The Sports Daily > Crease and Assist
Game #30: Minnesota Wild at Phoenix Coyotes, Saturday December 10, 2011 at 7:00pm (CST), Jobing.com Arena [GAME PREVIEW]

Record Pts Div. Rank G/G GA/G PP% PK%
Minnesota Wild (19-7-3) 41 1st NW 2.45 (24) 2.14 (3) 14.8% (23)

84.9% (11)

Phoenix Coyotes (15-10-3) 33 1st Pacific 2.64 (16) 2.50 (12) 17.6% (29) 85.6% (8)


Minnesota Wild
Top 5 Scorers: G A Pts
1. #9 Mikko Koivu 6 18 24
2. #15 Dany Heatley 8 11 19
3. #7 Matt Cullen 8 9 17
4. #96 Pierre-Marc Bouchard 5 11 16
5. #21 Kyle Brodziak 8 7 15
Top 3 Penalty Minutes: PIM
1. #16 Brad Staubitz 49
2. #22 Cal Clutterbuck 38
3. #21 Kyle Brodziak 31
Goaltenders: GAA SV%
1. #32 Niklas Backstrom (10-5-2) 2.15 .929
2. #37 Josh Harding (7-2-1) 2.14 .932
3. #31 Matt Hackett (2-0-0) 1.01 .974
Phoenix Coyotes
Top 5 Scorers: G A Pts
1. #17 Radim Vrbata 14 11 25
2. #13 Ray Whitney 10 15 25
3. #3 Keith Yandle 4 15 19
4. #19 Shane Doan 7 11 18
5. #11 Martin Hanzal 4 11 15
Top 3 Penalty Minutes: PIM
1. #53 Derek Morris 22
2. #33 Adrian Aucoin 20
3. #37 Raffi Torres 20
Goaltenders: GAA SV%
1. #41 Mike Smith (13-7-3) 2.42 .926
2. #1 Jason LaBarbera (2-3-0) 2.51 .914

Teamwork.  It’s one of those words that we hear on a regular basis.  We hear it in our jobs.  We hear it in our kids’ schools.  And of course, we hear it in regards to sports at all levels.  While we all pretty much understand the concept, we really need to take a look at its definition, because it really goes deeper than what we realize.  From Merriam-Webster Online:

“work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole”

In general, we consider “teamwork” simply to be a matter of working together as a group.  However, it goes beyond that.  In order to work as a team, we must each push aside our own wants and needs for the overall good of our teammates.  This is often difficult for people.  Even an introvert likes to be recognized for their own success.  Like the old saying goes, “there’s no ‘I’ in team.”

In professional sports, it is on occasion difficult for a group of well-paid professional athletes to “subordinate personal prominence.”  A player’s contract is based on one’s “personal prominence.”  The more goals and points you score, the more you can ask for in contract negotiations.  We’ve all seen teams where star players are unable to put aside their needs and wants.  For whatever reason, they refuse to buy in to the team concept that the leader, ie head coach, has put in place.  When those teams falter and refuse to buy in, it is usually not the star player who pays the price, but the head coach.  And this season has already been quite harsh to head coaches around the league.

For whatever reason, the Minnesota Wild are the embodiment of the Merram-Webster definition.  During the off-season, General Manager Chuck Fletcher managed to acquire player Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi.  As fans, we didn’t expect them to completely turn this team around.  Sure they were brought in to score goals, but no one expected them to be the ultimate answer.  Nor have they been “the” answer.  Fletcher also managed to get Nick Johnson off of waivers this summer from Pittsburgh as well as former Flyer Darroll Powe as a free-agent.  On top of that, Minnesota has dressed an unbelievable 32 players this season, and we’re just a third of the way through the season.  Like Heatley said in a StarTribune interview, “I’ve never been on a team that’s dressed, like 35 guys at this point of the season.  Usually a team this high [in the standings] has dressed about the same 20 guys every night.”  Even better, all those extra guys are young guys, many of whom played under Mike Yeo last season in Houston, have played quite well.

What definitely puts a smile on my face is that players like Heatley are appreciative of the role players on this team.  He has recognized that every player that either is a mainstay on the third or fourth line or has been called up, has accepted the challenge put before them and performed well.  I remember when we acquired Heatley this summer.  Fans of teams where Heatley has spent time would simply say “good luck with that baggage” or “he’s a cancer in the locker room.”  Sorry folks, but a “cancer” does not say things like “I can’t say enough how fun it is to play this way and win this way.”  Heatley and every other player on the Minnesota Wild has fully bought into Yeo’s plan, and the results as shown in the league standings.

Wild fans have not seen a team concept like this since the fairytale 2002-03 season, where then head coach, Jacques Lemaire took a rag-tag group of fringe players to the Western Conference Finals.  While the quality of the rosters between then and now are vastly different, what is the same, is that the players in question believed in their coach and believed in the system used.  Even more important is that both rosters were clearly having fun playing.  Hockey is a game, and should be fun.  However, in the high-stakes of the NHL, I think there are many players who forget that it should be fun.  It is much easier to have fun when each player really knows and embraces what teamwork is.  When they forget what it means, that’s when they’ll stop winning and more important, stop having fun.

Until then, I will fully enjoy watching “teamwork” every night. 

Injury Report:

Minnesota Guillaume Latendresse (concussion), Marek Zidlicky (concussion), Justin Falk (chest), Devin Setoguchi (leg),  Niklas Backstrom (groin) is probable, Josh Harding (neck) is questionable

Kurt Sauer (post-concussion syndrome), Rostislav Klesla (lower body)

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