WILMINGTON, Mass. — Having been born in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, attending the University of Minnesota and still calling Plymouth, Minnesota home, Blake Wheeler is about as proud a native of the North Star State as you can find.
But when it comes to the professional hockey teams based in his home state, the Bruins winger doesn't have a lot of love, which could be a good thing with the Minnesota Wild paying a rare visit to the Garden on Thursday night.
"Not really, maybe the first time I played them, but that was at home [in Minnesota]," Wheeler said when asked if playing against the Wild was a special thrill. "I was never really a huge Wild fan. They kind of came in later in my hockey days, so for me it's more or less just another team."
The Wild didn't begin play in the NHL until 2000, while the state's original NHL entry — the Minnesota North Stars — moved to Dallas in 1993. Wheeler was just 7 when that hockey travesty occurred, too young to truly feel the sting of the abandonment or to have any lasting memories of the North Stars.
So who was Wheeler's favorite team growing up?
"The Gophers," Wheeler said, referring to the University of Minnesota's famed hockey program, where Wheeler played from 2005-08. "It was always just the Gophers."
And when it came to the NHL, Wheeler's allegiance was more fleeting.
"Whoever was winning, usually Detroit," Wheeler said of who he rooted for in the pro ranks. "My father is from Detroit so that's usually who I rooted for."
While Wheeler might not have much attachment to the Wild, Thursday's game will give the folks back home in Minnesota a rare chance to watch him on TV on the Wild's broadcast. But Wheeler wasn't too excited about that prospect either.
"Everyone that I care about watches every night anyway," said Wheeler, who has yet to collect a point in three games against the Wild. "I'm sure they'll be some more eyes watching, but in this day and age pretty much anybody that cares about hockey has the NHL package anyway so I'm sure most of those people back there are watching anyway."
Well, there is one thing that can get Wheeler excited about Thursday's game against the Wild. That would be a Bruins' victory, something they've never done against Minnesota on home ice.
"I did know that actually," Wheeler said when asked about Minnesota's 5-0-0 all-time record in Boston. "We've had a tough time with them."
But Wheeler won't have a tough time enjoying it if the Bruins can finally beat his home-state team on Thursday.
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