Emotions run high as Gaborik returns to Minnesota
• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Tonight at the Xcel Energy Center, Marian Gaborik
makes his long-awaited return to Minnesota when the Rangers skate against the host Wild.
Gaborik, who starred for the Wild and is the franchise’s all-time leader in goals, assists, and points, has not faced his former club since signing a free agent contract with the Rangers back on July 1, 2009. His return has been eagerly anticipated by both the fans in Minnesota and Gaborik, himself.
“It was a big chapter of my hockey career and my life, as well,” Gaborik said of his time in Minnesota. “Definitely I have great memories there, but now I am a Ranger. I really enjoy it here. I’m always going to have good memories from Minnesota.”
|Marian Gaborik once scored five goals in a game vs. the Rangers at Minnesota while playing for the Wild. Tonight, Minnesota's all-time scoring leader will look to turn the tables on his former team.
Starting on June 24, 2000, when he was became the expansion Wild’s first-ever first-round draft pick (third overall in the NHL that year), Gaborik was the face of the Minnesota Wild franchise. He scored 30 goals or more five times with the Wild, and tallied a franchise-best 219 goals, 218 assists, and 437 points over the span of 502 games with Minnesota.
In every way imaginable, both on-ice and off of the ice, Gaborik was the most popular and recognizable player in franchise history for the Wild. It is why everyone was so extremely disappointed a year ago when Gaborik missed his first possible return to Minnesota with an injured knee back on Oct. 30, 2009.
“It’s definitely going to be something special,” said Gaborik, who has four goals, and eight points in eight games this season after picking up an assist in last night’s 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. “(Last year) the circumstances obviously weren’t good, but now it’s going to be my first time there and I am looking forward to that. Maybe I’ll be a little nervous or emotional (tonight), but it has to happen at some point.”
There has been much speculation in Minnesota how the Wild fans will respond in seeing Gaborik on the Xcel Energy Center ice wearing a Rangers uniform. Although Gaborik and his former teammates have no ill feelings towards one another, the Minnesota fans remain bitter that Gaborik left the Wild organization as a free agent two summers ago.
Many, including Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck, have said that, despite all of his success in Minnesota, Gaborik will be booed this evening.
“I can’t control how they are going to act,” Gaborik said of the Wild fans. “Hopefully it’s going to be pleasant. I think I’ve done a lot of good things there and had good success as an expansion team, so hopefully it’s going to be positive.”
Gaborik’s current teammate in New York, as well as former teammates in Minnesota, Derek Boogaard
, hopes that Gaborik receives the warm response he feels he deserves.
“He put in a lot of good years for that organization and he did a lot of good things there, so if anything it should be all positive,” said Boogaard.
|Rangers rookie Derek Stepan, who grew up just outside the Twin Cities area and was 10 years old when the Wild arrived in St. Paul, will play his first game as a pro in his native Minnesota tonight.
Boogaard will also be returning to Minnesota for the first time since signing a free agent deal with the Rangers this past summer. The Rangers’ enforcer was drafted by Minnesota in the seventh round back in 2001 and he played in 255 games for the Wild, totaling 544 penalty minutes along the way in becoming one of the organization’s most popular players.
“I’m looking forward to it, but it’s definitely going to be different being on the other side,” explained Boogaard. “I don’t know if I’ll be nervous, but it’s somewhere along those lines.”
Two other Rangers will be making triumphant returns to Minnesota tonight. Rookie center Derek Stepan
, a native of Hastings, Minnesota, and fellow rookie Michael Sauer
, from St. Cloud, Minnesota, will both play in their home state for the first time as National Hockey League players.
Sauer is expecting between 35-40 friends and family at tonight’s game to cheer him on. Stepan has that beat easily, as two busloads of supporters are pouring in to St. Paul tonight to see him play.
“First game back home is definitely something that is important to me,” said Stepan, who scored his fourth goal of the season in Friday’s defeat to the Avalanche. “To play in front of all your family and friends is cool. There’ll be quite the handful of them, that’s for sure.”
Stepan previously played at the Xcel Energy Center in college while representing The University of Wisconsin, while Sauer has not played in this building since high school.
“Not since 10th grade,” said Sauer. “I’ve been there since, but haven’t played there since high school. It will be a lot of fun.”
The Rangers are looking to snap a mini two-game skid tonight in Minnesota. After the game, they will head back to New York to face the Calgary Flames at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.