The Minnesota Wild played the Carolina Hurricanes on November 19, 2023, in a game that started as a 1000th game celebration for Alex Goligoski. However, it ended in a way that no one could have predicted.
At the beginning of the 2022-23 season, Goligoski tallied his 1000th official game in the league on October 20th against the Vancouver Canucks. But between then and the planned celebration game, Goligoski only played one out of 13 games with the Wild, watching the other 12 from the press box.
As the celebration neared, Goligoski would obviously play for his celebration game. The unknown was how Goligoski would do after sitting for so many games. Would he keep up with the pace after sitting for so long? Besides, the Hurricanes were 10-7 at this point in the season. They’d proven that they would be a tough team to play against. Putting in a player who was scratched so often without a reason wouldn’t happen on any other day. Besides, the Wild had lost 6 out of the 8 home games so far that season.
Before the game began, an on-ice celebration with Goligoski’s family showcased his long NHL career. The Wild showered him with gifts, including an ATV. Throughout the game, they showed videos from old teammates congratulating him on his accomplishment. The crowd was emotional as they celebrated a Minnesota boy who was a finalist to Mr. Hockey, spent three years playing for the University of Minnesota, and ended up back in his home state.
The first period started, and for the first half, no one could put one in the net. Heck, the Wild couldn’t even get a shot on goal. Kirill Kaprizov finally had a breakaway just about halfway through the first but couldn’t quite get it in the net. That was the Wild’s first shot on goal. Shortly after, Sebastian Aho put the Canes on the board by taking advantage of a 2-on-1. By that point, the Canes only had 7 shots on goal.
Through the second period, there wasn’t much to put on the score sheet, but the game was eventful. Sam Steel had a great wrap-around try, but it hit the far post. Toward the end of the second period, Mats Zuccarello also had a great chance, but it was swallowed up by Pyotr Kochetkov.
The score was still 1-0 when the third period started. Another wrap-around attempt by Joel Eriksson Ek was denied. The third period had plenty of back and forth, with both teams pushing hard for a goal. Both goalies were stopping every puck thrown their way. But it wasn’t until 17:23 that it finally happened.
Kaprizov evaded a few defenders in the offensive zone and got the puck to Jared Spurgeon, who picked it up in the corner. A quick snap to Steel in front of the net, and Steel shoots it right over the goalie’s glove. Steel ended up falling on the ice with a big smile on his face, a foreshadowing of what was to come later in the game. Even better, Goligoski was on the ice when Steel tied it up.
The clock ran out in the third period, with the teams tied 1-1. The crowd was on edge after a long game with a low score but plenty of chances. The Xcel Energy Center is known for having a great atmosphere for hockey, but going into overtime is different. And this night, the OT only happened because of a goal with 2:36 left on the game clock.
About one minute into overtime, Dean Evason sends an unlikely trio of players over the boards: Goligoski, Steel, and Freddy Gaudreau. None of them are typical overtime players, certainly not toward the beginning of overtime. But they follow Evason’s order.
After Filip Gustavsson saved Aho’s shot, Goligoski picks it up along the boards and pushes it forward to Gaudreau. As play shifts through the neutral zone, Gaudreau saucers it across the ice to Steel at the red line.
Steel carries it over the blue line and into the offensive zone. He stops just outside the faceoff circle. While two opponents are focused on Steel, he can see Goligoski streaking up the other side of the ice. When Goligoski started up the ice, Aho was tracking him, but he doesn’t seem to think he’s a very big threat. Now as the play starts to come together for the Wild, Aho is hot on his tail. Steel passes it to him through the two defenders to Goligoski.
Goligoski reaches out as far as he can with his stick to pick up the pass. He’s trying his hardest to evade Aho. They’re almost to the net, so any playmaking needs to be quick. As soon as the puck hits his tape, Goligoski dekes it once and lets it rip. The puck flies over Kochetkov’s glove and hits the back of the net.
The arena erupts as soon as the puck goes in. Goligoski throws his arms up in celebration as he and Aho somehow fall to the ice. The momentum from Goligoski’s all-out skate for his life keeps them moving, sliding them together into the boards. Aho ends up laying sideways behind Goligoski, cushioning the blow as Goligoski slides backward on his breezers, both hands and skates in the air in disbelief.
The fans in the stands are beside themselves. In the background, everyone, including the mascot Nordy, seems to jump at the same time, and they don’t stop. The emotional 1000th-game ceremony at the beginning of the game, coupled with so many near-miss goals, has primed the crowd to overflow with emotion. The roar of the crowd doesn’t subside for what feels like hours.
Being part of the crowd feels historic. I realize instantly that I will never forget this night. Up on the club level, my brother and I can’t stop jumping. I’m hopping from foot to foot. I’m screaming so much that I know I’ll lose my voice the next day, but I don’t care. I can’t stop reliving that goal in slow motion. It’s movie magic, and everyone realizes it. Everybody screams until they can’t scream anymore, jumping and hugging as the entire Wild team spills onto the ice to mob Goligoski. The goal horn starts and doesn’t stop for almost a full minute. Fans are tearing up and high-fiving. It’s a time when everyone sitting around is suddenly a friend. The heart of hockey is beating in everyone in the rink.
The man of the hour is in disbelief. His mouth is wide open in shock as his teammates surround and jump on top of him. Coming out of the scrum, his visor is completely fogged up from the excitement of all of the players.
Goligoski isn’t a prolific scorer anymore. He plays on the third pairing now. He is not anywhere toward the top of the list of players to send over boards in overtime. But for some reason, Evason sent him out. And Goligoski tied the game up with a neat bow.
Watching the replay, pay attention to the noise behind the announcers. The crowd roar doesn’t die down. It shifts to scream-singing along to the goal song but shifts right back to an excited roar when the song ends.
The celebration lasts longer than usual, both on the ice and in the stands. Usually, fans start to pour out after a game, trying to beat the rush. But no one wanted to leave right away because leaving will break the magic hockey spell that the game cast.
Kevin Gorg takes Goligoski aside for a post-game interview. As Goligoski struggles to hold it together, wiping away tears with his hockey gloves, the fans won’t stop cheering him on. When he isn’t able to keep talking, the crowd roars again, filling in Goligoski’s emotional silence. Calls of “Goooooose” erupt along with the applause.
Goligoski ends his interview with an emotional plea for Minnesota fans to stick with the Wild. His voice quivers again as the crowd cheers again, reminding every Wild player that the State of Hockey always has their back.
As he retreats down the tunnel, the crowd roars one more time. This is what the sport of hockey is all about. It’s a game of heart, and it can turn on a dime. Anything is possible.