A Wild surprise

Minnesota Wild player Stu Bickel surprises an Inver Grove Heights hockey team Monday night, thanks to a new program. He played alongside the 10- and 11-year-old girls, posed for photos and signed autographs.
Minnesota Wild player Stu Bickel surprises an Inver Grove Heights hockey team Monday night, thanks to a new program. He played alongside the 10- and 11-year-old girls, posed for photos and signed autographs. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)
Maddie Schram stands next to Minnesota Wild player Stu Bickel, as the Inver Grove Heights Spartans U10A girls hockey team pose for a photo with the defenseman during a special practice Dec. 8.
Maddie Schram stands next to Minnesota Wild player Stu Bickel, as the Inver Grove Heights Spartans U10A girls hockey team pose for a photo with the defenseman during a special practice Dec. 8. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)
Minnesota Wild player Stu Bickel showed up at a local practice Dec. 8, the first of a series of surprise pop-in visits.
Minnesota Wild player Stu Bickel showed up at a local practice Dec. 8, the first of a series of surprise pop-in visits. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)
Alex Fredeen, 10, got to pass the puck to Minnesota Wild player Stu Bickel, during a special practice Monday night. He passed it back, and then she hit it into the goal.
Alex Fredeen, 10, got to pass the puck to Minnesota Wild player Stu Bickel, during a special practice Monday night. He passed it back, and then she hit it into the goal. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)
The Inver Grove Heights Spartans U10A girls hockey team huddle on the ice with special guest Stu Bickel, a Minnesota Wild player.
The Inver Grove Heights Spartans U10A girls hockey team huddle on the ice with special guest Stu Bickel, a Minnesota Wild player. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

Stu Bickel pays surprise visit to Inver Grove Heights hockey team

Makenzie Gibson faced an unexpected adversary in the net Monday night.

Minnesota Wild player Stu Bickel surprised the 11-year-old goalie and the rest of the Inver Grove Heights Spartans U10A girls hockey team by practicing alongside them for more than an hour, posing for photos and signing autographs at the Veterans Memorial Community Center ice rink.

Gibson got to defend the goal against Bickel, though she was already tired from an hour-long goalie training prior to the event.

“It was pretty cool; kind of hard with those shots,” said Gibson, who attends Hilltop Elementary School. “It was good for me.”

The special practice was the first of a series hosted by the Wild and Bremer Bank.  With few spectators, the practice Monday was relaxed and personal.

“It’s supposed to be designed to surprise the kids,” Wild spokesman Bryan Bellows said. “It’s a unique opportunity where (the players) can touch a little of their past and the kids can get a glimpse into what their future might be.”

Bellows said the Wild entered into a five-year agreement with Bremer Bank. Through that partnership, the hope is to put on several pop-in practices per season with teams throughout the state.

Bickel, a Chanhassen native, said he jumped at the chance to give back to the community.

“Youth hockey throughout the state of Minnesota is really important to me because I went through it,” Bickel said.

Youth coach Dan Boughton said the girls hope to reach Bickel’s level of success, and working on breaking in and out of a zone with the versatile defenseman gave them some inspiration.

“It’s great for Stu and the girls,” he said. “Even though they’re girls, they still aspire to play for an NHL team.”

Although nearly all of the players didn’t expect Bickel to join them on the ice, Alex Fredeen had an idea he was coming. Her dad is the team manager.

“I saw it on my dad’s phone,” said Fredeen, who attends Pine Bend Elementary School.

Still, the 10-year-old had an exciting moment all her own. She passed the puck to Bickel, and he passed it back. Then, she shot it into the goal.

“It was really cool to watch him play.”

Her mom, Ingrid Fredeen, watched the practice from the bleachers.

“It’s a really nice way to connect the Minnesota Wild with local communities,” she said. “The girls got to meet somebody and spend time with a player who’s had a lot of success in hockey, so that’s inspirational.”

The players — and Bickel ­— were calm and focused on the ice, as if they had practiced together before. But in the locker room afterwards, Freeden said, the girls were unreserved; exhilarated by the fact that they got to skate with a Wild player.

“They were really excited and chit-chatty in the locker room, and pretty impressed he showed up,” Fredeen said.

About two months ago, Monica Schram entered the team into an online contest for the event, thinking the chances of winning were slim. She found out she won a month later.

She said she wanted to keep it small and prevent Bickel from being swarmed by autograph seekers.

“I wanted to make sure it was just a personal, smaller event with these girls, and it was,” said Schram, who has a daughter on the team. “It was a great experience to have the girls see a professional player in real life; to have that personal experience with that player.”

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.


Want to play with a Wild player?

Teams can enter the sweepstakes for a chance to play with a Wild player at wild.nhl.com. Go to “Contests” in the “Fan Zone” section on the homepage, and click “Bremer Bank Pop-in Practices.”

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