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I’m thankful for in-person Wild hockey

Thanksgiving has come and gone, but it’s always good to be thankful for hockey, especially Wild hockey.

Minnesota Wild v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

It was a frigid and windy night in Newark on Wednesday. With the wind blowing in my face after walking out of the automatic rotating door at the airport, I had one mission in mind: Get to the game. The plane arrived right on time, and I had plenty of time to get to the Prudential Center, but the excitement was swelling up like a nasty bruise from a hard slapshot or an aggressive slash. It was hard to contain the giddiness that I found sitting in my chest.

Any time the chance to watch live hockey arises, that feeling of excitement makes its presence well known. However, this night was a little different. It was different, not only because I wasn’t at my local Bridgestone Arena watching a Nashville Predators game, but I got to watch the Minnesota Wild play for the first time in over a year, and it was against the New Jersey Devils. They have had some crazy narratives develop over this early set of games.

Thanks to the pandemic, the NHL changed the divisions for the shortened 2020-21 season. The Wild moved to the Pacific Division, but the unfortunate part about all of this is that I wouldn’t get the opportunity to watch the majority of NHL teams when they visited Nashville. Of course, I wasn’t as invested in the team from Minnesota as I am now, but I’ve always kept tabs on them, considering it seems like half of their roster is made up of former Predators.

Not everything is all rainbows and sunshine, so naturally, we had to wait for the madness to begin due to some crazy news regarding the Wild’s travel plan being thrown off due to the closure of the Holland Tunnel. But when it all started, there was absolutely no way to take my eyes off of it.

Since the last time I watched the Wild was before the 2020-21 season, I never got the chance to watch their star that took the big stage by storm last year, Kirill Kaprizov, in-person. Obviously, I watched him on television (I think everyone did, considering the draw he had), but watching him with my very own eyes was a luxury that I couldn’t afford. Fortunately, that all changed.

It’s one thing to watch him on a screen and see that he’s an excellent player, but it sticks to you almost immediately when you watch him live. Even in warmups, some of the things he was doing with his skating were astonishing. He’s simply mesmerizing. The way he uses his edges and works the mohawk turn to his advantage is fantastic, and it shows you how good of a player he is. It also looked as if he was running through specific scenarios in his head. He fanned on a shot towards the end, left the puck, and used his inside edges to open up for a slapshot. He did some passing exercises as well. Not only does the kid have tremendous skating ability, but his puck skills are supremely impressive.

Even though he didn’t have the most outstanding showing with no registered points on the score sheet, and he wasn’t constantly threatening throughout the game, there’s something about his presence with the puck that forces teams to adapt. If you give him enough room, he will make you pay. The Devils made sure that that did not happen as much as possible. He did have the second-highest expected goals total on the team, so that’s reassuring, but his overall effect on the game wasn’t very substantial.

It was an absolute treat to watch such a cornerstone in person for the very first time. It was hard to watch him absolutely dominate the league with no fans in the stands. Any time I can see a young player with a very bright future is a great time. It was a treat. It was wild.

Yes, that pun is intended. Not only was the atmosphere great, but the night started with the Wild showing up late to the arena due to the closure of the Holland Tunnel. It certainly wasn’t anything I expected to see when I checked Twitter, but it was a bit peculiar that at 6:33 p.m., the teams hadn’t shown up for warmups, and there was still tons of time on the clock.

Once they did, it was a great experience. There were chances back and forth the entire game, and the number of posts that both teams hit, especially the Devils, was unbelievable. Of course, the Wild held on to win 3-2 in the shootout, and it wasn’t the most memorable score line or a game with an insane highlight, but all I can tell you is that it was well worth the watch.

You never really understand how much hockey means in your life until it is taken away from you. That’s exactly what happened in 2020. Even when hockey came back, it wasn’t the entire experience. Not getting the chance to watch all 31 teams (at the time) in-person made it harder to make my analysis as spot-on as possible. It’s hard as a writer, and as a fan of the game and great hockey, it’s harder. The best thing is that the NHL schedule is back to normal, which means I, like many other fans, get to watch teams like the Wild again. It was exhilarating and a realization of how much this team and sport means to me.