Nick Bjugstad took the ice for Friday’s morning skate at Xcel Energy Center, and his eyes immediately went to the stands.
With no fans allowed inside the arena this season — aside from roughly 150 people comprised of family and friends — the Wild added a nice touch to game days by placing various high school hockey jerseys in the seats behind the benches. Some were accompanied by a picture of a current boy or girl from the respective program.
“It looks cool,” said Bjugstad, who was named Minnesota Mr. Hockey while starring at Blaine High School. “The first jersey I saw, and I’m not lying, was Blaine, so that was pretty cool. It’s cool they put some heads in there, too. They are doing their best here with what they can.”
That’s the name of the game this season. While there won’t be fans in attendance for the foreseeable future, the goal for the Wild is to make game day feel as authentic as possible for the players.
That means pregame introductions, piped in crowd noise, and even the team’s mascot, Nordy, aimlessly wandering around in the stands. All of those things were on display in Friday’s home opener against the San Jose Sharks.
“It’s not the same as the bubble,” captain Jared Spurgeon said. “As weird as it sounds, we are kind of used to it by now.”
That doesn’t mean there weren’t borderline laughable moments during the actual game. Like when public address announcer Adam Abrams implored the empty arena to welcome the Wild to the ice before warmups. Or when the jumbotron displayed a prompt telling fans to make some noise. Both asks were met with silence.
Needless to say, there isn’t exactly a tangible home-ice advantage at the moment. That said, coach Dean Evason wants his team to take pride in playing at home regardless.
“It’s still our house, and we want to make it difficult for teams to come in here and play,” said Evason, who noted there’s a palpable buzz around the city with the Wild sitting at 4-1-0. “The Twin Cities will give us energy even if (the fans) are not sitting in the seats.”
Maybe the biggest personal touch this season is the players got to pick the goal song. There was chatter about each player potentially having an individual goal song, though that idea was nixed by the leadership group.
Instead, the Wild have decided to go with “Jump Around” by House of Pain whenever they score a goal. It’s unclear how much say University of Wisconsin alumnus Ryan Suter had in the final decision, or how University of Minnesota alumnus Bjugstad feels about the choice of the Madison favorite.
“That was actually my goal song,” Marcus Foligno said with a laugh. “I got confused there for a second. I guess it’s ‘Jump Around’ for a bit. We were supposed to have individual goal songs and that didn’t happen. I picked ‘Jump Around,’ and it was probably the best idea so that’s what we stuck with.”
In total, the Wild got to hear “Jump Around” more than enough times in a 4-1 win over the Sharks. Whenever fans are allowed back inside Xcel Energy Center, it’s not hard to imagine the stands rocking after each goal.
“It’s pretty brutal playing with no fans, especially on what should be a fun, exciting, entertaining, night,” Zach Parise said. “You miss having the crowd and that noise. We are looking forward to getting some people in the stands here.”