging thing about Talbot’s night was how calm he looked in the crease. He effortlessly gloved down a bevy of shots 5 on 5 and completely stymied any scoring chances on the power play. Can he do it in a real game against a real team? That’s the question.
4. THE FOURTH LINE IMPRESSED
Sure, it might not be the sexiest combination, but the line with Victor Rask centering Nico Sturm and Ryan Hartman might actually work. They were pretty impressive as a trio during the scrimmage, scoring a pretty goal when Hartman hammered home a one-timer following a pinpoint pass from Rask. If that wasn’t enough, Sturm was extremely responsible in both zones, looking very much like someone that could take over at center at some point down the road.
5. MARCUS JOHANSSON LEFT EARLY
Unfortunately for the Wild, they didn’t get out of the scrimmage unscathed on the injury front. With a little more than 10 minutes to play, winger Marcus Johansson fell awkwardly after tripping over fellow winger Connor Dewar in the corner. That left Johansson in a great deal of pain, and while he skated off the ice under his own power, he immediately retreated down the tunnel.