SUNRISE, Fla. — Longtime fan favorite Andrew Brunette is the architect of the most electrifying moment the Minnesota Wild have ever experienced as a franchise.

Most fans remember exactly where they were on April 22, 2003, when Brunette scored in overtime of Game 7 to help the Wild knock the rival Colorado Avalanche out of the playoffs. He got the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, dipsy-doodled around a couple of defenders, and beat legendary goaltender Patrick Roy with a highlight-reel goal that will live forever.

After his playing career ended, the man affectionately known as “Bruno” by his peers wore many hats for the Wild, serving as everything from an assistant coach behind the bench to a valuable member of the front office.

“He’s a fan favorite for a reason,” Wild captain Jared Spurgeon said. “He’s such a personable guy and treats everyone with respect. He’s got such a contagious laugh and he’s always happy. He does mean a lot to Minnesota.” At that moment, Spurgeon flashed a big smile before delivering the punchline like only he could, adding, “He’s the enemy tonight.”


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Wild winger Brandon Duhaime prepares for South Florida homecoming

Yes, as the Wild prepared for the Florida Panthers on Saturday night at FLA Live Arena, they also prepared to play Brunette for the first time as the man in charge. He took over the Panthers after former coach Joel Quenneville resigned last month.

How was Brunette feeling heading into the game against his former team?

“It’s nostalgic,” he said. “I spent a huge portion of my life in that organization with those people.”

While the Wild and Panthers were opponents on Saturday night, Brunette made some time on Friday night to catch up with assistant coach Darby Hendrickson, equipment manager Tony DaCosta, and video coach Jonas Plumb, among others.

“You see the guys last night and (think about) the old stories and fun times we had,” Brunette said. “It makes it a little bit tough. I didn’t think it would until (I saw) them. I thought it’d be a lot easier.”

There were some heartwarming moments as Brunette addressed the media in the hours leading up to the game on Saturday night. He mentioned Wild radio announcer Tom Reid by name during his press conference, inciting laughter from everyone in attendance, and exchanged pleasantries with reporters for a few minutes after he stepped away from the podium.

It’s clear how much Brunette meant to everyone he came into contact during his time in the Twin Cities.

“He’s a big part of this organization, right?” Wild coach Dean Evason said. “I don’t know him as well as everybody (else), but I got to know him the bit that we overlapped when I got here. He’s an extremely passionate person that absolutely loves the game.”

As for the actual game between the Wild and the Panthers, Brunette expected the emotions to dissipate as soon as the puck dropped. He’s been through this before as a player, too, and admitted, “It’s definitely never fun, these games.”