The family tradition continued at the Great Minnesota Get-Together.
Dan Seeler had back surgery this past summer, but that didn’t stop Nick Seeler from continuing a State Fair tradition that he and his dad started about a dozen or so years ago.
When Nick was a kid, he’d bring home all these giant stuffed animals that he won while playing carnival games with his dad, toss them in the corner of his playroom or in his closet and never, ever touch them again.
Eventually, the family would donate the toys to a local charity.
So the Seelers came up with an idea when Nick became a teenager: Father and son would still go to the State Fair and have fun in the Midway competing in the ring toss or busting plates or throwing softballs at milk jugs, but instead of bringing the prizes home, they’d find a family with young kids and gift the children the stuffed animals.
So this past August, with his dad on the mend and unable to attend the State Fair, Seeler went to the State Fair with some buddies, won some stuffed animals, searched out the right family and made some kids very, very happy.
Not once has Seeler, one of 27 Minnesotans to ever play hockey for the home state Minnesota Wild, been recognized for the good deed.
“It’s just always a good feeling to make a kid’s day,” Seeler said with a wide, smile.
Seeler is the epitome of ‘Minnesota Nice’ off the ice, yet one hard-nosed, fiery competitor on the ice. He is also somebody a lot of young Minnesota hockey players who don’t think they have what it takes to make it can use as a source of inspiration. When the 26-year-old, 6-foot-2 Seeler was a sophomore at Eden Prairie High School, he was an undersized, 5-6 defenseman with a mop of blond hair.
He won two State Championships with the Eagles, yet in the first one, he played one shift in the title game totaling what he guesses was three seconds because he took a penalty.
After two years of junior hockey that included making the USHL’s All-Rookie team, Seeler started his collegiate career at the University of Nebraska Omaha. But he decided to leave the school after his sophomore year with no idea of what he’d do next. By luck, his advisor, now agent Chris LaCombe ran into former University of Minnesota assistant coach Grant Potulny at an ice rink in Bloomington and at the very last moment was able to find Seeler a spot with the Gophers.
But he would have to sit out an entire key development year. The Wild worried all this time away from the ice would ruin their prospect.
But on a half scholarship, Seeler would play one year at the U and ultimately sign with the Wild before working hard and finding a way to impressively overtake a handful of left-shot defensemen on the depth chart to make it to the big show.
“It’s a testament to the community surrounding Minnesota hockey and Eden Prairie in general,” Seeler said. “Being a Minnesota-born kid and being able to play here where I grew up, it’s pretty special. It makes you really appreciate the support you get growing up. It’s pretty cool that guys like me and (Kyle Rau), who I grew up with and played with for so long as a kid, were able to make it and are still playing.”
Seeler and Rau, who plays on the Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa, won back-to-back Bantam State Championships as a kid. There were several accolades that preceded that, too, but it was in high school and juniors where Seeler really started to develop as a player.
He was really aided during his senior year by mentor Steve Olinger, the man they called, “Oly.”
“Other than my dad, he had the biggest impact on me as a kid,” Seeler said. “He was our assistant coach at Eden Prairie and he came in right before our senior year, and that was a cool group to be a part of. I mean, we'd been playing together for years and we had probably 12 or 13 seniors and he came in and he was one of those coaches that understood me. He really just understood how I played, how I was wired. More importantly, he worked with me and taught me not only about hockey and things I can work on and improve on, but, I mean, he was a friend of mine outside the rink and taught me about life.
“I was able to talk to him about anything really. We became really close and, yeah, he had definitely the biggest impact on me.”
Sadly, Olinger passed away after a battle with cancer in 2017.
Seeler still keeps all his text exchanges with Olinger on his phone and still scrolls through them during tough times.
“These texts mean something to me,” Seeler said. “He was very important to me and our family. It was hard to see him go through that because he was such a good, good person. He had a really strong faith, which is very important to me, too.”
“Being a Minnesota-born kid and being able to play here where I grew up, it’s pretty special. It makes you really appreciate the support you get growing up" - Nick Seeler
Lately, Seeler has recollected a lot about his time growing up playing hockey in Minnesota.
His large senior group at Eden Prairie is “still best friends,” and “my favorite times as a young hockey player were those trips you do with your buddies. I mean, going up to Duluth for a few days and playing in tournaments and being in the hotel when you're young with your best buddies, those are the times you really fall in love with the sport.
“And then to grow up with all the same kids and win it all our senior year is something I’ll always cherish. I mean, most of us are still best buddies to this day. In the summer, that’s really our time to spend time together. We’re in group (text) chats and we still talk about the State Tournament when it comes around every year. It’s something that I’ll never forget and I know those guys won’t forget.”
Seeler has two older sisters, who were both athletic. In fact, his sister, Kelly, won a National Championship in 2012 at the University of Minnesota. Seeler knows how lucky he is to have made it to the NHL and to play right here in Minnesota. He has a big heart and gives back to such foundations as the United Heroes League and DinoMights and tries to go on the ice with kids any chance he can.
A few years ago, Seeler’s mom, Kris, and dad were visiting him in Des Moines when they all went out to breakfast. As his parents got in their car to drive back to Minnesota, Seeler got a phone call in the parking lot. He frantically signaled from his truck for his folks to hold on a second.
He hung up the phone and walked over to his parents’ car with tears in eyes. It was former Wild executive Brent Flahr calling to ask if he wanted to bus with the Iowa Wild to Grand Rapids or make his NHL debut for the Minnesota Wild that night against the New York Rangers.
He chose the latter, of course.
“We had a great moment together, very emotional and very special, because you realize at that moment what it really takes to get that opportunity,” Dan said.
“I do hope kids in Minnesota look at me as a role model,” Seeler said. “It's pretty humbling, too, knowing that all the hard work and the support I've had growing up accumulated to ultimately playing in the NHL. It makes you look back at all the help you did have along the way, the coaches that impacted you, obviously your family and their support and the teammates you've had along the way.
“It's cool to look at that and look back on it and then ultimately be here. It's pretty, pretty cool. You have to pinch yourself but obviously be grateful for the opportunities I've been given. Yeah, it's special. I'm lucky to still be playing and I'm grateful for it and I never once take it for granted. I’m just so proud that I get to play at the highest level in this state and for our fans.”
Michael Russo writes for The Athletic. He’s in his 15th season covering the Wild and 25th covering the National Hockey League. He co-hosts the Russo-Souhan Show on talknorth.com, co-hosts The Athletic Hour on KFAN-Plus (96.7-FM) and hosts the Straight From The Source with Michael Russo podcast on The Athletic and anywhere you get your podcasts. He can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3-FM) and seen throughout the hockey season on Fox Sports North. Follow Russo on Twitter at @RussoHockey. To subscribe to The Athletic at a 40 percent discount ($2.99 per month), go to theathletic.com/iknowrusso. If you’re a student, you can get 50 percent off ($29.99 for the year) at theathletic.com/student.