Are you ever cursed from a bad memory? For whatever reason, its a memory that sticks with you that may be a bit uncomfortable or annoying. Whether that memory is from a trip to the dentist or an unfortunate physical gaffe of just being clutzy or something stupid you said at the worst possible moment those memories can sometimes stick for ages. All it takes is something to trigger you mind back to that moment and you re-live that uncomfortable moment in your mind. I have a moment that sticks in my mind everytime I think of the Colorado Avalanche. It was back in 2001 when Colorado won the Stanley Cup. I was lucky enough to have a hometown hero; Elk River’s Dan Hinote (who currently serves as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets) as one of the winners and he chose to spend his ‘day with the Cup’ by bringing it back to Elk River to use it to raise some money for the local hockey association and to thank the program, coaches, and community that got him to where he was. A generous and noble gesture on his part, without question. It was advertised the Elk River Star News, that Hinote was going to give the community and opportunity to see the Stanley Cup up close and personal where you could get your picture with Dan and the greatest trophy in all of sports. So my fiance and I went to the arena. We got to the arena extra early so we’d get a good seat and thus a good spot in line for this opportunity to see Dan Hinote and the Stanley Cup. After Dan Hinote gave a speech to the community and was given an honory certificate by the Mayor of Elk River, it was time to stand in line and have this ultimate fan moment, right? Wrong, because it was at this moment I realized I forgot one very crucial item. A camera. At this point I was feeling pretty stupid, since just about everyone else had a camera. For whatever reason I didn’t ask anyone else if they could take a picture and send it to me. In fact, the thought never even crossed my mind. I just felt stupid for not remembering such a crucial piece of equipment on this rare occasion. Needless to say I didn’t get a picture with the Cup, just a handshake and a sharing of congratulations over his accomplishment and thanking him for sharing it with the community.
The Wild play the Avalanche this evening, it will be with an injury-riddled defense that has forced it to lean heavily on its farm system. Young defenseman Jared Spurgeon, Justin Falk, Nate Prosser, Clayton Stoner, and now Kris Fredheim (who will make his NHL debut this evening) all have less than 100 NHL games of experience. Minnesota currently sits atop the Northwest Division and in 2nd place in the Western Conference. Will it remain in this position after tonight?
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First Period Notes: Cautious. There were moments during the opening period, where you felt both Minnesota and Colorado were simply attempting to feel out their opponent. Neither team wanting to make a critical mistake early. Now both teams had at times their small bursts of offensive effort, but nothing to write home about. Minnesota did get an early power play due to a tripping infraction by Colorado’s Matt Duchene. However, the problem that has plagued the Wild all season with their power play was once again the issue yeat again tonight. That being dumping the puck into a corner and then not having players fast enough or having enough initiative to get to that puck before the Colorado skaters. When you do that, you do nothing more than waste precious time that should yield decent possession time and scoring chances. But then that is a problem that Minnesota has at even strength as well, so I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised. However, I will give Minnesota credit for hustle (just not into the corners to grab the dumped puck). Now if they could just utilize that hustle to create sustained offensive pressure, we’d be getting somewhere.
The last minute of the period is what I would describe as frustrating. Ill-advised passes, poor passing, especially passing into your teammates skates, etc. Sometimes you have to wonder if they get on the ice and they forget the fundamentals of the game. There are times you wish you could send them to a little kids hockey practice where they work on nothing but the basics of hockey. Catching a clip of tonight’s “Little Chippers” game during the intermission, the girls on the ice at the very least could show the grown men on the Wild bench and thing or two about skating with your stick on the ice. Red Green always ended his show with the following line: And to the rest of you, thanks for watching. On behalf of myself and Harold and the whole gang up here at Possum Lodge… keep your stick on the ice. Minnesota will go into the second period on the penalty kill because of a penalty to Clayton Stoner because of a trip on Duchene. Also, we can hope that the Wild have adjusted to being back home and will give the fans something to cheer about.
Second Period Notes: If you didn’t know better, one might think that it was the Wild that started the period with the power play. Cal Clutterbuck had an early scoring attempt due to a coughed up puck by the Avalanche. Plus, Colorado just seemed to struggle to get the scoring chances with the man advantage, that any attempt the Wild had short-handed looked more impressive than it might have normally looked. Also, Wild skaters started playing a far more physical game. After the Wild killed the penalty, Colorado picked their game up and got some great scoring chances, helped by Minnesota making poor choices with passing and clearing attempts. The Wild desperately needed to get some offensive zone time, and mid-period, that time came thanks to the “energy” line of Darrol Powe, Nick Johnson, and Kyle Brodziak. Their possession time makes you wonder sometimes why they don’t play more considering that the players that should be creating energy (Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Mikko Koivu) are not. Tonight also appears to be a night of officials keeping their whistles in the pockets, as Powe was checked multiple times by the same Colorado player within seconds as well as blatant examples of holding also in the second half of the period. However, I shouldn’t complain too much, as the Wild’s power play isn’t about to make a difference in this game or any game for that matter. Just over five minutes before the end of the period, Nick Schultz had an open net, that you just have to shake your head and wonder how he couldn’t score. Hopefully that inability to score doesn’t come back to bite the team in the end. Minnesota goaltender, Niklas Backstrom definitely more action at his end of the ice this period, as Colorado notched thirteen shots in the second, whereas the Wild only got a measly five on Jean-Sebastion Giguere. The entire Minnesota bench needs to find more of that energy that the “energy” line has, and to use it to take more chance. Plus, five shots on goal in a period doesn’t exactly build condfidence for a team. It would be very nice to see a pumped up Minnesota squad come out and dominate the third.
Third Period Notes: Even though the Wild were once again outshot this period, Minnesota seemed to have a greater sense of urgency. Even after Devin Setoguchi scored the go-ahead goal just minutes from the end of regulation, the Wild appeared to want to score more than Colorado. Even with the extra attacker, the Avalanche seemed a bit more passive. Tonight, the Wild had the second fewest shots of their season. And as one would expect, we tend to get outshot more games than none, but somehow they continue to find way to win. Niklas Backstrom now has twenty-four career shutouts and extends his record against Colorado to 18-4-2. This was not a beautiful game, but for me, I don’t care if a win is pretty or not. A win is a win is a win. I’ll take it in whatever shape or form it comes in. And ugly win is worth the same two points in the standings as a pretty one, however one could argue that the wins would be nicer if the top line would start scoring on a regular basis. With tonight being the start of a six-game homestand, this would serve as a perfect opportunity for that top line to start showing up on the boxscore on a nightly basis, and not just as assists. It is hard to win games when you can only tally one goal, and looking at the upcoming schedule, we have mostly divisional or conference opponents. Points are absolutely critical if you want to stay ahead of everyone else. However like Wild head coach Mike Yeo has stated, the team needs to concentrate on each game on its own and not on the overall homestand. St. Louis will be coming to town on Saturday, and I’m quite sure they’d like to payback the Wild for the win two weeks ago, especially now with new head coach, Ken Hitchcock at the helm.
~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi, Darroll Powe, Dany Heatley, Brad Staubitz, Colton Gillies, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Nick Johnson, Warren Peters, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, Nick Schultz, and Kris Fredheim. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Tonight’s Wild scratches were Marek Zidlicky, Marco Scandella, and Casey Wellman.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star, Niklas Backstrom; 2nd star, Devin Setoguchi; 3rd Star, Nick Schultz.
~ Attendance was 16,779 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Kris Fredheim wore #59 for the Wild.
~ Nick Schultz played his 700th game tonight, all with the Minnesota Wild.
Where Are They Now?:
RW – Tony Virta (HPK Hameeiina, Sm-Liiga) – Minnesota’s early strategy was to add experienced European talent via the draft than to simply sign them as free agents. It was cheaper and by drafting them you secured their rights preventing others clubs from having that opportunity. Tony Virta was one of those players who was a noted scoring star in the Finnish Elite League. He did not get much of an audition with the Wild, playing just 8 games but he did register 2 goals and 5 points over in that ‘cup of coffee.’ He did have a decent season with the Wild’s AHL affiliate in Houston where he was one of the team leaders with 58 points in 68 games. After trying one more time to stick with the Wild and coming up short he returned to Europe where he bounced back and forth between the Finnish and Swedish Eliteserien. Virta finally ended his playing career in Leksand after a 10-game trial in 2009-10. Currently he is an assistant coach with the Sm-Liiga’s HPK Hameelina.
LW – Christoph Brandner (Klagenfurter AC, Austria) – Another attempt by the Wild to add a more experienced European player via the draft, Brandner was a promising power forward who was the leading scorer in the German Bundesliga. At 6’4″, 225lbs, he had the big body and the soft hands that NHL scouts covet. He had a 35-game tryout with the team back in 2003-04 but struggled to show the same scoring prowess he had in Euope after registering just 4 goals and 9 points. He was dispatched to the Aeros where he battled some injuries before finally taking his game back to Europe where he played in Sweden, Germany and eventually to his native-Austria where he continues to ply his trade today. Brandner currently has 3 goals and 4 points in 16 games with Klagenfurter AC.
D – Ladislav Benysek (Asiago Hockey, Italy Series A) – Benysek was a defenseman that many Wild fans loathed for his lack of offense, and lack of footspeed but while he was not the most flashy of defenders he was a reasonable shot blocker. After flaming out with the Wild after 2 seasons, he was sent down to Houston where he was a reliable stay-at-home defenseman in a season where the Aeros won the Calder Cup. Benysek would return to Europe where he bounced from multiple leagues; including Sweden, France, Denmark, Czech Republic and finally in Italy where he has played the last few years. Currently he is in playoffs in Italy’s Series A playing for Asiago Hockey. He had 1 goal and 5 points in 28 games.
RW – Maxim Sushinsky (Salavat Ufa, KHL) – Perhaps one of the more strange and humorous stories in Wild history, is the short and odd saga of Maxim Sushinsky. Like the other players mentioned in this segment, Sushinsky was an older European player who was added to the club via the draft. Sushinsky was said to be a skilled, but smallish-scorer but his work ethic was baffling at best. After playing 35 games for Jacques Lemaire where he tallied 7 goals and 11 points; apparently Sushinsky had enough with North America and made a tear-filled request to then Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough to be released of his contract and be allowed to return to mother Russia. Risebrough let him go providing he’d pay back the $50,000 signing bonus the team gave him; and Sushinsky quickly wrote him a check and then left for home. The check bounced. Sushinsky has been a scoring star in the Kontinental Hockey League ever since. Most of his time has been spent with the powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg squad where he was amongst the KHL’s top scorers. In addition, Sushinsky has been a regular for Team Russian in international events including the Olympics. Currently the former Wild winger is playing for Salavat Ufa and has 6 goals and 15 points in 23 games.