Even though it's now summer and the weather is finally feeling more like the hot, sticky Minnesota weather that we all know and love, it's never too early to think about hockey.
That's the idea behind the Minnesota Wild's third annual road tour presented by Wells Fargo that's stopping in 23 cities in Minnesota and North and South Dakota over four days.
And one of those cities once again was Brainerd. Wild defenseman Brad Bombardir, Grass Roots Hockey Advisor and Minnesota's hockey son Neal Broten, team amateur scout Glen Sonmor and television analyst Tom Reid stopped at the Brainerd Area Civic Center Friday to sign autographs and give a little something back to the fans that have supported the Wild for the past two years.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Bombardir finished his second season with the Wild and his fifth in the NHL. He spent three seasons with the New Jersey Devils before joining the Wild.
As Bombardir points out, it's important to get out to meet and talk with the fans that don't get a chance to watch them down in St. Paul.
"It's very important for us to get out, especially in a state like Minnesota," said Bombardir, "because the state is really made up of the people in the surrounding areas. It's also nice to get out and meet some fans because we have great hockey fans that really appreciate hockey."
Broten, the Roseau native, has been a legend in the Minnesota hockey scene since his days with the Golden Gophers and North Stars. He agreed with Bombardir about the importance of meeting the fans.
"It's kind of nice to take a few days in the summer and visit the state and see some different territory," said Broten. "It's just nice to get out in the community, get a little feedback and talk a little hockey. We want to give back and hear what the people have to say about the Wild."
Cindy Alto of Walker, her children Chaning, Shae, Mallory and their friend T.J. Knowles, all came down to Brainerd to meet the Wild contingent.
"These guys are big time hockey fans," Cindy said pointing to the kids. "They wanted to see Brad and get his autograph. We thought it started at 11 this morning so we've been waiting quite a while. We canceled music lessons in order to hang out here but it was worth it."
As far as how close the Wild are to that all important breakout year, Bombardir feels the team's on the right track.
"I think we're getting close," Bombardir said. "It's a five-year process that has been set out and in the first two years we've seen progress each year. Now we just need to find another 20 or so points to make it to the playoffs.
"I hate to use the 'P' word quite yet but hopefully in the near future we're going to be able to make that step to the playoffs."
Bombardir said the fans can expect another year marked with improvement and a team that prides itself on giving the fans their best effort game in and game out.
"The fans can look forward to a team that comes out and plays hard every night," the defenseman said. "There are 20 players that'll give what they've got in order to get the best result on the board."
Broten has been involved with the franchise since he first skated out to show the state what the Wild's jerseys would look like. Like Bombardir, Broten also has high hopes for the Wild.
"What's so fulfilling about it is to see the popularity of the franchise," Broten said. "The NHL was in Minnesota for a long time and then the team left. Now we have a new franchise and it's just fantastic that we got them back.
"We hope that the Wild will be here forever. We want to win games, make the playoffs and one day win the Stanley Cup. That will always be the goal and it would be great for the fans that support us."
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