EDMONTON, ALBERTA – Finally, after months of anticipation, the Wild flew back to the Twin Cities on Thursday night for a weekend of festivities leading up to Sunday’s Stadium Series game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Late Friday, players and coaches will get to test out the ice at TCF Bank Stadium during a special skate with their families. Saturday, a few hours before the 4 p.m. Alumni Game, the Wild will practice on the outdoor sheet for the only time.
For those Wild players who have played in one or a few of the previous 16 NHL outdoor contests, they say that practice is imperative.
“It’s such a different atmosphere playing in a stadium,” said Jarret Stoll, who with the Oilers played in the 2003 Heritage Classic and in the 2014 and 2015 Stadium Series games with the Kings.
“You have to get used to the sightlines because in a big stadium, it changes things if you let it change things. The crowd and the stands are so far away that it’s distracting. You really have to focus on just the ice, just the net, just the boards, not the whole picture.”
This will be Zach Parise’s first outdoor game and he pointed out how awkward it was playing at the Islanders’ Barclays Center a few weeks ago.
“With no fans behind the glass, it had a European rink feeling and for whatever reason, that big space makes it feel like the dimensions are different when it’s not,” he said.
Thomas Vanek, who played in the 2008 Winter Classic with Buffalo and a 2014 Stadium Series game with the Islanders, said the whole experience is “awesome,” especially the family skate and practice.
“The best part of the game is walking out and seeing the stadium filled,” Vanek said. “The whole deal is something everyone remembers forever. As for the game itself, my experience is the ice is good at the very, very beginning, then gets choppy quick.
“So the team that plays simpler usually has the advantage. It’s hard to catch pucks, so you really have to get the puck on net and use high flips.”
Sunday’s temperature, according to weather.com, should be a high of 42 degrees and a low of 29 with a 20 percent chance of precipitation. The weather definitely affects the game.
“If it’s really cold, it gets brittle and chunks come out. If it’s warmer, it gets soft and a little slushy,” Stoll said. “You really just have to shoot the puck when you get the chance and try not to make cute plays.”
In NHL outdoor games, Vanek is 0-1-1, Jason Pominville is 0-1 and Ryan Carter is 0-1.
Assistant coach Darryl Sydor, as a player with Pittsburgh, was 1-0 in the 2008 Winter Classic and coach John Torchetti, as Chicago’s assistant at the 2009 Winter Classic, is 0-1.
Stoll was 1-2, scoring a goal and assist in the 2003 Heritage Classic in frigid temperatures.
“So I’m going to try to even out the record,” Stoll said, laughing. “It’s a great experience. It’s an even better experience if you win.”
Donna Parise, Helen Oliver and June Ness (Goldsworthy), widows of North Stars legends J.P. Parise, Murray Oliver and Bill Goldsworthy, will participate in a ceremonial puck drop at the start of Saturday’s Alumni Game.
“I’m happy my mom gets to do it and be a part of a lot of the festivities,” Zach Parise said. “I know she’s really excited and it shows that all these guys had a big impact on the North Stars and hockey in Minnesota.”
• Defenseman Marco Scandella missed his second game in a row because of an upper-body injury and will see a doctor in Minnesota on Friday. GM Chuck Fletcher said he is hopeful Scandella can play in Sunday’s outdoor game.