From Secret Santa to practical jokes and wins, the vibes are good around the Wild

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Before Thursday’s practice, nan Minnesota Wild players gathered successful nan dressing room for nan typical unveiling of their Secret Santa gift exchange.

Alternate skipper Marcus Foligno had gone up and down nan statement connected a caller charter formation erstwhile teammates picked their recipient — by jersey number. Now each nan gifts were successful nan mediate of nan room, immoderate much wrapped than others.

There were arsenic galore gag gifts arsenic generous ones.

Foligno sewage Jake Middleton immoderate motorcycle gear, from a T-shirt to a pizza cutter, pinch nan defenseman giving Foligno brew glasses and a moose telephone horn. Pat Maroon appreciated nan play balls from Freddy Gaudreau. Brock Faber, nan prized rookie, mightiness person sewage nan champion gift, a fancy wallet (which will travel successful useful pinch his large payday coming successful a fewer years).

“Santa was very bully to him,” Marc-Andre Fleury joked.

Fleury’s gift, of course, stole nan show, pinch nan 39-year-old nicknamed “Flower” receiving a cane appropriately wrapped successful pinkish flowers. The early Hall of Famer — and team’s oldest subordinate — utilized nan cane arsenic a instrumentality for 5 minutes during Thursday’s practice, drafting laughs and cheers from nan packed crowd astatine TRIA Rink.

Fleury is now playing pinch nan pinkish cane Duhaime near connected his cage

— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) December 28, 2023

It’s astonishing nan quality a period makes. Heading into Friday’s NHL action, nan Wild had nan astir wins (11), points (22) and champion points percent (.786) successful nan NHL since John Hynes debuted Nov. 28. After winning 5 of 19 games nether Dean Evason, nan Wild’s .545 points percent earlier Friday’s games theoretically had them successful nan 2nd wild-card position contempt being 2 points retired of a playoff spot.

That’s why nan vibes person been truthful vastly different of precocious compared to nan hostility that was truthful evident during and aft Evason’s last crippled Nov. 26 successful Detroit. There are a batch much smiles and laughs astatine practice, monolithic (mock) celebrations for goals during drills. The Secret Santa ribbing was conscionable portion of it.

“It’s bully conscionable to bask it, bask coming to nan rink, spot much smiles from nan guys, nan coaches — nan fans retired there,” Fleury said. “There were a batch of people. Everything astir it is much fun, for sure. We request to support going.”

It’s people much nosy erstwhile you’re winning, but it’s nan other erstwhile teams are successful a funk. And nan Wild deed stone bottommost successful Detroit. They had mislaid 7 consecutive and 13 of 16. Their apical players were struggling, getting called retired publically by Evason. It was tense everywhere, from nan room to charter flights to meetings. The chair was much quiet than usual, different than immoderate slamming sticks.

Three-time Cup victor Maroon addressed nan Wild aft nan nonaccomplishment successful Detroit, telling them that moreover if they thought they played a bully game, it wasn’t enough. They needed more. They had to play pinch much pride.

Evason was fired nan adjacent day.

“It’s a very streaky league,” Maroon said. “When you don’t person assurance successful this league, it’s a s—-y feeling. We felt for illustration we didn’t person that confidence, that swagger. With losing comes negativity.”

“It was reliable — believe was conscionable miserable,” Foligno added. “We were grinding each other, we were doing things we did successful training camp. Coming to nan rink, you knew it’d beryllium a workday. But a workday successful not a nosy way. It wasn’t enjoyable.

“A shake-up is simply a shake-up. And it only useful if we respond nan measurement we did.”

Players took Evason’s firing personally. Some felt guilty.

“In nan end,” Maroon said, “it was connected us.”

The hiring of Hynes provided a footwear successful nan ass. It besides sparked a reset, expunging nan negativity from nan past fewer months. Hynes offered a cleanable slate, and his first reside connected pinch nan group.

“His connection correct distant was refreshing,” Foligno said. “He’s like, he wants to subordinate america and ‘get correct successful nan conflict pinch us.’ It wasn’t pointing blasted connected us, not, ‘You’ve sewage to activity hard, this is what you’ve been doing wrong.’ It was, ‘Here’s nan things successful your crippled that I like, and present are things we request to get amended at.’ The connection was truthful clear, and everyone responded.”

As Maroon points out, a large logic for nan turnaround was nan Wild’s apical players stepping up. Matt Boldy snapped a lengthy drought pinch a extremity successful nan first crippled pinch Hynes, a triumph complete nan Blues, which started a basking streak for nan prima winger. Kirill Kaprizov, aft an mean first 2 months, was precocious nan NHL’s No. 1 prima of nan week aft his standout capacity successful an overtime triumph successful Boston and a mates of location wins earlier nan Christmas break.

“It’s conscionable buying in, realizing that we are a bully lucky team,” Maroon said. “Confidence goes a agelong way. In that sense, guys are scoring, apical guys are playing hard, moving hard, they’re defending and doing each nan small things that make bully teams successful. Hynesy (has) done a really bully occupation of molding america to beryllium a bully lucky team.

“Not that we weren’t told before, but he’ll show america clips of bully things and bully habits that we’ve done, and showing america bad habits that we were creating to make america suffer a lot. When you show those kinds of things and show occurrence and what works, guys bargain into that and recognize that.”

Foligno felt a turning constituent was Hynes’ 2nd game, his return to Nashville connected Nov. 29. The Wild seldom ever triumph successful Bridgestone Arena, and this was a 6-1 stomping, led by Connor Dewar’s chapeau trick. They played fast. They dominated. And nan dressing room afterward was louder than it’d been successful a month, pinch Dewar receiving nan caller grant for subordinate of nan game, nan Viking helmet.

“Just a different team,” Foligno said.

Then, aft losing back-to-back games connected nan Western Canada trip, nan Wild rebounded to headdress nan travel pinch a triumph successful Seattle. They played a simple, difficult game. “If we spell 1-3, possibly it’s, ‘We’re not retired of this yet,’” Foligno said.

“We’ve ever had a group that we believed we were amended than we showed,” Foligno said. “Credit to Hynes for making america play a faster-paced game. Guys are making plays, guys are holding onto pucks longer, playing pinch much confidence.

“We ever knew we had nan expertise successful nan room to do it. Now that we’re winning, it’s what we envisioned astatine nan opening of nan year.”

It’s not a coincidence that nan Wild’s singular tally has travel amid really, really bully goaltending. Filip Gustavsson, who will commencement Saturday successful Winnipeg, is 8-2 successful his past 10 games pinch a 1.87 goals-against mean and .932 prevention percentage.

Fleury has won 3 of his past 4 starts, including back-to-back victories complete first-place Boston. He’s 1 triumph distant from tying Patrick Roy for 2nd successful all-time wins and 2 starts from nan 1,000-game milestone.

The Wild’s prevention percent was 30th successful nan NHL nether Evason. Now it’s .932 nether Hynes, nan 2nd champion successful nan convention since he took over.

Marc-Andre Fleury is simply a wealth 🦯

— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) December 28, 2023

Fleury’s property has go a larger taxable ever since teammate Brandon Duhaime went connected Bally Sports North successful Boston to opportunity really impressed he is pinch Fleury playing truthful good astatine property 50. Ever since, Fleury, nan league’s astir notorious applicable joker, has caused Duhaime to time off Xcel Energy Center pinch missing items aft 2 games, 1 without his dress garment and nan different without his dress shoes. On nan latter, Duhaime was near feathery achromatic boots truthful he didn’t person to time off nan building shoeless.

“They’re beautiful comfortable, actually,” Duhaime said. “Fit really nice.”

“I’m building up a small wardrobe,” said Fleury, who pointed retired that it has worked retired because he and Duhaime deterioration nan aforesaid size shoes.

Technically, it’s not known if Duhaime pulled Fleury’s sanction successful nan Secret Santa and talented him a cane. “I plead nan fifth,” Duhaime quipped. “Nice cane, though.” But teammates are insinuating it was him, and Duhaime said nan gift was a “good one.”

Duhaime is intelligibly playing pinch occurrence picking connected Fleury because he doesn’t scheme to extremity anytime soon. In fact, not agelong ago, Duhaime recovered a brace of shoes nailed to nan floor. Fleury, who usually denies his pranks, pleaded nan 5th Thursday erstwhile asked if he was nan culprit.

“He made nosy of maine connected TV … twice, you know, to make judge (we heard him opportunity 50),” Fleury said, smiling. “I (usually) for illustration to enactment undercover, whoever it is, but Dewy started it. We’ve sewage impervious (on TV) it was him.”

The Wild’s practices aren’t each laughs. Their 90-minute convention Thursday was almost exclusively directed toward nan punishment kill, which had been nan league’s worst successful nan first 2 months nether Evason. The portion is still successful past astatine 71.8 percent, though has improved a spot nether caller adjunct Pat Dwyer. Hynes saw immoderate issues pinch rotations, punishment killers’ instrumentality positioning, truthful they focused connected it.

“I deliberation passim nan twelvemonth it’s important to beryllium capable to person your punishment termination really believe definite situations that either springiness them problem aliases you want to tighten up on, and that was nan opportunity today,” Hynes said.

This two-game home-and-home pinch nan Jets is for illustration a mini-playoff bid successful nan mediate of nan season, Hynes acknowledged. The Wild entered Friday 2 points retired of nan last wild-card spot successful nan Western Conference, and Winnipeg sits successful 2nd spot successful nan Central. Who would person thought we’d beryllium talking astir these games being pivotal ones backmost astir Thanksgiving, erstwhile Minnesota was person to nan convention basement?

Hynes said he didn’t look astatine nan standings past and still hasn’t focused connected them, knowing there’s a agelong measurement to go. But nan Wild’s accelerated ascent successful nan West started pinch their mindset, a vibe-changer.

“When you travel successful season, a batch of times thing has gone incorrect and usually you request to get a small spot of that mentality back, assurance successful individual players, assurance successful nan team,” Hynes said. “I deliberation that to nan players’ credit, they’ve earned that assurance done nan measurement that they’ve played, and now I deliberation nan point that’s been encouraging is they proceed to travel to nan rink each time pinch nan aforesaid mindset. They’re great. They’re consenting to learn. They want to beryllium coached. Practices person been strong. We’ve been capable to instrumentality quickly, whether it’s done video aliases successful practice, immoderate things that we want to do and I deliberation that’s good.”

Now that is simply a screen. Lot of nosy vibes astatine #mnwild believe

— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithNHL) December 29, 2023

Though Friday was a 2nd consecutive time of practices, correct earlier a back-to-back group of games, Wild players lingered connected nan crystal agelong aft nan coaches came off. Several forwards continued to capsicum Fleury pinch shootout attempts, pinch fans sticking astir to cheer. President and wide head Bill Guerin popped down to nan chair toward nan extremity of believe and pulled a Fleury-like prank. Guerin twisted disconnected nan tops of h2o bottles connected nan bench, past tightened them slightly. Whoever grabbed 1 would beryllium successful for a surprise.

“I’ll get somebody,” Guerin said, smiling.

“You ever talk astir younker lucky erstwhile group are increasing up, nan crippled is to beryllium fun,” Hynes said. “But erstwhile you get to this level, winning is our business but lucky is nan crippled that you love. I deliberation erstwhile you tin harvester nan 2 it’s important. It is. It’s a agelong season. There’s different pressures connected guys. They’re grown men. They sewage families. They sewage contracts. It is their livelihood but to effort to person immoderate nosy and bask it, nan grind of nan season, is really important. Winning surely helps that, but I deliberation nan characteristic of nan group, arsenic I said before, it is simply a adjacent group successful general. There’s not a batch of cliques, and I deliberation nan operation of those two, nan winning and I deliberation nan group of players that we have, that’s allowed it to get a small spot much fun, much smiles and guys enjoying being astatine nan rink.”

(Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn / NHLI via Getty Images)

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