ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – The Winnipeg Jets, who face the Minnesota Wild Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center, feature a Minnesota flavor.
Players are well aware of what this series could become in a rivalry that has a “State of Hockey” connection.
Dustin Byflugien brought the Stanley Cup to his home town of Roseau after winning it with Chicago. When the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, it meant Byflugien was almost back home.
“Yeah it’s close to home and it’s a good opportunity for the family to take in a lot of hockey,” Byfuglien said.
Blake Wheeler, a standout both at Breck High School and eventually at the University of Minnesota, grew into a first-round draft pick. He’s now part of the Jets, which is a little like being part of Minnesota.
“It’s very similar to here. The people there are as friendly and down to earth as you could imagine,” Wheeler said. “I think everyone’s just been really happy with how the community has embraced us there.”
And of course these two Minnesotans understand the proximity and the rivalry potential for these two franchises. That could be what’s interesting: What evolves going forward between Winnipeg and the Minnesota Wild.
The bad blood between the two teams already started in their first meeting this year when Pierre-Marc Bouchard took a hard hit into the boards and suffered a concussion. With a border battle now official, it has potential.
“Yeah they’re a close team and it’s a nice little northern rivalry. It’ll definitely get going,” Byfuglien said.
At least for one night, it’s nice for some Minnesota players to be back home.
“It kind of comes at a good time. Last night I got to go home and have a home-cooked meal. It’s a nice little break in the schedule and it’s always fun to play at this rink,” Wheeler said.