MINNEAPOLIS ( Associated Press) — Alex Goligoski grew up in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in the same up-North community where a pair of hockey skates is as prevalent as a snowblower and parka.
The winter activity was an easy pick for Goligoski and his friends. They took their sticks and pakodas to the primary school playground two blocks down the road from their home.
Goligoski’s career on ice is about to come full circle.
In the seasoned defenseman’s first season with his home-state team, the Minnesota Wild will play in the NHL’s marquee outdoor event for the first time on Saturday night when they face the St. Louis Blues in the Winter Classic at Target Field.
The game that Wilde has long lobbied for the league to host was delayed by a year by the pandemic.
“If any state would appreciate an outdoor game, it would certainly be Minnesota. Those are my favorite hockey memories, playing on an outdoor rink,” said Goligoski, one of nine players on the Wild roster who won a fresh Has participated in NHL games in the air.He played for Pittsburgh in the Winter Classic at Heinz Field in 2011.
According to NHL records, 637 players born in Minnesota have been drafted in league history. This is the most of any US state. Goligoski and teammates Nick Bjugstad and Rem Pitlik are Minnesota natives among 49 players who have appeared in one game this season, the most of any state.
“It’s a sense of pride in that. It’s clearly such a great organization, because of the way communities support the sport and how important hockey is to this state,” Goligoski said.
The Wilds have played outside once before in a Stadium Series game at the University of Minnesota’s Soccer Stadium in 2016. Wild goalkeeper Cam Talbot posts a shutout at the 2016 Heritage Classic with the Edmonton Oilers.
“The elements are different, but the game is the same,” Talbot said.
The Blues hosted the 2017 Winter Classic at Busch Stadium, home of Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals. It will be the 13th edition of the Winter Classic and the 33rd outdoor game organized by the NHL.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Marcus Foligno, who is from Buffalo, New York. “After school, you say to your friends, ‘Hey, see you here at 5’, and then before you know it you have 20 people playing.”
Wilde won’t have his entire crew. Captain and defenseman Jared Spurgeon and stalwart forward Joel Erickson will not play due to injuries. Standout defenseman Jonas Brodin is in COVID-19 protocol, although Wilde was hoping he could be cleared for the game in time.
About that game: It’s going to be very cold, okay. Temperatures in the Twin Cities were forecast to remain below zero for the entire day on Saturday, so the timing of the evening start won’t make it much worse. At the time of faceoff, it is expected to be around minus -5 degrees.
“Many teams don’t have a chance to play (in the Winter Classic) and this is my second chance,” said blue forward Vladimir Tarasenko. “So I’m really looking forward to it, even if it’s (like) cold in Siberia.”
“I don’t know what to expect. I’m going to see how cold it’s going to be, but I don’t know how cold it will feel,” said Blues goalkeeper Jordan Binnington. “We’re going to do our part and do the best we can to prepare for it.”
The NHL designed the Minnesota Twins’ snow-covered home to look like a frozen lake, with a log cabin warming house in center field and eight mini-rinks next to the main sheet of ice to simulate pond-style play were to do. 350 gallons of paint. The music stage was built like a dock. Pine trees and deer statues completed the scene, as light snow fell on Friday afternoon, while each team skated through a light exercise.
“It wasn’t really that bad. The fingers were the only things I felt cold. I don’t think people were,” said wild coach Dean Evans. “It was a little funky in the beginning, a lot of snow in our eyes. It was falling and the slopes were getting blurry. When the snowfall stopped there, it got much better.”
Wild star Kirill Kaprizov won’t be surprised. He is actually from Siberia.
“I loved playing as a child and just recently, with a long break, we got a chance to play some outdoor hockey,” Kaprizov said. “I love it. It’s always a lot of fun.”