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Wild, Blues ring in new year with ice-cold Winter Classic

Sportsnaut
Dec 16, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba (24) watches his shot against the Buffalo Sabres in the second period at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 16, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba (24) watches his shot against the Buffalo Sabres in the second period at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues will return to their roots when they face off in an outdoor rink Saturday night in the NHL Winter Classic at Target Field in Minneapolis.

One thing is for sure: The ice will not melt.

The high temperature for Saturday is forecast to be minus-3 degrees. The low temperature is forecast to be a whopping minus-21 degrees.

Wild forward Nick Bjugstad is no stranger to the elements. The 29-year-old grew up in the state and played collegiately for the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

“I remember my dad taking me out (as a kid) and my feet being so cold,” Bjugstad said. “He’d run my feet under cold water. That would actually warm my feet up, and then we would go back out. It was the best time to play hockey as a kid and the most fun.”

Wild forward Marcus Foligno agreed. He grew up playing outdoor hockey in Sudbury, Ontario.

“It’s so much fun,” Foligno said. “After school, you tell your buddies, ‘Hey, let’s meet here at 5 o’clock,’ and then before you know it you have 20 people out there playing.”

Both teams have had their share of fun this season heading into the marquee matchup.

St. Louis has 41 points in 32 games and has outscored opponents 110-87.

Meanwhile, Minnesota has 40 points in 30 games and has outscored opponents 112-92.

This will be the second outdoor game for each team. The Wild cruised to a 6-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2016 NHL Stadium Series at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota’s campus. The Blues played outside in the 2017 NHL Winter Classic at Busch Stadium, where they posted a 4-1 win over the Blackhawks.

Vladimir Tarasenko scored two goals in a span of less than two minutes in the Blues’ first outdoor game. He is one of three players still on the team for St. Louis who took part in the 2017 contest, joining Colton Parayko and David Perron.

This season, Tarasenko has 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 32 games. He said he was looking forward to another outdoor experience.

“Not many teams have a chance to play (in the Winter Classic), and this is my second time,” Tarasenko said. “So I’m really looking forward to it, even if it is (as) cold as in Siberia.”

Blues head coach Craig Berube said the team’s equipment staff would do their best.

“I believe they’ll take care of the players and keep them as warm as they can,” Berube said. “Our strength coach has already discussed some things with them that they can do, which is important. … They’re going to do what they can do to keep everybody safe and warm.”

Kirill Kaprizov leads the Wild with 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists) in 30 games on the season. Ryan Hartman is next on the club with 26 points (14 goals, 12 assists) in 30 games.

Wild defenseman Matt Dumba said he was eager to experience the stadium’s atmosphere.

“There’s something about it, just the energy of it,” Dumba said. “That comes from where we first fell in love with hockey and the reasons why we did.”

–Field Level Media