Take it outside: Wild players practice out in the open

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  • Minnesota Wild
    Minnesota Wild
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  • Marcus Foligno
    Marcus Foligno
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They skated in the morning instead of at night, and there wasn't an outfield just beyond the boards.

But Wild players had the upcoming Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Target Field against the Blues on their minds while practicing outside on Saturday at the Recreation Outdoor Center in St. Louis Park.

"We're excited to play that Winter Classic game," alternate captain Marcus Foligno said. "Getting a feel out here, outside, it was kind of like the pregame before that game. It was a lot of fun."

Fresh off a 7-1 dusting of the Jets on Friday afternoon at the beginning of a five-game homestand, the Wild prepared for another matinee Sunday at Xcel Energy Center against the Lightning in front of a boisterous crowd that roared as players tossed pucks into the stands at the end of the session.

The cheers for Kirill Kaprizov, who helped spearhead that lopsided win over Winnipeg with a four-point effort, were particularly loud.

"Our fans have been absolutely incredible all year," coach Dean Evason said. "For them to have the ability to get close to us like they did today was exciting for us, as well."

Not only was the sun out during practice, but the temperate was in the 30s Fahrenheit. That might not be the case on New Year's Day; last Jan. 1, when the Wild was originally scheduled to host the Winter Classic before it was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the temperature in Minneapolis maxed out in the 20s.

"This was perfect today," Blaine native Nick Bjugstad said. "If we get mid-30s, that would work. It'd be ideal. But January, I don't know if it's going to be so forgiving then. You feel it out. We've all had the cold feet, cold fingers. I'm sure the adrenaline will just kick in. It'll be a game to remember."

What might be the same are the ice conditions.

"Late in periods or late in games, I think you're going to have to play smart and move your feet more than moving your hands," Foligno explained. "I think the puck will start bouncing a little bit. Out here I think you saw guys taking one-timers and they were going sky high. So, just to be smart with where we shoot and how much we shoot come towards the end of periods. I expect the puck to be a little bouncy then."

A limited number of tickets are still available for the Winter Classic through Ticketmaster, the Wild said, and tickets are also on sale for the Winter Classic New Year's Eve Bash at Xcel Energy Center featuring country music singer Thomas Rhett.

More details on the Winter Classic are expected to be announced in the coming days, and behind-the-scenes action of the lead-up to the game will air weekly starting Wednesday during TNT's NHL coverage.

"They'll see how light this team is and joking," Foligno said. "We're all really close this year. They're going to see a tight-knit group, and guys like to have fun. It's been a good season so far, a lot of positives."

There's plenty more hockey to be played, with 14 more games scheduled until the Winter Classic. But the Wild is looking forward to the unique opportunity.

"You're in the moment now and when it comes, that's when the excitement will kind of hit," Bjugstad said. "It's kind of crazy that I'm playing an outdoor game in Minnesota with my hometown team. I'm sure that'll sink in probably a few days before. Yeah, the excitement's there, but there's not too much talk about it yet. I'm sure once Christmas comes around, it'll be a big topic."