Charlie Coyle and Matt Kassian could relate to the excitement that surrounded Bud King Ice Arena on Monday.
Both Minnesota Wild players remember what is was like to stand in line waiting for the chance to get a professional hockey player’s autograph.
They remember the nerves mixed with excitement when they were kids, but they are the ones creating those feelings for Wild fans now.
The roles have been reversed for Coyle, Kassian, former Wild player Antti Laaksonen and television analyst Mike Greenlay, who were the ones giving autographs, as part of the Wells Fargo Minnesota Wild Road Tour.
Winona was Monday’s first stop, and the tour continued to Rochester with scheduled visits to Austin and Owatonna today and Mankato and New Ulm on Wednesday.
More than 500 fans stood in a line that extended out the lobby doors for the better part of the hour-long session, though a strong majority of fans barely qualified for the height minimum of the bouncy-house in the parking lot.
“It’s different to be sitting here instead of getting the autographs,” Coyle said. “This is where I always wanted to be, though. I wanted to be the guy sitting here. Now, I kind of am. It’s pretty cool to experience.”
When Coyle was younger, he would go watch his cousin Tony Amonte — he played in 1,174 NHL games for five different teams — when Amonte played against Boston, 30 miles from Coyle’s house in East Weymouth, Mass. The 20-year-old remembers waiting for Amonte after the games and watching the players stroll by.
“I remember standing in awe,” Coyle said. “I always looked up to him. I don’t mind coming here and seeing all the kids coming through. That’s what I did when I was younger. I was the same way.”
For Kassian, that feeling of awe hasn’t quite gone away. The 25-year-old still gets a little nervous around big hockey names and demonstrated that when he met Detroit Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman the first time, and he said that experience helps him to coax a smile out of even the most shy fan.
“It blew me away (when I met Yzerman),” Kassian said. “I completely reverted into a 9-year-old, staring and you don’t know what to say. You realize they are real people with real lives. It’s funny because I know them now, like Ryan Smyth and Georges Laraque and Mark Messier.
“But when you were younger, it was always a really cool experience. You get to go to school and tell your friends about it or go home and brag to you brothers, showing them the autographs you got on a napkin or whatever you were able to get.”
That’s why no matter what Kassian signed, he was happy to sign it, even for a group of four that came as the Wild bus was packing up.
“It’s a rewarding thing,” Kassian said. “So often, we say that we are giving back, but I feel guilty saying that. You get so much more from the people that are going through the line and giving back to you just through their appreciation and their support and everything they say. It’s a bizarre thing. I know I’m giving back, yes, but they are giving me just as much! It’s a cool experience.”
“I just try to be myself and joke with the kids that they owe me five bucks for an autograph, or maybe try to buy some candy from them. One kid came back and gave me a sucker. None of them gave up the initial candy they got. Candy is pretty important. Candy or five dollars? I’d keep my candy, for sure.”
On the first day of the Tour, Kassian and Coyle also visited St. Paul Park and the popular KFAN radio Power Trip Morning Show — including former Minnesota Viking “The Superstar” Mike Morris — broadcasted live from the St. Paul Park American Legion Post 98.
In addition to the radio broadcast and autograph and photo opportunities, the event included a pancake breakfast and silent auction to help raise funds for the Park Girls Hockey Booster Club and refurbishment of St. Paul Park’s outdoor skating rink.
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