ST. PAUL — In a normal year, the Wild would be sipping cocktails somewhere on Lake Minnetonka right about now. Even if they made a run at the Stanley Cup, the NHL offseason is usually in full swing by late July, with mini-workouts to follow in early August.
That’s obviously not the case as the coronavirus pandemic stopped everything in its tracks a few months ago.
Thus, nearly 150 days removed from their last game in mid-March, the Wild will hit the ice on Wednesday afternoon at Rogers Place for the most oddly timed exhibition game in franchise history. The outcome of the game against the Colorado Avalanche is meaningless since the result won’t matter.
But Wild coach Dean Evason plans to take it very seriously, knowing that the team’s series against the Vancouver Canucks starts this weekend.
“We are going to treat it just like a game,” the coach said. “As far as the group, we have a thought process of what we want to do. Not prepared to reveal that yet. We’re going to go forward, hopefully, with the intent of having success in that exhibition game and then going forward into the qualifier.”
You can read between the lines and assume that means the Wild will be using the same lineup that they plan to use in Game 1 of the qualifying series against the Canucks.
Throughout training camp, Evason has maintained the same lines and defensive pairings. On the attack, Eric Staal centers Jordan Greenway and Kevin Fiala; Joel Eriksson Ek centers Zach Parise and Luke Kunin; Alex Galchenyuk centers Marcus Foligno and Mats Zuccarello; and Mikko Koivu centers Ryan Donato and Ryan Hartman. On defense, Ryan Suter plays with Jared Spurgeon; Jonas Brodin plays with Matt Dumba, and Carson Soucy plays with Brad Hunt.
Meanwhile, Evason confirmed that Alex Stalock will start between in goal and Devan Dubnyk will relieve him at some point during the 60 minutes.
“I think the big thing is getting back into a pregame routine,” Stalock said. “Just following the daily process leading up to a game and getting everything back and feeling comfortable and feeling normal. And obviously, going through a full warmup, getting on the ice, getting the start, getting some contact and some traffic, all that will be good.”
While it’s still unclear who starts in goal on Game 1 of the qualifying series against the Canucks, the fact Stalock is getting the start in the exhibition game could speak volumes.
Not that Evason is ready to confirm anything at this point.
“I wouldn’t read into that,” Evason said. “Obviously, it’s a lot like any other situation with training camp. Clearly evaluations are always going on. It’s no different (on Wednesday).”
Nonetheless, the exhibition game against the Avalanche will be welcomed for everyone involved.
“We can do as many scrimmages as we want against each other and we still aren’t running over each other,” Spurgeon said. “You’re bumping and all that. It’s just not the same as a real game. To be able to get the exhibition game in will definitely help.”
Not to mention it will be fun for the Wild to get the competitive juices flowing after so much time away.
“The guys are going to be jacked, for sure,” Evason said. “Hopefully we did the right things throughout the last few weeks to prepare ourselves. It will be a great test going forward. We’re looking forward to seeing where we’re at and I’m sure they are as well.”