Jayson Hron: Anxious Wild players survive the hoopla
The Xcel Energy Center lived up to its name during Wednesday's first-ever Minnesota Wild regular season home game. A sellout crowd of 18,827 buzzed into the building, courted by the NHL's return to the state. What the fans discovered was an out-o...
The Xcel Energy Center lived up to its name during Wednesday's first-ever Minnesota Wild regular season home game.
A sellout crowd of 18,827 buzzed into the building, courted by the NHL's return to the state. What the fans discovered was an out-of-control time machine that zipped them back and forth between glorious memories and glimpses into the future.
Prior to the game, the images of former North Stars danced on the jumbo-sized scoreboard as Minnesota's past professional hockey heroes were introduced.
"Glen Sonmor, Jack Carlson, J.P. Parise, Curt Giles, Neal Broten ..."
The legends' names boomed over the speakers as the crowd roared.
Yet more thunderous applause for the voice of the North Stars.
Shaver was a legend in his own right, bringing the game into thousands of homes, including mine, over the North Stars Radio Network.
Still more spine-tingling memories followed, as a tribute to Minnesota's hockey roots rolled on the scoreboard.
The history lesson concluded with the unveiling of a banner emblazoned with the phrase, "State of Hockey," superimposed over the silhouette of Minnesota.
A final chant of "Norm Green sucks," bellowed from the crowd, followed by an apology of sorts from the NHL's commissioner, Gary Bettman.
"It's obvious we never should have left," he said.
The crowd roared yet again as the state's proud hockey tradition came to life in the form of a collective numbing tingle.
The players felt it as well. The weeks of buildup had begun to take their toll. Wild winger Jeff Nielsen, from Grand Rapids, said that pregame nerves were frazzled in the locker room as the players waited to take the ice.
The anticipation was tenuous for many of the players, who tried to fight off the emotions of the moment.
"You have to try to just treat it like a regular game," said Nielsen. "I mean, you've played the game forever. Obviously, there's a huge build up, but once you start playing, you just revert back to the way you play the game. You try not to really think about it too much, because if you do, you just can't play at all."
Minnesota goaltender Manny Fernandez, who earned the first star in the 3-3 tie against Philadelphia, faced the challenge as well.
"If you go out there too emotional, that's when you get knocked out," he said. "We're playing against good teams, and if you start skating around like a guy with no head on, they are going to make the plays that kill you."
Some players, however, like Duluth resident Darby Hendrickson, bucked the trend and rode their emotions.
"I wish there was an opening night every night," he said. "I love that buildup."
It obviously worked for Hendrickson, who tapped home the Wild's first goal and elicited an ear-splitting ovation from the hometown crowd.
But I, like many of the players, am ready for the glitz and fanfare to come to an end. Don't get me wrong, opening night at the Xcel was something I'll never forget, but I don't need that to embrace hockey. I'm a Minnesotan. I never abandoned the game, and I don't need fireworks or laser lights to enjoy it.
The game, born on a frozen pond, stands alone in our state, true to its heritage and history. For real Minnesota hockey enthusiasts, the game is all the spectacle we need. And it's great to have the game back in its pinnacle form.