Wild in Worthington
WORTHINGTON — With temperatures in the mid-80s and a noticeable level of humidity, Thursday hardly seemed like hockey weather.
Wild veteran winger Matt Cooke, who won a Stanley Cup in 2009 as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, former team captain and current broadcaster Wes Walz and TV analyst Mike Greenlay were in Worthington Thursday as part of the Minnesota Wild Road Tour. The trio was on the Western Leg of the Tour from Tuesday through Thursday and was one of three groups that traveled the state this week to meet some of their fans. The tour leads into the Wild’s Summer Bash at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul tonight.
A steady stream of people came through the arena Thursday for the entire hour the team was visiting. Fans had a chance to get autographs and photos taken with the players along with just getting a chance to chat with some of members of their favorite squad.
Walz, a member of the Wild from 2000-2007, took part in his eighth Road Tour out of 13 total this summer. He said it has been fun to watch it grow along with the popularity of the team since it began taking tours in 2002.
“It’s amazing how much this has grown,” Walz said during his stop in Worthington. “We get 200-600 fans at every stop and when we started in the early 2000s we’d have places where we wouldn’t get more than 50-100 people.”
Both ends of that spectrum were available in Worthington. While Walz is the seasoned veteran of Summer Road Tours, Cooke was participating in his first. The 2013-14 season was his first in Minnesota after spending time in Vancouver, Washington and Pittsburgh.
He said none of his previous stops have had anything similar to the Road Tour and that it was his “first venture into the wilderness.”
“We’ve had overwhelming support,” Cooke said. “It’s amazing how some of these kids have stood in line all day just for a chance to get our autograph. It really shows us, as players, how into what we’ve done as a team our fans really are.”
The Wild are coming off of a season during which they advanced out of the first round of the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history — winning a thrilling 7-game series against Colorado — before losing in 6 games against the then defending-champion Chicago Blackhawks.
While fans of all ages get the opportunity to meet some of their heroes, the tour is something both Walz and Cooke said means a lot to them as well.
“It’s great,” Walz said. “You always get to meet a lot of nice people. But the best is seeing the kids. Their eyes are always just wide open when they come up and talk to you. It really makes me remember when I was a little kid doing the same things and how much of a thrill it was for me to meet the guys I watched on TV.”
“The biggest thing is just the great interactions that we get to have with the fans,” Cooke said. “It proves for us that the Wild are a lot bigger than just the Twin Cities. We have tremendous support throughout the whole state.”