NEW ULM - The first leg of the Minnesota Wild Road Tour made its final stop Wednesday in New Ulm at the Civic Center to meet fans and sign autographs.
The stop in New Ulm also served as a fundraiser for the New Ulm Youth Hockey Association.
The Road Tour is a four-day, three-leg, tour that includes 19 cities and 12 celebrity guests. Leg one's guests were Charlie Coyle, Matt Kassian, Antti Laaksonen, and Mike Greenlay.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Current members of the Minnesota Wild Hockey team Matt Kassian (left) and Charlie Coyle (middle) sign autographs Wednesday at the New Ulm Civic Center. Also signing autographs were former player Antti Laaksonen (not pictured) and television announcer Mike Greenlay (not pictured).
Coyle, just 20 years old, is looking to make his first NHL team after spending a season and a half at Boston University and half of a season playing for the Saint John Sea Dogs.
"I haven't ever experienced anything like this before," Coyle said. "This has always been a dream of mine and so far the experience has been great."
Kassian, who has played in a total of 28 games over the past two seasons for the Wild, has scored two NHL goals.
"It has been an absolute blast," Kassian said of the tour. "Anytime you can get out and have an opportunity like this, you know it is a great opportunity to give back to the fans. It is, but you also have to feel a little guilty because of all the enjoyment you take from it as well.
"I have only had one kid tell me that he didn't want my autograph so far, I was hurt, but I got over it," Kassian said with a laugh. "In all seriousness, though, it is a truly great experience. You get to see a lot of fans who normally may not get the chance to come to St. Paul to watch us play."
While Coyle and Kassian are young players on the Wild, Laaksonen-who played with the Wild from 2001-04-provides experience and leadership for the younger players on the tour.
"It is always nice to have a guy like him around," Coyle said of Laaksonen. "Just for him to shed some light on what he experienced is great. He is an easy guy to ask questions to because, chances are, he has experienced it before."
As for advice to the younger players, Laaksonen said, "It is not an easy road, you have got work for it. Waiting for a chance and hoping you get one is what all young players work so hard for and dream of."
Besides playing for the Wild, Laaksonen also spent time playing for the Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins, as well as the Finland national team.
Laaksonen says that promoting the game of hockey is what brought him to the tour for a second consecutive year.
"It is fun to come here in the summer and see hockey people," Laaksonen said. "It is nice to get people talking about hockey again. With the draft and all of the camps in the summer, hockey is really becoming a year-round sport."
Greenlay, a television analyst for the Wild, has been a part of the tour for 10 years now. He says he is never surprised by support from the fans.
"I know there will always be a lot of kids and a lot of fans who want to talk about hockey," Greenlay said. "It is fun to see the consistency every year of Minnesota fans."
"The fans are awesome," Coyle said. "I have not really ever done anything like this before, but seeing all of these fans who appreciate us is awesome. We just want to show them how much we appreciate them."
The tour will conclude tomorrow night when all three legs will come together for the Summer Bash in Roseville from 6-9 p.m.
"We usually cap off the trip by having all three legs with all of the players on the tour come together," Greenlay said. "Since the other parts of the tour run through northern or southern Minnesota, it is a good chance for fans from the Twin Cities to come out and get autographs and meet the players."