The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

June 25, 2014

Minnesota Wild fans holla for Haula (video)

Team's annual road tour makes Mankato stop

When it comes to hockey in the Mankato area, the term "favorite Gopher" might be an oxymoron.

But Erik Haula, a former University of Minnesota player who is now a budding star forward with the Minnesota Wild, has won over fans around the south-central part of the state.

For a video of the event, click here

"Legendary," 13-year-old Jarrett Miller said during the Wild's Wells Fargo Road Tour stop at All Seasons Arena. "I just met one of my idols. I always liked him, even before he was with the Wild. He's the only Gopher I actually liked."

For another video of the event, click here

Several hundred people showed up to Wednesday's event, collecting autographs from and taking photos with Haula, teammate Stephane Veilleux, Wild alumnus Antti Laaksonen and TV play-by-play announcer Anthony LaPanta. The Wild donated signed Haula and Veilleux jerseys and a team-signed stick to the Mankato Area Hockey Association.

The 23-year-old Haula received the bulk of the attention in the wake of the Wild's recent postseason run

As an NHL rookie, he played in just 46 regular-season games, scoring six goals and 15 points. But he stood out in the playoffs with four goals and seven points in 13 games.

"We're big Wild fans; we watch all the games," said Myles Ching, who drove to Mankato from Sioux Falls, S.D., with his brother, Brandon, and their friend Michael Kayser. "Haula was my favorite Gopher, so I wanted to come here and see him, too."

Grayson Gavin, a senior at Mankato East, recently returned from Finland where he was an exchange student for the last 11 months. He had Haula, a native of Finland, sign a Finnish Olympic jersey, and the two spoke Finnish with each other for a bit.

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