As Day 2 of Wild training camp ended Saturday and Erik Haula headed down the tunnel and toward the locker room, he was hounded by fans waving markers and memorabilia.
Children repeatedly yelled “Haula,” trying to get his autograph at the first practice that was open to the public.
After emerging as one of the Wild’s best players during the team’s playoff run last season, Haula quickly is becoming a fan favorite.
As a rookie in the playoffs, the former Gopher moved up from fourth-line center to third line, increasing his ice time from 9 minutes, 45 seconds in the first playoff game to 16 minutes, 23 seconds in the last.
“It was something that I’ll never forget,” Haula said of his playoff performance. “It was a special time in my career.
Minnesota forward Erik Haula watches the action during the Minnesota Wild training camp at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Saturday, September 20, 2014. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)
Now, though, Haula is faced with the task of building on his strong postseason, showing his performance can become the norm. To that desired end, he worked out at the University of Minnesota all summer with Cal Dietz, who trains the Gophers men’s hockey team.
Haula tried to leave his postseason success behind him. But whenever he needed an extra push, he said, he watched playoff highlights.
“Sometimes you have bad days, so it’s nice to reflect back on that,” Haula said. “Obviously, it puts a smile on your face. It’s not like you’re living in the past; it’s just something that gives you a little motivation to work a little but harder the next day.