Just the other day, I received a registration packet for my 15th college class reunion. My first thought was, "has it really been that long?" My second thought, "do I really want to go?" Don't get me wrong, I had great time in college and I had a fun group of friends. Most of them were fellow music majors, and we practically lived together in the music building. We had classes together, were in musical organizations together, and studied together. Heck, I probably spent more time in the music library than I did in my dorm room. And the same could be said for many of my friends as well. We were a nerdy bunch, but it was fun nonetheless. However, with reunions, we really don't get to relive those days. If I could be sure that my group of friends would be there and we'd do our own thing, I just might consider attending. Reunions though tend to be the ultimate bragging session. Everyone talking about themselves and what they're doing now. We're not the same people now that we were when we were in college, and I suppose that's a good thing. But beyond my close circle of college friends, I really don't want to hear about your 2.5 kids, your high paying executive job, and your house with the white picket fence. So in the end, I probably won't go.
As we play the Oilers in Edmonton for the last time as divisional opponents, one has to sit back and think of the past. Tonight, was a bit like a school reunion, in that it forces us to sit back and think. Now, if you've been following the Wild since the beginning, you remember the days where you absolutely dreaded heading to Edmonton. Not only did it feel impossible to get a win in Edmonton, there were times where it felt like getting goals there as well was a challenge. Yet, I have to wonder if that feeling was simply just an in the moment kind of thing. Like any fan, you want your team to win and you want to expect your team to win. Let's face it though, the Minnesota Wild roster back then was inconsequential. I had to sit and think who was on that Edmonton roster, and in hindsight I realize now that they were nothing to write home about. Of course the Oilers were going to look like an All-Star roster when compared to the Wild. If there was a way to put the current Wild roster aboard the wayback machine and go back and play the Edmonton OIlers of our early days, I'd like to see if things would have been different. My guess is that Minnesota would have been more successful than they were back then. But that's the thing about the past, you really can't change it, no matter how much we wish we could.
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First Period Thoughts: There are times I just want to bang my head into a wall. Case in point, the first two minutes of the game. First, Zach Parise decides to be unselfish and pass the puck in front, which of course gets picked off. The Wild then get a 2 on 1, and Charlie Coyle decides to pass to Mikko Koivu. Once again, the puck is picked off. There are times to be selfish, and when you have the advantage is one of them, take the shot. Surprisingly, they remedied that with a much needed, early goal by Kyle Brodziak. Even better, is that it was a goal that Brodziak needed for his own stats and self-confidence. One can hope that we get more scoring from our role players (maybe it will inspire Cal Clutterbuck with his own). The Wild would also draw the first penalty of the night, as Jordan Eberle would be called for boarding Jared Spurgeon. Now the Wild didn’t score, but they at least got the puck on goal and crashed the net, two things we don’t often see. Mid period though, there were moments where the Wild seemed to ease up on their intensity, and it felt like they were hesitant to go up against the Oilers more physical play. Of course it doesn’t help matters that while we were told earlier today that Mikael Granlund was being reassigned to Houston, he was brought back as an emergency call up for Mike Rupp. So Minnesota loses one of its tougher players to only have him replaced by a far less physical player. Minnesota would continue to get some chances, some of them on the rush even. Unfortunately, Edmonton would get the even up goal on a kind of fluky play. The puck was bouncing around on the ice as well as Brett Clark’s jersey. There was just no way for anyone to really keep track of where it was. One of the more interesting moments was when Jason Pominville’s stick went flying into the stands. A fan thought he had gotten a trophy, but security came down and got it, and handed it over the glass into the Wild bench, to a chorus of boos by the fans. Interestingly enough, it appears that either Pominville or a member of the Wild staff handed a stick back to the fan, as we could see in the stands with his prize with the fans cheering. All in all it wasn’t a bad period, but it felt like the intensity of the beginning of the period eased up as the period continued. Considering the firing of Steve Tambellini, the Wild cannot afford to give their opponent an inch to work with.
2nd Period Thoughts:
Enough of the passing for passing’s sake already. That has always been a problem of this team, and it doesn’t matter who is on the roster. Pass, pass, pass. It reminds of the scene in that classic basketball movie Hoosiers. Gene Hackman’s character has a line that says “How many times do we pass? Four.” It was a policy that drove the fans of that small Indiana town crazy. Well as a hockey fan, just passing to pass drives me nuts. There were plenty of times where Wild skaters just need to skate the puck in themselves and take a shot. That’s how this period started again. Thankfully, Coyle appeased my sour mood by scoring a goal. Minnesota would make things even tougher for Edmonton with another goal, this one coming from Mikael Granlund. Another concern in tonight’s game, is yet another high stick not being called. Pominville takes a stick to the chin, is bleeding, and there’s not call. He even showed the officials after the whistle, and they’re response was pretty much, oh well. I swear, every season there’s one particular rule that goes by the wayside every season, and it appears that this year it’s high sticking. Although, I must admit I do like that every goal so far in this game, including Edmonton’s, has been an even strength goal. Minnesota would finish out the second period on the power play, after Sam Gagner hooked Koivu. While they’ll start the 3rd with a power play, so far they haven’t needed it tonight. I’ll admit, so far tonight’s game (and parts of last night’s game) were fun and exciting. But then, that’s the nature of winning. It makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. However, we need to temper that excitement. It’s one thing to beat Calgary (and possibly Edmonton tonight). But they’re not Chicago. Nor would we get to play them in the playoffs this season. Heck, the Wild just might have a chance getting beyond the first round if we could face them, but alas that isn’t going to happen. If the playoffs were to happen today, we’d have to face Vancouver. And a Vancouver with home ice advantage. But then, that hasn’t stopped this team before, much to the chagrin of Canucks fans.
3rd Period Thoughts: The first power play goal of the night would come early in the period. If you ever wanted to see a goal that came as the result of hard work, simply look at Zach Parise’s goal. For me, he made up for his boneheaded pass at the beginning of the game. He shot on one side of Devan Dubnyk, and ended up taking the puck back around to the other side, never giving up. That needs to be the theme for the rest of the season, never give up. There are times when plays happen, that you simply do not expect to happen. Out of the blue, Brodziak got a break away, and a break away with no one even close to him. Brodziak notched his second goal of the night. Clutterbuck tried his hardest to score on a shot and its rebound, but to no avail. Edmonton would get its own power play of the night after Clayton Stoner sent the puck over the glass. Not only did they get a power play, but they got a goal out of it after Shawn Horcoff was able to tap it in on a Niklas Backstrom who was down in the butterfly with about half the net open. They’re the kind of goals you wish didn’t happen, and you hope that the five goals you’ve scored tonight are enough to earn the two points in regulation. Then when you start to think those kinds of thoughts, Edmonton would get another one past Backstrom, this time by Magnus Paajarvi after Nail Yakupov dinged it off the pipes. This is when you need the Wild to step up and for Backstrom to stand on his head. Yet, when things start to look sloppy, and you worry if this team has the ability to finish strong, you see the skill you want to see from the line of Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, and Jason Zucker. While they didn’t score, it does demonstrate just how important Cullen is to this team. It’s also nice to have more than one line again. Teams that are successful in the final stretch and successful in the playoffs are those with depth. Edmonton would pull their goalie with more than two minutes remaining in regulation, as they needed two goals in order to tie things up. Things would get a little too exciting in the final moments of the game, as Edmonton was really applying pressure, which of course is easier with the extra attacker. Thankfully, the Wild skaters and their goaltender were able to stand tall, and keep the score 5-3. The fireworks were almost set off, as Clutterbuck and Taylor Hall were pushing each other around at center ice after the final whistle blew. The refs were able to separate them, which was a good thing, as both benches were on the ice after the game. The best part was the yapping of Clutterbuck. I wish I could read his lips so I knew what he said to Hall, although I can easily imagine. That disagreement could continue in St. Paul on April 26th, well that is if Hall doesn’t come down with Minnesota Flu that night.
Tonight's Minnesota Wild Roster: Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi, Zach Parise, Jason Zucker, Torrey Mitchell, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Jason Pominville, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Clayton Stoner, Brett Clark, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, and Todd Gilbert. Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstom.
Three Stars (selected by Sports Net West): 1st Star, Kyle Brodziak; 2nd Star, Nail Yakupov; 3rd Star, Clayton Stoner.
Attendance was 16,839 at Rexall Place.