On a frigid Saturday night with temperatures expected to be below zero, illuminated by the lights of the downtown Minneapolis skyline, the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues will kick off the new year at Target Field. Hello, 2022.

The Winter Classic, originally scheduled to take place at the beginning of 2021, was postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, fans not yet allowed back into stadiums at the time. Much has changed, especially in the Minnesota sports scene, in the year that followed.

St. Paul gymnast Suni Lee captured the hearts of fans around the world, winning the women’s gymnastics all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympics. Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov debuted and became an instant sensation. Former Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez became a part-owner of the Timberwolves and Lynx. Fans returned to the stands, infusing energy and life back into stadiums that had gone quiet.

And so much more.

Here’s a look back at the year that was in Minnesota sports. Goodbye, 2021.

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January

Just days into the new year, the Wild named defenseman Jared Spurgeon their second full-time captain in team history after the departure of longtime leader Mikko Koivu.

Days after that, in mid-January, the NHL’s truncated 56-game season began, and in his NHL debut, dazzling Russian rookie Kaprizov recorded three points and netted his first career goal to send the Wild to an overtime win. Kaprizov would go on to win the Calder Memorial Trophy, given to the league’s top rookie.

Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov celebrates his goal during a shootout Dec. 4 against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Xcel Energy Center. 
Brace Hemmelgarn / USA Today Sports
Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov celebrates his goal during a shootout Dec. 4 against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Xcel Energy Center. Brace Hemmelgarn / USA Today Sports

In a first since 2014, both the Gophers men’s and women’s hockey teams were atop the national polls at the same time. In a surprise twist, the Gophers women’s team missed the NCAA tournament later in the year. The men’s team, after winning the Big Ten tournament, would lose to Minnesota State Mankato in the NCAA tournament.

At the end of the month, the National Women’s Hockey League (now Premier Hockey Federation) began a two-week bubble season in Lake Placid, N.Y., that eventually had to be suspended because of COVID-19. When play resumed in late March, the Boston Pride edged the Minnesota Whitecaps 4-3 for the Isobel Cup.

February

After a nearly yearlong hiatus, high school state tournaments returned in February.

Hill-Murray forward Nate Hardy (10) leaps for joy on a Hill-Murray forward Charlie Strobel  (27) goal against Moorhead goalie Hudson Hodges (31) during Thursday's Minnesota Class 2A state boys hockey tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. John Autey / Forum News Service
Hill-Murray forward Nate Hardy (10) leaps for joy on a Hill-Murray forward Charlie Strobel  (27) goal against Moorhead goalie Hudson Hodges (31) during Thursday's Minnesota Class 2A state boys hockey tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. John Autey / Forum News Service

Two recent former Gophers football stars — Tyler Johnson and Antoine Winfield Jr. — helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win on Feb. 7. Winfield intercepted Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the Bucs’ 31-9 victory.

In a year full of turnover for the Timberwolves, February marked the beginning, when the team fired coach Ryan Saunders and immediately brought in Toronto Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch to take over. At the time of Saunders’ firing, the Timberwolves had an NBA-worst 7-24 record.

March

After finishing third in the NFC North at 7-9, the Vikings spent March reshaping their roster. They released longtime tight end Kyle Rudolph after 10 seasons and followed by releasing offensive tackle Riley Reiff days later, clearing up even more cap space.

In an effort to improve their defense, the Vikings brought in veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson, an eight-time Pro Bowl player, among other moves, on a one-year deal.

After finishing the season under .500 with a dismal conference record, the Gophers parted ways with men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino after eight seasons. Pitino immediately accepted a job coaching the University of New Mexico, and the Gophers brought in alum Ben Johnson, a former Pitino assistant coach, to take over.

Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs, formerly a two-sport star at Minnehaha Academy, hit a buzzer-beating, game-winning three-point shot in overtime against UCLA to send the Bulldogs to the Final Four’s championship game. Suggs would later declare for the draft and be selected by the Orlando Magic with the fifth overall pick.

Jalen Suggs of Gonzaga poses with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the No. 5 overall pick July 29 by the Orlando Magic in the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. 
Brad Penner / USA Today Sports
Jalen Suggs of Gonzaga poses with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the No. 5 overall pick July 29 by the Orlando Magic in the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Brad Penner / USA Today Sports

On the women’s side, dynamic freshman Paige Bueckers, a Hopkins High School grad, led UConn to the Final Four. The star point guard was the AP Player of the Year and Naismith College Player of the Year, among other honors. Later in the year, she underwent ankle surgery, and in December she suffered a knee surgery which has forced her off the court for the time being.

UConn Huskies guard Paige Bueckers (5) dribbles the ball as Arizona Wildcats guard Bendu Yeaney (23) defends during the first half in the national semifinals of the women's Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Alamodome on Friday, April 2, 2021. Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports
UConn Huskies guard Paige Bueckers (5) dribbles the ball as Arizona Wildcats guard Bendu Yeaney (23) defends during the first half in the national semifinals of the women's Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Alamodome on Friday, April 2, 2021. Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports

April

New guidelines set forth by Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health allowed professional teams to let fans back in stadiums at limited capacity. The Twins welcomed back 9,675 fans to Target Field for their home opener, a joyous occasion in a difficult month for the team.

The St. Cloud State men’s hockey team, in its quest for its first NCAA title, came up just short, losing 5-0 to Massachusetts in the championship game.

St. Cloud State Huskies forward Will Hammer (16) celebrates his goal with forward Jared Cockrell (21) during the second period in the April 8 semifinals of the 2021 NCAA Frozen Four college hockey tournament against the Minnesota State Mavericks at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports
St. Cloud State Huskies forward Will Hammer (16) celebrates his goal with forward Jared Cockrell (21) during the second period in the April 8 semifinals of the 2021 NCAA Frozen Four college hockey tournament against the Minnesota State Mavericks at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports

On April 12, three sporting events in the Twin Cities — Twins/Red Sox, Timberwolves/Nets and Wild/Blues — were postponed in the wake of the police killing in Brooklyn Center that left 20-year-old Daunte Wright dead.

Also in April, 7-foot star Chet Holmgren led Minnehaha Academy to another Class 3A boys basketball state title and then committed to Gonzaga. Now a freshman, Holmgren is expected to be a top-three pick in the 2022 NBA draft.

Speaking of top draft picks, Marshall’s Trey Lance was taken third overall in the NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Gophers wide receiver Rashod Bateman was selected by the Baltimore Ravens with the No. 27 pick, becoming the first Gophers player picked in the first round since Laurence Maroney in 2006.

May

The St. Paul Saints began their first season as the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate in May after a delayed start to the season. The Saints were managed by Toby Gardenhire, the son of longtime Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

Late in the month, the Wild were bounced out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Vegas Golden Knights. The Wild fell behind in the series 3-1 before forcing a Game 7, which they lost 6-2 in Las Vegas, wrapping up a surprisingly successful season.

Byron Buxton (16) of the St. Paul Saints pops out in the first inning at CHS Field in St. Paul during a Triple-A baseball game between the Saints and the Omaha Storm Chasers on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (Adam Bettcher / Special to the Pioneer Press)
Byron Buxton (16) of the St. Paul Saints pops out in the first inning at CHS Field in St. Paul during a Triple-A baseball game between the Saints and the Omaha Storm Chasers on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (Adam Bettcher / Special to the Pioneer Press)

June

TCF Bank Stadium got a new name in late June after the bank merged with Huntington Bank. The new name — Huntington Bank Stadium — was officially approved by the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents near the end of the month.

Twins center fielder Byron Buxton, the American League’s Player of the Month in April, returned from a hip strain only to be hit by a pitch three days later, suffering a fracture in his left hand. It was a big blow for the Twins and their best player.

July

The Wild made big headlines in July, when they agreed to an eight-year, $42 million extension with center Joel Eriksson Ek and then soon after bought out the final four years of the contracts of franchise stalwarts Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The duo signed identical $98 million deals in July 2012.

Businessman Marc Lore and Rodriguez acquired a 20 percent stake in the Timberwolves and Lynx and will become controlling owners within the coming years. News of the impending sale had broken months earlier and initially prompted fears that the duo might try to move the Timberwolves. In later interviews, they have confirmed their intentions to keep the team in Minnesota.

Marc Lore, left, and Alex Rodriguez have officially purchased a 20% stake in the Timberwolves and Lynx organization. (Courtesy of the Timberwolves and Lynx)
Marc Lore, left, and Alex Rodriguez have officially purchased a 20% stake in the Timberwolves and Lynx organization. (Courtesy of the Timberwolves and Lynx)

Swimmer Regan Smith, a 19-year-old from Lakeville, captured three medals at the Summer Olympics, taking home the bronze medal in the 100-meter backstroke and silvers in the 200-meter butterfly and 4×100-meter medley relay.

Sunisa Lee, an 18-year-old from St. Paul, stepped into the spotlight after teammate Simone Biles withdrew from the women’s individual all-around. Lee became a sensation, winning gold in the all-around and also capturing silver in the team competition and bronze in uneven bars. St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter declared July 30 as Sunisa Lee Day to honor her achievements. Lee’s big year continued when she competed on “Dancing With the Stars” and started her college career at Auburn University.

Sunisa Lee of the United States in action on the balance beam during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo on July 27, 2021. Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters
Sunisa Lee of the United States in action on the balance beam during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo on July 27, 2021. Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters

On July 30, the Twins shipped their best starting pitcher, José Berríos, to the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline. Days earlier, they traded their best hitter, designated hitter Nelson Cruz, to the Tampa Bay Rays. The trades — two more pitchers also were dealt — came as a result of their underwhelming season.

August

Minnesotans continued to shine on the international stage as wrestler Gable Steveson’s last-second takedown netted him an Olympic heavyweight gold medal in the most dramatic fashion imaginable.

Gold medalist Gable Steveson poses with his medal after winning the Men's Freestyle 125kg wrestling tournament at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Aug. 6, 2021. 
Reuters file photo
Gold medalist Gable Steveson poses with his medal after winning the Men's Freestyle 125kg wrestling tournament at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Aug. 6, 2021. Reuters file photo

Lynx stars Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier also took home gold as members of the U.S. women’s basketball team, as did Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve. Reeve served as an assistant coach on the team and was tapped in December to take over as head coach of the U.S. women’s national team after Dawn Staley stepped down.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was among those who missed a handful of practices after being deemed a “high-risk close contact” because of his vaccination status. Coach Mike Zimmer subsequently voiced his frustration about players not taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Cousins, who then said he considered surrounding himself with plexiglass in the QB room, has so far avoided missing any games because of COVID-19 despite remaining unvaccinated.

Also in August, the United announced a new Chief Executive Officer, Shari Ballard, a longtime former Best Buy executive. Ballard succeeded Chris Wright.

September

In September, the University of St. Thomas’ jump to Division I was well underway. The first Tommies team to rack up a DI victory was the women’s soccer team on Aug. 29.

On Sept. 21, the Wild signed Kaprizov to a five-year extension, concluding a long negotiation process and making him the highest-paid player on the team.

A day later, the Timberwolves made big news of their own, firing president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas in part for creating what was deemed a toxic work environment less than a week before training camp began.

Late in the month, the Lynx were upset by the eventual champion Chicago Sky in the second round of the WNBA playoffs.

October

The Twins’ season came to a merciful end on Oct. 3 in Kansas City and while they managed to avoid 90 losses, they finished dead last in the American League Central after winning the division in the previous two seasons.

All four games the Vikings played in the month were decided by one possession — they lost three of them — beginning a trend that has continued through the season. The Vikings have tied an NFL record with 14 of their 15 games thus far decided by one possession.

Allianz Field was announced as the host of the 2022 MLS All-Star Game. Later in the month, it was the site of women’s national team star Carli Lloyd’s final match for the U.S.

United States forward Carli Lloyd (10) removes her cleats and acknowledges the crowd as she leaves the game against South Korea in the second half an international friendly soccer match Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021 at Allianz Field in St. Paul. Lloyd earlier announced her retirement following the end of the game. Bruce Kluckhohn / USA Today Sports
United States forward Carli Lloyd (10) removes her cleats and acknowledges the crowd as she leaves the game against South Korea in the second half an international friendly soccer match Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021 at Allianz Field in St. Paul. Lloyd earlier announced her retirement following the end of the game. Bruce Kluckhohn / USA Today Sports

November

Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck signed a new seven-year contract early in the month, which adds two more years to his last deal and will keep him at the U through the 2028 season. Fleck and the Gophers upset the Badgers late in the month, bringing Paul Bunyan’s Axe back to the Twin Cities.

Gophers cornerback Coney Durr (16) and teammates hold up Paul Bunyan’s Axe after beating Wisconsin 23-13 at Huntington Bank Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. 
Courtesy of Gopher Athletics via St. Paul Pioneer Press
Gophers cornerback Coney Durr (16) and teammates hold up Paul Bunyan’s Axe after beating Wisconsin 23-13 at Huntington Bank Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. Courtesy of Gopher Athletics via St. Paul Pioneer Press

The Vikings also aced their Border Battle, beating the Packers in a rollercoaster 34-31 victory. Second-year wide receiver Justin Jefferson continued his rise, recording his first-career multi-touchdown game in the win.

Earlier in November, a former girlfriend of Vikings star running back Dalvin Cook filed a civil lawsuit accusing him of assault, battery and false imprisonment. Cook, during a news conference, said he was the “victim in this situation.” Cook wasn’t the only Viking to encounter legal trouble; earlier in the year, cornerback Jeff Gladney, the No. 31 overall pick in the 2020 draft, was released after being indicted on a felony assault charge.

On Nov. 21, the Loons were knocked out of the MLS playoffs in the first round, falling 3-1 to the Portland Timbers.

December

A flurry of activity marked the beginning of December as Major League Baseball teams rushed to lock in moves ahead of the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the subsequent lockout, which is ongoing. The Twins got in on the action, signing pitcher Dylan Bundy and extending Buxton long-term. Buxton’s seven-year, $100 million deal is the second-most money the club has committed to a player in team history, behind Joe Mauer.

Days later, Twins legends Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Golden Days Era Committee. They will be inducted in July in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Minnesota Twins Hall of Famers, from left, Paul Molitor, Tony Oliva and Jack Morris pose for a photo during a news conference at Target Field in Minneapolis on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. Oliva and Twins teammate Jim Kaat were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday by the Golden Days Era Committee. (Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press)
Minnesota Twins Hall of Famers, from left, Paul Molitor, Tony Oliva and Jack Morris pose for a photo during a news conference at Target Field in Minneapolis on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. Oliva and Twins teammate Jim Kaat were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday by the Golden Days Era Committee. (Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press)

The Vikings’ playoff chances took a hit when they lost a close game to the last-place and then-winless Detroit Lions early in the month. They currently are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in with two games (at Green Bay, home against Chicago) remaining.

The U volleyball team made a run to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight before getting swept by Wisconsin, which won the tournament. Johnson and the men’s basketball team finished their nonconference schedule undefeated and are off to a surprising 10-1 start. Women’s basketball coach and former Lynx star Lindsay Whalen became a first-time nominee for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and the football team defeated West Virginia 18-6 in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix to finish the season 9-4.

The Wild are near the top of the NHL standings, and as a result, coach Dean Evason and the entire coaching staff signed multi-year contract extensions.

COVID-19 cases caused the NHL to hit pause briefly on its season and forced some of Minnesota’s biggest stars, including Cook and Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, out of action.

And finally, Target Field was transformed into a hockey venue, where the Wild and Blues will compete, at long last, in the Winter Classic at 6 p.m. on New Year’s Day.