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For red-hot Wild, ice-cold Winter Classic was a turning point

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For red-hot Wild, ice-cold Winter Classic was a turning point

On the heels of arguably their worst loss of the season — the Wild fell 6-4 to the St. Louis Blues at the Winter Classic in a game that wasn’t even that close — veteran winger Mats Zuccarello held everyone accountable postgame.

Not only was he embarrassed by the performance put forth by the Wild with nearly 40,000 fans struggling to stay warm in the stands at Target Field, he was well aware the upcoming stretch had a chance to make or break this season.

Now, a couple of weeks later, Zuccarello is proud of the way the Wild responded in the face of adversity. Though they are still heavily depleted due to injuries, the Wild have won three straight heading into a marquee matchup with the rival Colorado Avalanche on Monday afternoon in Denver.

Was the Winter Classic a turning point?

“Yeah,” Zuccarello said. “Everyone was pissed off.”

Ask anyone on the Wild roster and they would agree with that succinct statement.

“I think after that, I think that’s a good assessment,” coach Dean Evason said. “It was a big stage. The guys knew that we didn’t do what we do to have success, regardless of what the venue was or the weather was. We didn’t do what we do to have success. For the most part, we’ve got back to it.”

As alternate captain Marcus Foligno put it, that loss at the Winter Classic could’ve sent the Wild spiraling down the standings. Instead, they bounced back with a gutsy win over the Boston Bruins, a shootout win over the Washington Capitals and a blowout win over the Anaheim Ducks.

“Here we are now three wins later,” Foligno said. “That’s just the character in this group. Yeah. It was a turning point.”

The fact the Wild managed to snag three wins in the past week and a half will go a long way in their playoff push. It helped them keep their head above water with guys like captain Jared Spurgeon, top center Joel Eriksson Ek, star defenseman Jonas Brodin and No. 1 goaltender Cam Talbot on the shelf.

“We lose those three games and we’re behind a lot more,” Foligno said. “Maybe when we’re approaching the playoffs, trying to get in, we look back at these three games. That’s six points right there that might separate us from the next team.

“There’s always those little gaps in the season where we can look back and say, ‘Well this made us or this broke us.’ We definitely want to be looking back at this come playoff time saying we did the right thing and we came together at the right time.”

As for the game against the Avalanche, the Wild know that will serve as a good measuring stick. It’s been that way for the past few seasons.

“We have to be intense and ready to go,” Foligno said. “They are probably the hottest team in the league right now. They just have that core that’s been with each other a while now and always seems to produce. No different. We just have to come up with more intensity and play them hard and make it feel like a playoff game. We want to go in there and take two points.”

That won’t be an easy task considering the Avalanche boast an 8-1-1 record in the past 10 games. They are firing on all cylinders with the top line of Nathan MacKinnon centering Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.

“It’s about minimizing those waves of attack that they produce,” Foligno said. “Just have to play those guys mean and be hard on sticks and block shots and things like that and make it hard on them generating speed through the neutral zone.”

If the Wild can do that, they might have a chance. If not, the Avalanche might run them out of the building.

“Just a quality hockey club with quality hockey players,” Evason said. “They have a lot of different elements to their game. Obviously they have special people in their lineup that we all know and their system is real good. They compete their butts off. They do a lot of right things. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”

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Dane Mizutani: Wild GM Bill Guerin doesn’t regret Zach Parise-Ryan Suter buyouts, and he shouldn’t

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Dane Mizutani: Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell is not Jim Harbaugh, which is kind of the point

For the next few seasons, the Wild are going to be in salary-cap hell. They made sure of that last offseason by paying Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to go away.

More specifically, general manager Bill Guerin made sure of that by having the guts to make such a big move.

Though he understood the financial implications of the buyouts — $12.74 million in dead-cap money in 2022-23, $14.74 million in dead cap in 2023-24 and $14.74 million in dead cap in 2024-25 — Guerin believed it was the only way the Wild were ever going to make the leap to having a chance of being a Stanley Cup contender.

The status quo wasn’t working. Something needed to change.

With a fresh start this season, the Wild finished the regular season with an impressive 53-22-7 record and a franchise-record 113 points before losing to the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs.

Question: Were the buyouts worth it? Answer: Absolutely.

While it might be hard to see progress after another early exit in the playoffs, the Wild are in much a better place heading into this offseason.

It finally feels as if this group is building toward something bigger, not scratching and clawing simply to stay on the periphery of the playoff picture.

With captain Jared Spurgeon in charge, and alternate captains Marcus Foligno and Matt Dumba leading alongside him, the Wild felt different on and off the ice this season.

It actually felt like a team rather than a bunch of individuals who happen to work together.

“This is the first season (since I’ve been here) that management, coaches and players alike were able to do things exactly the way we wanted to do them,” Guerin said. “We took such a big step in the right direction in my mind, and that gives me a lot of hope for what’s to come.”

It doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines of that response. Though he never referred to them by name, Guerin was talking about Parise and Suter no longer being around.

They left and the culture got better. It’s as simple as that.

As much as Parise and Suter deserve credit for helping the franchise return to relevance — the Wild only missed the playoffs once during their near-decade-long tenure in the Twin Cities — they were also at the epicenter of a locker room that was rarely on the same page.

It’s no coincidence that Spurgeon, Foligno and Dumba go out of their way to talk about the inclusiveness inside the locker room nowadays.

It’s no coincidence that coach Dean Evason constantly mentions how much his players “love” each other.

It’s no coincidence that Guerin hasn’t for a nanosecond regretted the buyouts despite the financial implications.

“I’d do it again,” Guerin said. “We knew exactly what position we were putting ourselves in. We’re just going to deal with it. It’s not something where we go into the office like, ‘Oh god, we’ve got to deal with this.’ No. This is it. We knew what we were doing.”

Now, there’s no doubt the buyouts will make things more difficult on the Wild in the short term. They most likely won’t be able to afford star winger Kevin Fiala this offseason because of the dead cap, and beyond that, Guerin will have to do some finagling to fill out his roster.

But Guerin is confident the Wild will be just as competitive next season because of the culture they have in place.

“We’ve made some moves over the last couple of seasons to kind of mold things,” Guerin said. “We wanted to create something that was special without any obstacles in the way.”

Those obstacles are gone. Now the Wild need to continue moving in the right direction. They can no longer blame Parise and Suter for their shortcomings.

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What’s the deal with NFTs? Snoop Dogg is coming to Minneapolis to explain

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What’s the deal with NFTs? Snoop Dogg is coming to Minneapolis to explain

A four-day conference exploring digital ownership and the way emerging technologies could interact with art, sports and entertainment has landed at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

VeeCon is the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, better known as Gary Vee.

It’s billed as an event “featuring icons of business, sports, music, arts, Web3, and popular culture in conversation to build lasting relationships, share ideas, and connect with the community.”

VeeCon is expected to draw over 10,000 visitors from around world who will hear from 150 speakers, from New Age guru Deepak Chopra to filmmaker Spike Lee and the ubiquitous rapper Snoop Dogg.

Tickets were sold in the form of NFTs, which are non-fungible tokens sold on the blockchain, a digital ledger of transactions. Much of the conference will dive into the potential applications for NFTs.

Conference attendee Ami Barzelay, a San Francisco man who has dabbled in the NFT market, described NFT ownership as “digital bragging rights.” An NFT, which could be an image, song or video, can be copied and enjoyed by anyone in the world, but it may have just one owner.

The NFT market, still in its infancy, has seen wild swings in what people are willing to pay for digital assets, which Barzelay has experienced first-hand. He said that for fun, he paid $100 for a video clip of Tiger Woods and later sold it for $5,000.

There is inherent skepticism and fear around buying and selling things that don’t exist in the physical world, which VeeCon aims to address.

During a media luncheon Thursday, Vaynerchuk said it would take education, communication and time to get people more comfortable with the idea of NFTs and the blockchain.

“Many of us remember either us, or especially our parents, being incredibly scared and uncomfortable” using a credit card for an online purchase, he said.

And while there were some early problems with fraud and theft, safeguards eventually were developed. That’ll happen soon enough for the blockchain, he said, predicting that in 20 years that’s how all property sales will be recorded.

“Education and communication solve everything,” he said.

While the conference, which runs through Sunday afternoon, is focused on NFTs, there’s much more to learn about their place in the new world of the blockchain.

“NFTs are really fun for collectability, but it is a tiny part of the consumer blockchain,” Vaynerchuk said. “We will eventually all interact with NFTs because they will be our airline tickets, they will be our receipts, they will be our tickets to U.S. Bank Stadium, they will be our membership cards. Right now, we use plastic, QR codes or email confirmations for many things that I think the blockchain will eat up because it’s better technology for those things. It will just take some time.”

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Tonight’s Chicago White Sox-New York Yankees game is postponed; doubleheader set for Sunday

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Tonight’s Chicago White Sox-New York Yankees game is postponed; doubleheader set for Sunday

The Chicago White Sox-New York Yankees game scheduled for Friday evening at Yankee Stadium was postponed because of impending inclement weather.

It will be made up as part of a doubleheader Sunday, with the first game starting at 2:05 p.m. Central time.

This story will be updated.

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