NHL Winter Classic: The tradition of Justin Morneau’s backyard hockey games – WCCO

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Baseball and hockey will take center ice this weekend when the NHL Winter Classic takes place at Target Field on New Year’s Day.

This week, Special Envoy Carly Zucker shares unique stories about the state of hockey. She met former Twins first baseman Justin Morneau and Wild winger Mark Parrish during a backyard hockey game between their retired teammates.

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CARLY ZUCKER: Winter Classic is coming to Minneapolis, we had no idea it was happening in our backyard. How did this pick up game start?

JUSTIN MORNEAU: A lot of us guys are looking for something to do in the winter, so it’s usually baseball guys who come here and get a few hockey guys here to join us. We usually don’t play at night, we usually play when the kids are at school, so we come here and have fun. These aren’t really glory days, but remember how out of shape we are, but also remember how much we love to compete and play. It’s about having fun and seeing old friends. This is the fourth year. It is normally a battle between Canada and the United States. North of the Border, South of the Border Battle, then talk trash for a week or two until we play again.

CARLY ZUCKER: There are big names coming out here. How is the competition? Is it more mental or more physical?

MARC PARRIS: Definitely more mental. It’s all about bragging rights. One hundred percent bragging rights. You gotta go out there, put it all on the line, hope the coach doesn’t bench you the next time he comes out and beats the baseball guys.

ZUCKER: We don’t see as many pickup games between friends from different backgrounds in different sports. Something we used to see when we were younger.

MORNEAU: Much of today’s sports are structured. It is an appointment, a lesson or a personalized monitor. For us, it’s really the last generation to go and shoot at the garage door for an hour and a half and try to improve on your own or figure it out on your own. This group of guys, whether it was hockey, basketball, golf, baseball, whiffle ball, whatever, we were proud of the fact that we could do more than one thing. And I think you see in these guys, you have baseball guys, you have hockey guys.

ZUCKER: Mark, be honest, how good are baseball players?

Mark Parrish, Justin Morneau and Carly Zucker (credit: CBS)

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PARIS: I can’t stand the fact that I have to say that, they have good hands. We’re lucky their feet don’t quite move like us hockey players. I’m joking of course. Like Justin said, it’s all about going out and having fun. You come here and instantly become a 12 year old again and skate with your buddies on the pond all day, all night and again realize how out of shape we are.

ZUCKER: It’s so exciting to have the Winter Classic in the state of hockey, we’ve wanted it for a long time. What does it mean to you to see him at Target Field?

MORNEAU: It’s gonna be pretty cool. I can go skating as part of the media day and skate on the rink where I played first base. That for me sums it all up. Being there, you never thought something like this would happen. Obviously, it’s a great room for that, a small room where everything is kind of above you. I can’t wait to be there, I have friends coming from Canada, they will come just to go to this match. We are excited to see the game outdoors.

PARIS: I wanted it for so long. It’s the only thing, besides winning the Stanley Cup, that I wanted to do in my career. They look so fun. I know the ice is hard to play and the lights can cause players problems, but at the end of the day they always have a lot of fun. And I’m sure they will in our state of hockey.

ZUCKER: Having hockey on a baseball rink must be a dream come true for these guys today.

PARIS: For me, these are two worlds colliding. Being a huge North Stars fan, but a bigger Twins fan, I wanted to be a baseball player growing up. So baseball field hockey is my dream come true.

MORNEAU: It’s a bit crazy for me, the first time I skated outside was only when I came to Minnesota. I never skated outside in BC growing up, it never got cold enough where I live. We would have rain and cold for a few days, but we could never have anything like we have here. What we see is my dream and all of a sudden we can see it at Target Field, see an outdoor game, see hockey go back to its beginnings. And you look at it, you’re a little part of it, and you pretend that we’re a part of it here too.

ZUCKER: What is the punishment for losers here?

MORNEAU: The losing team must shovel the rink. The winning team stands on the boards and talks trash, while the losers prepare the rink for the next game.

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Catherine J. Martinez