Found January 22, 2012 on Fox Sports North:
ROSEVILLE, Minn. -- Matt Cullen was remembering some of his most cherished hockey memories on Sunday, recalling the days when he played outdoors with friends. For the 35-year old center for the Minnesota Wild, those days can often seem like distant memories. Cullen and the Wild had the chance to relive their past glory days with an outdoor practice on Sunday. "Most of my great hockey memories are on the backyard rink as a kid anyway," Cullen said. "We had so much fun playing. We had a silver bucket. We played for the silver bucket. That was the Stanley Cup for us. It was great. We had so much fun out there." There wasn't a silver bucket or cup to play for on Sunday but Minnesota was back outside, holding a short practice open to the public at the Guidant John Rose MN Oval in Roseville. Hundreds of fans attended the second outdoor practice in Wild history. The team also had a similar event last season in Roseville and Minnesota unveiled its first official home sweater at the location in 1999 after it was awarded an expansion franchise. Following Hockey Day in Minnesota on Saturday -- which included a 5-2 Wild win at home against the Dallas Stars -- Sunday's practice was the culmination of a weekend which celebrated the sport in Minnesota. Even for professional players, including those from Minnesota like Cullen and rookies Chad Rau and Nate Prosser, playing outdoors again was a special moment. "It was awesome," said Prosser, who was recalled from the minor-league Houston Aeros on Friday. "This was perfect. I wish we could do this every day. It's fun getting out here and seeing all these little kids out here. When I was growing up on the outdoor rinks is where we all started. It's just perfect." The Wild have held practices open to the public in the past, often doing so during training camp, but being outside offered a different atmosphere. There was a bit of rain and sleet and the temperatures hovered around the mid-20s, but it didn't keep the fans away. "You see all the kids and you are right there with them," Cullen said. "They are all fired up. I've got mine here. It's just kind of a cool day and a fun atmosphere." Cullen, a 14-year NHL veteran, grew up in Moorhead and was honored before Saturday's game for playing in 1,000 career NHL games. Sunday's practice was low-key and finished with a round of four-on-four shinny hockey. On what would have been a typical day off for the Wild, players and coaches wanted to honor the fans. Coach Mike Yeo, who had his own memories of playing outside, said he didn't have to persuade the players despite the usual off-day. "This is a thing that is much different than going to the rink and working D-zone coverage," Yeo said. "Today we came out and had a little bit of fun. These guys are men, but they're little boys when they get out on an ice surface like this." Yeo even put in his pitch for the Twin Cities to be considered for the Winter Classic, the NHL's annual outdoor game. "This is a place where people have grown up playing outdoors," Yeo said. "So I don't think you could find a market where people would appreciate an outdoor game as much as they would here." Perhaps proving Yeo's point about the tradition of hockey in Minnesota, Prosser remembered his earliest days about skating outside. "I just remember my first try at skating was on an outdoor rink, pushing a chair when I just started to walk," said Prosser, an Elk River native. "It brings back some good memories." Sunday's practice ended a whirlwind few hours for Eden Prairie native Chad Rau too. Rau was called up with Prosser from Houston on Friday and made his NHL debut Saturday night, scoring the game-winner for his first NHL goal. "It reminds me of my youth, skating out here with my buddies, strapping on the pads and playing," Rau said. "It's just been fun. It was a really exciting day." The Guidant John Rose MN OVAL is the largest outdoor refrigerated skating facility in North America, featuring a 110,000 square-foot slab of concrete use for ice sports.
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