DULUTH — Minnesota Wild coach Dean Evason would neither confirm nor deny that the staff, in fact, lost to the players in a Ryder Cup-style competition earlier this week.
With the Wild on a team-building trip up north, while the overall goal was to strengthen team chemistry, the logistics of the trip itself centered on a round of golf at Northland Country Club.
For the record, the players did indeed beat the staff in the friendly competition, though Evason still wasn’t ready to admit that Tuesday after a fun practice at Amsoil Arena.
“What’s the question?” Evason joked when asked about the final score. “I don’t know what the score was yesterday. I know (general manager Bill Guerin) and I won our match. That’s it.”
Told that Evason wasn’t ready to confirm the news, veteran defenseman Alex Goligoski smiled and quipped, “Yeah? Well, I will.”
That was the tenor of pretty much everyone in the locker room. Especially winger Marcus Foligno.
“It’s such a good feeling in our room right now knowing that we beat those guys yesterday,” Foligno said. “We had some guys that weren’t expected to win matches, and they did. It just goes to show that we’re going to get a lot contributions from everyone on this team this season.”
All jokes aside, the Wild clearly enjoyed their bonding trip to Duluth. Whether it was the 2 1/2 hours on the the team bus, the round of golf at Northland or the various stories around the campfire at the the Larsmont Cottages, everyone had a blast.
That was the goal with the season opener against the Ducks coming up on Friday night in Anaheim.
“Just to get the group together and spend some time together,” Evason said. “I think there were like 20 people in the sauna, and guys jumping in the lake, and team dinners together. What we liked is that it wasn’t one table full of the Swedes, or one table full of Americans or Canadians, or a couple of Russians. It was the Minnesota Wild players all together. That’s certainly what we were looking for.”
Wait. What’s this about jumping in the lake?
“That was much needed after a little bit of a long night,” Foligno said of the dip in Lake Superior. “It looks like an ocean. I never really got close to it until yesterday. It was a lot of fun.”
Apparently the whole team jumped in, though some needed less convincing than others.
“I’m from Northern Ontario, man,” Foligno said with a laugh. “You don’t have to tell me twice. I’ll go right in there. That’s all part of rehab and doing all that stuff. But it woke the brain up a little bit.”
It was back to work on Tuesday as the Wild hosted a lengthy afternoon practice at Amsoil Arena that featured hundreds of fans in attendance.
“It was fun to get a practice in after a fun couple of days,” Goligoski said. “For them to see the Wild up here is kind of a cool thing. I think everyone enjoyed it. Both us and them.”
The actual practice was clearly tailored to the fans with a lot of skating up and down, and even better, a lot of pretty goals.
“It was the most offensive practice we’ve had,” Foligno joked, “I felt like (Kirill Kaprizov) out there. It felt really good. It was a lot of fun.”
As everyone filed onto the team bus headed back to the Twin Cities, the smiles from the players and coaches alike were impossible to miss. This wasn’t an option last season during the heart of the pandemic.
“It was missed, for sure,” Evason said. “That type of bonding situation that a team needs to go through to become a close group. We want them to be as close as we possibly can to give us an opportunity to have success on the ice. If we’re close off the ice, clearly we’re going to be closer on the ice.”