This really is one of my favorite times of the year, the true tournament time in Minnesota. Yes, the annual State Tournament is one of the big showcase, but only for the 32 teams for boys / girls in Class A and Class AA. The holidays also brings us statewide tournaments which feature just about every team in the state. Whether its the Schwan’s Cup or the St. Paul Premier Tournament, these tourneys provide plenty of great hockey and competition that any hockey fan should love to watch. Personally, I’ve made it a bit of a tradition the last 10 years to go to the St. Paul Premier Tournament held in South St. Paul’s Wakota Arena. Its a great chance to watch some great high school hockey in an arena that has plenty of history. These tournaments are also a boon for scouts of college, junior, and professional ranks to get a good look at players and its not uncommon to see all three groups represented at a single tournament. As former North Stars General Manager Lou Nanne reminds all of us in the State of Hockey each spring that many of the kids we see play will be the future stars of the game and who doesn’t like a sneak preview if they can get it? Yes, the stakes are not as high as they are in the Sectional and State tournaments, but it gives all of these teams an opportunity to perhaps add a little hardware to the trophy case along with lots of lasting memories in the process win or lose. Isn’t that really what its all about?
Meanwhile, back in the NHL the holiday is basically over and you are more or less near the halfway point of the season. Its a time where clubs put their progress in perspective and get ready for the grueling push for the playoffs. Two clubs that hope to be a part of the post-season this year are the Minnesota Wild and the Nashville Predators. In the past, these teams have combined for some tremendously exciting, high scoring games which is not what you expect from two teams who are not known for producing a lot of goals. So will we see another exciting, back-and-forth offensive barn burner or will the Wild be the Predators prey?
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1st Period Thoughts: Early on, it was obvious that Minnesota came to play tonight. They were not going to play this game defeated, nor were they going to make things an easier for their opponent than their already depleted roster was going to make things. The puck was moving and making it to the net, but only to be stopped by Pekka Rinne time and time again. Both teams had some great chances in the period, however Rinne and Josh Harding stood tall in their respective ends. If both teams had different goaltenders altogether, most likely this period would have ended differently than a 0-0 tie. With the way both teams skated, one would have expected at least one goal, but that was not to be.
2nd Period Thoughts: It was a scary start for the Wild this period. They appeared to look a little sluggish. Of course it could have been more the fact that the Predators came out with some pep in their step. They definitely had more energy in the first few minutes of the second than they appeared to have in the entire first period. However, the crazy part of that is that with 12:13 remaining in the second, the Predators still had no shots on goal. That just seems impossible, especially since they had a power play due to a Nate Prosser hooking call. One thing that was definitely noticed, was just after the Wild went on their first power play of the night, was Matt Cullen and Nick Schultz having a long conversation on the bench while pointing to zones on the ice in front of Pekka Rinne. That kind of communication, combined with coaching staff talking especially to the younger players during the breaks in play often will bode well for teams. However, that off-ice communication needs to translate to on-ice communication. That didn’t exactly pan out, as the Wild were called for the unforgivable too many men penalty. That is proof of lack of communication, and right now, Minnesota simply cannot afford those kinds of mental mistakes. Minnesota appeared to redeem themselves by not only killing the too many men penalty, but they picked up their game. Feet are moving, shots are being taken, and there was all out hard work being demonstrated late in the second period, not to mention a potential game saver by Greg Zanon who sprawled on the ice to poke the puck off the stick of Sergei Kostitsyn. A gold star also has to go out to Colton Gillies for his absolute fantastic and inspired play late in the period. I honest cannot think of another time this season where he has been so visible and visible for excellent play as opposed to what Wild fans have usually seen from him. The Wild and Predators headed to the locker room still locked in a 0-0 tie, with Minnesota clearly leading in the shot department. With that alone, one has to think that the Wild eventually have to score, even though Bridgestone Arena has not been good to the team when it comes to goals.
3rd Period Thoughts: Once again, Minnesota’s third and fourth lines have had another great game. Time and time again, we see them not only outwork their opponent, but even worse, their teammates on the first and second lines. Their energy and hard work, just continue to generate offensive chances. You just have to wonder why the same cannot be said of the more skilled players. Unfortunately, the best chance of the game, came early in the third period, on an off the pipe shot by Kyle Brodziak. Sadly, just shortly after that pipe, Jonathon Blum scored. Even though Minnesota found themselves down a goal, they didn’t find themselves down on themselves. They simply picked themselves back up and got to work. It should come as no surprise to anyone, that it was Brodziak getting the shots on goal. The only thing standing between the Wild and a game tying goal is one Pekka Rinne, who takes up more of the net than just about any other goaltender in the league. Of course, the Predators are probably wondering a bit what it will take to get more past Josh Harding as Minnesota’s goaltender has had a very, very good game as well. The hard work would eventually pay off, as Dany Heatley finally got the tying goal with just under four minutes left in regulation. Heatley somehow found the smallest of holes, as Rinne is known for covering all the corners of the net. I don’t care how he did. All that matters is that Heatley pulled us back into this game. Late period penalties by both teams were not enough to break the tie, and the two teams would head into overtime, with the Wild killing a short amount of penalty time.
Overtime/Shootout Thoughts: This has been the Wild’s period. The hardwork and effort have been all Minnesota. They outshot the Predators, and some of them came very close to turning into goals, including one by a snake-bitten Marek Zidlicky. For whatever reason, all the hard work failed to be rewarded, and the two teams headed to the shootout. In reality, all anyone has to know is the attempt by Cullen that didn’t really even net a shot on goal. As Cullen raised his head, the puck simply fell off his stick and he was unable to get a shot off. Mikko Koivu for whatever reason chose not to use his tried-and-true shot. Then Pierre-Marc Bouchard opted for his characteristic spin-a-rama shot. While Bouchard had Rinne down and had an open net to work with, somehow Rinne’s leg pulled Bouchard off his shot therefore, not one Wild skater was able to get one past Rinne. All Nashville needed for the win, was the lone shootout goal by Colin Wilson.
~ The Wild roster was the following: Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu, Darroll Powe, Dany Heatley, Brad Staubitz, Colton Gillies, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Nick Johnson, Jon Disalvatore, Warren Peters, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk, Nick Schultz. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st star, Pekka Rinne; 2nd star, Josh Harding; 3rd star, Jonathon Blum
~ Attendance was 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena.
Wild Prospect Report:
Brett Bulmer faces the Canadian media
LW – Brett Bulmer (Kelowna, WHL) ~ I wonder what is going through Brett Bulmer’s mind as he watches Team Canada dominate early at the World Junior Championships, a team he probably feels he deserves to be on. Bulmer meanwhile gets to ply his trade with the Rockets, but it has required a lot of heavy lifting as Kelowna just lacks the firepower it needs to win most games. However, Bulmer is doing his part scoring the Rockets lone goal (his 14th) in a 4-1 loss on Tuesday as well as dropping the gloves with Spokane’s Davis Vandane.
D – Josh Caron (Everett, WHL) ~ The Everett Silvertips felt they were not tough enough, so they went out to get one of the toughest players they could find in Wild prospect defenseman Josh Caron. Caron has tried to bring that edgy game to the Silvertips, but so far its been a story of mixed results. Prior to the move, Caron was +9 for the surging Kamloops Blazers, but after 7 games with his new team he’s an ugly -8. The Campbell River, British Columbia-native dropped the gloves on Tuesday night with Seattle’s Mitch Elliot in a 2-1 loss to the Thunderbirds. These two have a bit of a history that you can see here in a fight between the two that occurred almost a season ago.
U-20 World Junior Championships Update:
Finland 4, USA 1 ~ After an 8-1 drubbing by tournament host Canada, you had to figure the Finns were going to answer back. In a patient, defensive game Finland scored early in the 2nd period on a goal by Miikka Salomaki. The United States was at times guilty of being a bit too cute with the puck but they still peppered Sami Aittokallio with 16 shots on goal but couldn’t get any by him. Chicago Blackhawks’ prospect Brandon Saad tied the game up for Team USA but that as close as the Americans would get to a victory. During a USA power play, American goaltender John Gibson made a foolish decision to trip up Markus Granlund as he tried to give the breakout a bit more space to work with. The ill-advised penalty killed TeamUSA’s momentum and the Finns took advantage of the confusion by lighting the lamp 3 times. Buffalo Sabres prospect Joel Armia scored twice, and Wild prospect Mikael Granlund got his first goal of the tournament when a pass of his caromed off the skate of John Merrill and in. TeamUSA looked fatigued and demoralized as they got hit with their second loss of the tournament. It doesn’t get any easier for TeamUSA who faces Canada next. Wild prospect Charlie Coyle had an assist on Saad’s goal.
Sweden 4, Switzerland 3 ~ After blowing out Latvia 9-4, the Swedes had a much tougher test against a pesky Swiss squad late this afternoon. Luckily for Sweden, they got much better goaltending from Wild prospect Johan Gustafsson who stopped 24-of-27 shots he faced (88.8%). The Swedes got goals from Max Friberg, Ludvig Rensfeldt, Sebastian Collberg and Joakim Nordstrom. Wild prospect forward Johan Larsson went 8-for-13 on his faceoffs but didn’t have any other points, while their top selection in last summer’s draft in defenseman Jonas Brodin had just a single high-sticking minor to his credit.