KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A sheet of ice laid front and center at Sprint Center on Thursday, and the sport shined bright with thousands on hand to watch the NHL exhibition contest.
Central Division foes St. Louis and Minnesota met in Kansas City some five months after the Blues bounced the Wild from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a contentious first-round series, and it was Minnesota taking a dramatic win Thursday by a 3-2 final score, the winning goal coming with just 4.3 seconds left, in the teams’ second-to-last exhibition game this year.
What happened on the ice was just as impressive as what showed in the stands - a throng of hockey fans of coast-to-coast allegiances coming together to celebrate the game of hockey.
There were sweaters of the Blues and Wild, Penguins and Flyers, Oilers and Flames, Canadiens and Maple Leafs. Jerseys of 24 – yes, 24 – NHL teams were visible from the press box on this night with nameplates reading Crosby, Gretzky, Ovechkin, Zetterberg, Eichel, Stamkos and Toews among others on the backs.
William Gatlin sat in the lower bowl, adorned in a Flyers No. 27 jersey that belonged to Max Talbot, a gritty forward most renowned for potting two goals in game seven of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final to help the Penguins defeat the Detroit Red Wings. He made the drive from Louisburg, Kansas to take in the game.
“I’m here because I love hockey,” said Gatlin. “I’ve come to events like this for several years. It’s cool to see how big and how diverse of a hockey community we have here in Kansas City.”
He was joined in droves by hockey fans, including his father who wore a Mavericks sweatshirt, who came out to watch the game played at the highest level.
They saw beautiful passing from the Blues during a first-period power play that saw Vladimir Tarasenko beat Devan Dubnyk blocker side from a fantastic feed from Brayden Schenn in the corner to take an early 1-0 lead just more than eight minutes into the first.
Minnesota answered eight minutes later a Luke Kunin goal on an odd-man rush to even the score.
The Blues jumped on top once again with an Oskar Sundqvist rebound that snuck through Dubnyk for a 2-1 edge, but a deflected Kyle Quincey shot at 9:44 of the third tied the game.
Ultimately it was Charlie Coyle corralling a loose puck in the Blues’ zone and beating Carter Hutton far side with just 4.3 seconds remaining in the game to secure the win for the Wild.
Friends Robert Gamble of Overland Park and Roger Bray of Shawnee sat several sections down from Gatlin, donning jerseys of the Blackhawks and Bruins, respectively.
“I’ve been a hockey fan all of my life,” said Gamble. “Like everyone else here I just want to see a good game.”
He saw a great one, a battle of teams promising to contend for spots in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season.
“This is my first NHL game in 20 years, first since I saw the Kansas City Blades,” said Bray. “All hockey is exciting. I can’t wait for my next game.”
Mark the calendars – hockey is back in less than a month with the Mavericks’ home opener against Wichita, October 28.