ST. PAUL — As if he didn’t already have enough credibility as a four-time Stanley Cup champion, new general manager Bill Guerin wanted to leave a lasting impression on the night before the Wild hit the ice for training camp.
He gathered his players in the basement of TRIA Rink and delivered a rousing speech, effectively turning the page on Paul Fenton’s maligned tenure in the Twin Cities, and shifting the focus ahead to everything in store this season.
“All I know is Billy G’s speech in the locker room had me ready to run through a wall,” Wild defenseman Matt Dumba said. “I love this guy’s intensity.”
In his speech, Guerin stressed the importance of winning, whether it’s on the ice, in the workout room or playing cards, as well as the steps that go into winning.
“He knows what it takes to get there,” winger Zach Parise said. “He didn’t speak for very long. It was more so, ‘Let’s set our personal agendas aside and figure it out as a group.’ I think everybody is taking that personal. We want to be a part of that and are buying into that.”
Ask pretty much anyone about Guerin, and chances are they will mention the energy he brings. It’s not so much that he’s a cheerleader running around the team facility. It’s more that he has a no-nonsense demeanor that comes across as very authentic.
“You definitely want to play for a guy like that,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “He just seems like a good leader for the organization, and that’s someone we need.”
It’s clear that things already feel different with Guerin in charge.
“It’s almost that he’s intimidating, which I think is a good thing,” Parise said with a smile. “There should be that little bit of fear from our boss. That will be really good for us.”
Everyone knows about coach Bruce Boudreau’s vaunted first-day skate test, and even though some players prepare for it, there’s nothing quite like the real thing.
“You have that hard practice before and there’s that anxiety that’s lingering throughout the whole practice,” Parise said. “That makes it harder than it actually is.”
“We have 60 guys talking about it, so it’s tough to avoid,” Foligno said. “This is the best I’ve felt all summer now that the skate test is over.”
Most everyone passed with flying colors, with Dumba, Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter finishing among the most impressive. Then there was winger Victor Rask, who struggled mightily, and actually got a morale boost when Parise, winger Mats Zucarrello and defenseman Greg Pateryn jumped over the boards to skate alongside him for his final rep.
“We were all thinking the same thing,” Parise said. “You don’t want to leave a guy out there struggling with it. Through everything, we just want to stick together. It’s just letting the guys know that everyone is there with him helping him along.”
Drew Stafford is in training camp on a professional tryout, and while he’s a long shot to make the roster, he did the same thing last season with the New Jersey Devils and ended up earning a contract.
“It’s definitely challenging,” said Stafford, who lives in Edina. “That said, I’ve been around long enough where I know what I need to do here to make an impact. Not really focused on lineups. Just a matter of doing what I can.”
After nearly coming to the Wild via trade earlier in his career, Stafford is excited for the chance with the hometown team.
“It’s a great fit for the family and for myself,” he said. “It feels like it’s been a long time coming. Hopefully it’ll work out.”