ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - It’s a Minnesota homecoming for a handful players taking the ice in Tuesday night’s Minnesota Wild game against the New York Rangers.
Among them is former University of Minnesota Gopher Nick Seeler, who will be making his NHL debut with the Wild after getting the call up from Iowa. Seeler also hails from Eden Prairie.
“It’s gotten a little better, but definitely still have those nerves,” said Seeler. “I said yesterday I’m just going to try to get a good experience, a good game tonight.”
Wild left wing and Zach Parise can speak from experience. As a Minneapolis native, he knows what it means to want to impress the home crowd.
“I bet he’ll be a little nervous, but it’s always an exciting time when you’re playing your first NHL game and like I said especially for him being from here,” said Parise. “I bet it’s going to be a cool experience.”
Also playing front of his home fans in an NHL sweater for the first time is former Gopher, current New York Rangers center Vinni Lettieri, who is from Excelsior, Minn.
“It was good to be home over the All-Star break for a bit,” said Lettieri. “But then coming back for the real test and playing the Minnesota Wild is pretty special. A lot of family coming tonight. It’s also really special for Neal [Pionk]. Obviously he’s been here a few times, but still anytime you come home and you’re playing in front of your home fans and your family, it’s pretty special.”
Lettieri and Seeler were team mates at the U, but they won’t be the only Minnesotans at the game. Other Minnesota natives on the rosters for the Rangers and Wild include: Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei of Lakeville, Rangers defenseman Neal Pionk of Hermantown, Rangers defenseman and captain Ryan McDonagh of St. Paul, Wild forward Matt Cullen of Virginia, Wild defenseman Nate Prosser of Elk River and Wild goalie Alex Stalock of St. Paul.
“I played with [Lettieri] when I was at the U for a couple years and he’s definitely a character, a great kid,” said Seeler. “It’ll be fun to be out there with him and also Brady Skjei is going to be out there tonight too. He played when I was on my transfer year, he was on the squad. So it’ll be good to see those guys. It’s kinda nice to see familiar faces for your first game I guess.”
The pressure may be on for Seeler for a strong debut, but Minnesota Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau says that might just be the right driving force.
“You just want to put on a good show because you’re going to get, especially in today, tons of texts after the game and you’ll want to be good,” said Boudreau. “You want to show everybody that hey I made it.”