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Minnesota Wild among few NHL teams to dodge COVID as virus spreads

While most of the league has shut down through the holiday break, the Wild played Monday night in Dallas.

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Minnesota Wild left wing Marcus Foligno (17) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 12, 20221, in Las Vegas.
Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA Today Sports

ST. PAUL -- Aside from the teams the NHL has actually shut down because of COVID outbreaks in their locker rooms, the Minnesota Wild might be the team most impacted by the recent uptick in COVID cases.

Though the Wild did not have anyone in COVID protocol as of Monday afternoon, they have had three games postponed in the past week through no fault of their own. That includes recent games against Carolina on Dec. 14 and Florida on Dec. 18, as well as their next home game, Thursday against Detroit.

The Wild were set to play the Stars on Monday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas. It was the only game on the NHL schedule on Monday night with a number of teams shutting down operations through the holiday break.

In a lengthy chat with reporters on Sunday, Wild alternate captain Marcus Foligno opened up about the past week, admitting it has been tough on the players.

“It’s just so crazy to see how fast it’s spread and how many teams have gotten it,” Foligno said. “Just seems like we’re hearing more and more cases coming out. Obviously this variant that’s come out is more contagious, and we’re doing our part to make sure we don’t get it.”

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Asked how frustrating the start-and-stop nature of the past week has been for his team, coach Dean Evason refused to make excuses. As much as he feels for his players, he repeated the same phrases he has uttered so often throughout the pandemic: “It’s the way the world is now.”

“You just have to get ready and adapt to whatever presents itself,” he added. “It’s disruptive, obviously. But our group has proven that it doesn’t matter to them. We expect them to be ready to go.”

As a result of the rise in COVID numbers, the league recently adopted enhanced measures that will remain in effect through the holiday season, with the NHL and the league’s players association scheduled to re-evaluate things by Jan. 7. Some of the most notable changes include daily testing throughout the league, wearing masks while in team facilities and during travel, and no indoor dining on the road.

“I think guys are a little frustrated by it,” Wild winger Rem Pitlick said. “I think everyone can draw back on their experience last season. It’s not something that’s new or foreign, so we can all shift back into that mindset and be successful despite the circumstances.”

For the Wild, the threat of COVID is especially nerve wracking with the Winter Classic coming up on New Year’s Day at Target Field. Though nobody wants to contract the virus at any point, the Wild and the St. Louis Blues might be the teams with the most to lose with the NHL’s annual showcase spectacle right around the corner.

As the NHL commences its holiday break in the coming days, both the Wild and Blues will have to be extremely careful. A positive test would most likely prohibit a player from playing in the Winter Classic.

“It’s just reality,” Foligno said. “We try to stay healthy on the ice to get to the Winter Classic. Now we have to dodge things off the ice. It’s part of what we’re doing here. And we’re just hoping to have a full roster come Jan 1.”

As the Wild’s player representative, Foligno has spent the past week on various phone calls dealing with COVID. He said a main topic of conversation has been the NHL’s participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics, which open Feb. 5 in Beijing. On Sunday, the NHL and NHLPA announced that they will make a decision in the coming days.

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“You’re hearing a lot of guys be iffy about it,” Foligno said. “It’s not a positive thing right now going to the Olympics.”

In that same breath Foligno had sympathy for players who might still want to go.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some of these guys,” he said. “They all have the right to go and to play and represent their country. I feel bad for the guys involved in it because it’s a tough decision.”

Briefly
While the Wild made the trek to Dallas for their final game before the holiday break, winger Jordan Greenway did not. He stayed home to rehab a minor lower-body injury. To fill his roster spot for the game, the Wild recalled winger Mason Shaw from the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League.

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