Wild alternate captains Matt Dumba and Marcus Foligno sat on the edge of home plate at Target Field on Monday afternoon and tried to imagine what it was going to feel like on New Year’s Day 2022 when the Wild play host to the St. Louis Blues in the NHL’s Winter Classic.
They had actually gone through similar mental gymnastics recently while attending a Twins game with some teammates.
“We were just kind of trying to picture it in our heads,” Dumba said. “Just thinking about the ice rink in the middle of the field and how cool it’d be under the lights at night. I think that’s going to be real special.”
While the official announcement of the Winter Classic came over the summer, an official press conference Monday outlined some of the important details.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that puck drop will be at 6 p.m. Central. He also announced that tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. Wednesday via Ticketmaster.
Tickets are expected to sell out pretty quickly, according to Wild president Matt Majka, who confirmed that Wild, Twins, and Blues season-ticket holders already have gotten first dibs. The capacity for the game at Target Field is expected to be around 40,000 fans.
“We do have tickets to put on sale,” Majka said. “But it’s shrinking. I would encourage people to get after it when they are available.”
There’s good reason for the fervor. The Winter Classic has been around since 2008 but never played in Minnesota.
The closest the Wild came to hosting the annual spectacle was the 2016 Stadium Series game against the Chicago Blackhawks. That took place at TCF Bank Stadium, and the Wild walked away with a 6-1 blowout win.
Still, for Wild owner Craig Leipold, it wasn’t enough. Why? Because it wasn’t the Winter Classic.
“I thought maybe we’d placate him for a few years with a Stadium Series game,” Bettman joked. “Even at that game, he said to me, ‘OK, this is great. We’re having a great time. When am I getting the Winter Classic?’ He has been relentless, and I mean that in the best possible way, because he is so passionate about this team and about this community.”
In that same breath, Bettman made sure to mention Leipold’s competitiveness, which is evident to anyone who talks to him for even a few minutes.
“This is what he always envisioned,” Bettman said. “He wasn’t going to give up until he got it.”
Yes, after a decade of petitioning for the Wild to host the Winter Classic, Leipold finally got his wish.
“It’s been a long 10 years,” Leipold said. “Everything is timing in life. It had to be the right time. And this is it. This is the right time to do it.”
And it’s about time. Remember, the Wild originally were scheduled to host the Winter Classic at Target Field on New Year’s Day 2021 before COVID canceled those plans.
“We kind of knew last September that it probably wasn’t going to happen,” Leipold said. “As it kept getting closer and closer, nothing was changing, and with protocols, we kind of knew it was going to be over with. We just sat back and said, ‘OK, let’s just keep everything.’ ”
There was never a worry that the Wild would be passed over after the cancellation. The plan was always for the next Winter Classic to take place at Target Field whenever it was safe to do so.
Now it’s only a few months away, though that seemed pretty hard to believe with Monday’s with a balmy afternoon temperature of 74 degrees.
“It’s going to be so entirely different,” Leipold said. “What we’re going to remember on Jan. 1 is that we sat out here in the hot sun with sunglasses on. It’s probably going to be 0 degrees (for the game). But it’s going to be fun. It’ll be surreal.”
That’s a perfect word for this event, Foligno said. Asked what he thinks it’s going to feel like, he took a few seconds to bask in the quietness of Target Field, knowing it will be anything but quiet in a few months.
“It’s going to be really cool walking out of the dugout,” Foligno said. “That’s going to be something. I think we’ll give a little 360 turn around, soak it all in and then get ready to play a game. Just excited to hear the cheers and the atmosphere.”