(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Mike Reilly wore the 'M' on the front of his sweater for three years. He knows how to chant "Ski-U-Mah" with the best of them, and he's spent a fair amount of time cheering on the Gopher football team at TCF Bank Stadium.
So what was it like to return back to the University of Minnesota and "The Bank" with the Minnesota Wild in the team's Stadium Series debut (one they came out victorious in, defeating Chicago 6-1)?
"It's really great," said Reilly, currently in his NHL rookie season. "When I found out about (the Stadium Series) it was definitely pretty special. I've been in this (football) locker room a few times, and I always used to come to a lot of football games and sometimes I would get to be in the tunnel waiting for the team to come out. It's kind of cool to be in their place now. (TCF) is a great venue.”
While it's the first NHL-sponsored outdoor event for the State of Hockey, it's not the first outdoor hockey game for Reilly or TCF. The Chanhassen native suited up with the Gophers as they played host to Ohio State in the 2014 Hockey City Classic. Reilly and the Gophers also participated in the 2013 Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field.
"The one I played in in college was about 45,000 people," said Reilly. Sunday's Wild game tallied 50,426 fans decked out evenly in Hawks and Wild gear. "You had all of the students and your classmates there to cheer you on, and the athletes that you've made friendships with. Now (in the Stadium Series) we really had the whole state of Minnesota behind us, and it's definitely something I've been looking forward to for sure.
"Not a lot of guys get to play in one outdoor game and this will be my third, but first in the NHL so it was definitely pretty special."
He admitted that being on the NHL stage brought a new ambiance to the setting compared to college.
"I think this was a little bit of a step up," said Reilly with a smile. "You walk out there for warm-ups and it's pretty eye-opening for sure. There's just so many people in the crowd and it just makes for a great game. You are kind of in awe the whole game. It's great to step out there and have the fans cheering you on and just supporting you...The NHL did a great job planning this week and I think everyone had a great time. I was able to catch the alumni game yesterday and there was a great turnout for that.
“It was a great end to the weekend and it was huge for us to get that win."
The win was thanks in part to other Gopher alums. Erik Haula found the back of the net once and assisted on two others. Thomas Vanek added the team's second goal of the night. Combined with Reilly's assist it totaled five points for former Gophers.
"I guess the scoresheet looked pretty good for the Gophers," said Reilly with a laugh. Though teammate Ryan Suter, a University of Wisconsin alum, joked that there were definitely “too many Gophers” on the scoresheet.
"It was fun seeing those guys score," added Suter. "Obviously it's fun seeing anybody on our team score...it's good to see those guys have fun here back where it all started for them."
And Reilly says being back in the comfort of home is one possible explanation for the success.
“When you’re familiar with a place, it kind of makes it easier to get in to your game. I think we just have to go out there and not think too much and the wins will start coming. Play our game.”