While Tuesday’s practice at Amsoil Arena may have been the conclusion of a long training camp for the Minnesota Wild, it was the start of a crazy week for the home ice of the Minnesota Duluth men’s and women’s hockey teams.
The Bulldogs are scheduled to host six games in a three-day span this weekend, including a tripleheader on Friday. The UMD women are hosting Wisconsin at noon Friday and 1 p.m. Sunday while the UMD men host Michigan, Minnesota State-Mankato and Providence in the 2021 Ice Breaker Tournament on Friday and Saturday.
The Wild don’t begin their regular season until Friday when they open at the Anaheim Ducks, so the team decided to bus to Duluth on Monday following the final preseason game Saturday — a 5-1 loss at the Chicago Blackhawks — for some golf at Northland Country Club, relaxation at Larsmont Cottages and a team dive together into Lake Superior before Tuesday's late morning, early afternoon practice at Amsoil Arena that included a few hundred fans in the stands.
Wild winger Marcus Foligno said the trip to Duluth was a nice reward for what has felt like a long training camp this fall, and the fan support on Tuesday gave players an extra boost as well.
“We were told some people would come, but we didn’t know it would be that many,” Foligno said of the hundreds who attended Tuesday’s practice. “It’s great to be in this arena. I heard a lot about it from the Minnesota guys playing here and the rivalry and things like that. It’s a great, great arena, a great facility. We were happy that they were able to share the ice with us today.”
Tuesday’s practice at Amsoil Arena was the Wild’s first time back at the facility since September 2015 and the first for coach Dean Evason since he joined the Wild as an assistant in 2018.
“Larsmont was absolutely fantastic, we played golf yesterday at Northland, it was fantastic,” said Evanson, a native of Flin Flon, Manitoba, who took over as head coach in 2020. “It’s exactly what we hoped to accomplish, and that’s to get the group together, spend some time together.”
The Wild departed Duluth for the Twin Cities following a team meal at the DECC on Tuesday, making way for the Badgers, Wolverines, Friars and Mavericks to all arrive at Amsoil Arena on Thursday. Those four teams will take over all four visitor locker rooms at Amsoil Arena, as well four locker rooms over at the DECC Arena.
DECC director of operations Jeff Stark equated this weekend's fall college hockey extravaganza to the high school and college hockey extravaganza in the early spring when Amsoil Arena hosts the Section 7A and 7AA semifinals and final, with the UMD men's and women's hockey teams playing series around and right after that.
"We've done this over the course of seven days, but to put everything into three days is a new one for us," Stark said.
The Wisconsin women’s program is back at Amsoil Arena this weekend a little over seven months after edging out the Bulldogs in overtime for the WCHA regular season title at the end of last season.
The Ice Breaker Tournament, meanwhile, is returning to Duluth this weekend for the second time in five seasons. It was last at Amsoil Arena in 2017 — when Michigan Tech topped UMD for the title — and was set to return in 2020, but was postponed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The result is two Ice Breaker Tournaments in 2021, with Holy Cross and the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, hosting the other a week ago.
Stark said all the hockey at Amsoil Arena this week, plus a convention and the Haunted Ship at the William A. Irvin Museum, has kept him and his staff busy, but that's a good thing.
"We had a couple of staff members that were expressing some concern that the parking lot was filling up," Stark said. "I was assuring them that would be a very good thing and a very good problem to have this many people coming back. It shows that we're kind of seeing signs of life and getting back to our sense of normalcy."
This story was updated at 8:50 p.m. on Oct. 12, 2021, with additional details from DECC director of operations Jeff Stark. It was originally posted at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 12, 2021.