There was a light airiness inside the Xcel Energy Center in the minutes leading up to Sunday’s practice. Everyone from the players to the coaches to the equipment staff looked recharged after a couple of days off.
That type of break has been rare this season amid a condensed 56-game schedule. There’s been a game pretty much every other night, and the Wild clearly started to wear down with some uninspired play as of late.
That’s why coach Dean Evason encouraged his players to unplug over the weekend. Whether that be something as simple as hanging out with the family, or hitting some golf balls on the range, Evason wanted each player to do whatever they needed to come to Sunday’s practice feeling refreshed.
“Personally, for me, I think it’s very beneficial to go home and not open the computer,” Evason said. “Just watch something else or do something else. I think it’s very healthy to get away from it for awhile. But everybody is different. It’s an individual thing.”
Regardless of what each player did with their free time, veteran center Nick Bonino made it clear that the break itself was welcomed.
“It was huge,” Bonino said. “It seems like the majority of us had COVID and then within a couple of days of recovering we were playing games every other day for 20 games or 25 games. It’s definitely nice. The body feels fresh. A couple of days off isn’t something we’ve had the luxury to have.”
It wasn’t hard for Bonino to disconnect for a couple of days. He’s learned how to compartmentalize his life whenever he’s away from the rink.
“As I’ve gotten older and been in the league long enough I’ve been able to kind of keep them separate,” Bonino said. “I think it’s impossible to keep them fully separate. If things aren’t going well at the rink the last thing I want to do is be negative around the house and bring the whole mood down. That’s something that takes some work.”
“I’m still working on it,” Evason added. “This year I haven’t produced as much as I would like. Just a little bit snakebitten. It definitely frustrates me. My wife can see it. I think the most important thing is to keep that away from the kids and be happy and be positive with them. Just work it out at the rink and work hard. That’s all I can control.”
While some of the older players like Bonino used the break as a chance to spend time with their families, younger players like Joel Eriksson Ek simply used it as a time to relax.
“Just tried to rest up and get ready for the games coming up,” Eriksson Ek said. “It’s good to get away from the rink for a couple of days. I think it’s going to be really good for the energy and the team.”
That showed during Sunday’s practice. Now the key for the Wild is making sure that energy transfers over to Monday’s game against the San Jose Sharks.
“We have an opportunity to see how we respond after this,” Evason said. “It’s not a secret that before we weren’t playing our best hockey, even if we were having some success. We have to get back to playing Minnesota Wild hockey. That’s playing with pace and playing physically and playing ultimately as a team. Not that we didn’t do that when we didn’t have our best stuff. We are just looking forward to seeing how everybody responds.”
Zach Parise (COVID protocols) will not travel with the Wild on the upcoming road trip. Marcus Foligno (lower-body injury) also won’t travel as he continues the recovery process.