For eight seasons he was the face of the Minnesota Wild franchise. He was the expansion team's first-ever first-round draft pick, and went on to become its all-time leader in goals, assists, and points.
Now, finally, tonight Marian Gaborik returns to Minnesota for the first time since signing a lucrative free agent deal with the Rangers on July 1, 2009, and after missing last year's clash due to a minor knee injury.
It is easily the most-anticipated game on the Wild schedule this season, and the debates as to whether Gaborik will be cheered for his accomplishments with the Wild or booed for leaving the smaller market club for the big bucks and bright lights of Broadway has been a hotly debated topic out here in Minnesota.
It is easy for me, with nothing emotionally invested in the Wild, to say that Gaborik clearly deserves a long standing ovation and a video tribute on the scoreboard tonight. Unlike many who will show up at Excel Energy Center, I do not feel jilted by the star sniper's exodus to New York, nor do I share the angst of Gaby's many injuries while in Minnesota.
Nonetheless, should be quite the interesting night tonight in frigid St. Paul when Gaborik's Rangers face off with the Wild.
For a more detailed account of Gaborik's return, read my story at NewYorkRangers.com.
For a wide-ranging take on Gaborik and his return this evening, check out these quotes from some of the major players in the story, including Gaby himself.
And special thanks to my buddies Michael Russo from The Star Tribune out here in Minnesota (@RussosTrib on Twitter) and Andrew Gross from The Bergen Record in New Jersey (@AGrossRecord on Twitter) for sharing and swapping quotes with me.
On his return to Minnesota: "Well it's definitely going to be the first time. I've had a lot of fun over the years there. It's going to be definitely something special so I just need to get ready for that game. Maybe I'll be a little nervous or it might be a little emotional but it has to happen at some point. I'm excited to play there and hopefully we'll have a much game than (Friday's 5-1 loss in Colorado)."
On Missing last year's game vs. the Wild with a knee injury: "Yeah, you're coming back, you want to play. The circumstances obviously weren't good but now it's going to be my first time there and I'm looking forward to that. I don't know, it's tough to explain but hopefully we'll have a good game."
On what type of reception he expects from the Wild fans: "It's hard to say. Last year when I wasn't playing it wasn't that great when they announced injured guys. I can't control how they're going to react. Hopefully it's going to be pleasant. I think I've done a lot of good things there and had good success as an expansion team so hopefully it's going to be positive."
On what emotional ties he still has to Wild: "It was a big chapter of my hockey career and my life as well. Definitely I have great memories there but now I'm a Ranger and that's the way it is. I really enjoy it here. I'm always going to have good memories from Minnesota."
Rangers forward (and former Wild forward) Derek Boogaard
On Gaborik's return: "I'm not sure what kind of reaction he will get. He put in a lot of good years for that organization and he did a lot of good things there. If anything it should be all positive, I think anyways."
On his own first return to Minnesota tonight: "It'll be a good feeling, but it'll definitely be different, especially being on the other side. I don't know if I am nervous, but it's somewhere along those lines. They'll be 'Booing' either way. That's exactly it!"
Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck
On fans expected reaction to Gaborik: "I mean, I can guarantee you they're going to boo him. But I don't know whether that's out of them not liking him or them just being upset we don't have him anymore. He took some heat when he was here, but I can tell you firsthand, love him or hate him, they loved him when he was scoring goals. You can't say no to having a guy like that on your team."
On Boogaard's return: "What's it going to be like to see him? Hilarious. His number alone (94) is going to make me laugh. You miss that guy when he's not around. He's one of a kind. Obviously he needed a little change of scenery to get his offensive production boosted!"
Wild forward Andrew Brunette
On Gaborik: "I bet he'll have his emotions more under control than if it would have happened last year. The first year after you leave a place is always the toughest coming back, so I think he's more comfortable being in New York and with the team. I still think it'll be hard. It's never easy, especially he's here nine, 10 years and the impact he had here, to come back, it's never easy."
On the Minnesota fans: "A year ago might been a different story for the fans. Time kind of changes and heals different things. I think the people I've talked to, you come to appreciate him when he's gone (because they don't have a game-breaker anymore)."
Wild head coach Todd Richards
On the build-up to tonight's game: "I've had lots of requests for tickets from people to come to that game. It seems like people that I know, friends of mine, this is the game they want to come to. You can see the impact [Gaborik] had in this organization, this franchise and this city. It's the same with Boogey, too. They were both fan favorites. They both helped get the franchise to this point. ... I'm looking forward to it. Plus, it's the New York Rangers anyway. There's something about playing the Rangers with their colors and their jerseys and their history."
Follow Me on Twitter: @jimcerny and @thenyrangers