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Wild fail to sour Modano-love fest in 4-3 home shootout loss in season finale

A ‘swan song’ is a slang term to describe the end of something.  There are a couple of ‘swan songs’ at work this evening at the Xcel Energy Center.  For both the Dallas Stars and the Minnesota Wild, their 2009-10 seasons end no matter the outcome.  It also could possibly be the swan song for many different players with their respective teams, especially those set to become unrestricted free agents.  The Wild have a number of restricted and unrestricted free agents in their organization including Josh Harding, Shane Hnidy, Owen Nolan, John Scott, James Sheppard, Robbie Earl, Andrew Ebbett, Guillaume Latendresse and Derek Boogaard.  However oddly enough the one player who may be playing his last game with his team that is making the big headlines is not even a member of the Wild it is Dallas’ Mike Modano.  The Wild may get a few paragraphs in the sports section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune or St. Paul Pioneer Press but Modano’s possible retirement made it worthy of a 3-page article, seems a bit twisted if you ask me.  Yet for the Wild with all the injuries Minnesota may be happy to see the season come to an end, especially the training staff who is probably quite busy trying to figure out rehabilitation for such a large portion of its roster.

Dallas too has also suffered an up & down season where inconsistent goaltending and a hit-or-miss offense along with being very tough division worked together to place the Stars in last place in the Pacific.  Dallas had a very emotional last game at American Airlines Arena, where Mike Modano treated the home fans to some dramatic goals to give the Stars a shootout victory.  Could that magic work again or will Minnesota finish its season on a high note?

Minnesota started the game with great energy, forechecking very well and taking the body early and often.  Especially with Minnesota’s lines of youngsters like Cody Almond, Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Wellman and Robbie Earl were causing lots of havoc in the Dallas zone.  The physicality would advance to another level when Derek Boogaard delivered a bit shoulder to former Bloomington Jefferson star Toby Petersen.  Boogaard’s hit near the Stars’ bench drew the attention of Steve Ott who immediately challenged Boogaard and as he was about to maul the Dallas agitator he was also jumped by Brian Sutherby and the officials would move in and nothing more than a few punches were thrown.  At the end of the frakas, Boogaard recieved a 10-minute misconduct as did Sutherby, while Ott recieved a 2-minute cross-checking penalty giving Minnesota a power play.  Not far into the Wild power play they would get some more help when Mike Ribeiro lifted a puck up and over the glass for a delay of game penalty giving Minnesota a 5-on-3 man advantage.  Minnesota would pounce as a terrific cross-ice pass from Brent Burns to Mikko Koivu who one timed a wrister that was snagged out of the air by a stretching Kari Lehtonen.  Koivu immediately looked to the official claiming Lehtonen caught the puck after it had crossed over the goal line and the play would be reviewed.  The replay was definitive as you could see Lehtonen’s glove entirely across the goal line as he made the save and after an unusually long review it was ruled to be a good goal giving Minnesota a 1-0 lead.  The Stars tried to answer back and Mike Modano was set up nicely by Brad Richards but he pushed his shot wide of the mark as it struck the side of the Dallas goal.  Minnesota would add another goal on archetypical set up by Andrew Brunette from beneath the goaline out front to Koivu who rifled it by Lehtonen to give the Wild a commanding 2-0 lead.  Both teams would trade chances with one another as they all seemed eager to try to intimidate each other by delivering big hits.

In the 2nd period the Wild would get a bit sloppy as their intensity dropped.  Especially in their own end, Minnesota was getting caught watching and not skating and Dallas would claw its way back into the game.  The first goal coming just past the 4-minute mark when Brendan Morrow banged home a rebound after a good initial shot by Loui Eriksson.  The Wild still were not taking care of business in their own end and Niklas Backstrom found himself fending for himself.  Just a few minutes later it was Steve Ott firing a shot by Backstrom who did not get much help from Brent Burns who sort of stared at the Stars’ agitator as he lifted a shot by his goaltender. Minnesota tried to answer back and one player who seemed to elevate his game was Nate Prosser who showed remarkable poise for a player in his 3rd game as he led a rush up the ice where he dangled around a Dallas defender for a point-blank range backhand chance on goal that was shut down by Lehtonen.  There certainly was a level of anxiety as Minnesota was probably struggling a bit with its confidence after squandering a two-goal lead.

In the 3rd period, the Wild would strike early in the quickest goal in team history from the start of the period as Casey Wellman shoveled home a rebound off a shot by Kyle Brodziak for his first NHL goal giving Minnesota a 3-2 lead.  The Stars would waste little time answering right back as Ott buried his 2nd goal of the game to tie the game at 3-3.  Dallas had picked up its intensity and they were dishing out some hits as former Vancouver Giant Marc Fistric delivered a bit hit to Robbie Earl, which prompted Cody Almond to challenge Fistric to drop his gloves and he quickly obliged.  Right from the outset, Almond was in trouble as Fistric really started throwing the right handed punches and all the former Kelowna Rocket could do was attempt to wrestle him down to the ice before he was pummelled to badly.  Minnesota tried to answer back with some hits of their own as Cal Clutterbuck left his feet to give a big hit on rookie Philip Larsen that caused Dallas’ James Neal to rush to his defense but Clutterbuck made it to his bench before Neal could reach him for a fight.  Both teams were really throwing everything they could at one another but both goaltenders would keep the game knotted at three sending it to overtime.

After a fairly passive 5-minutes of overtime where both teams seemed content to let the game go to a shootout.  Minnesota elected to shoot first, and its first shooter was team captain Mikko Koivu.  Mikko Koivu would race up the ice where he’d again try a simple wrister instead of one of his dekes and as he fired the puck high glove it was snared out of the air by Lehtonen.  Dallas’ first shooter was Brad Richards, and the leading scorer of the Stars raced up the ice and immediately started weaving before attempting a backhand to forehand deke where he tried to slide a shot 5-hole was stonewalled by Backstrom.  Minnesota’s next shooter was Brent Burns, and the Wild defenseman needs to be a bit more creative as he tried the same forehand to backhand deke he pulled off in Calgary but with less speed and it was no surprise it was blocked away by Lehtonen.  The Stars’ next shooter was Mike Modano, and the cagey veteran turned on the jets where he tried to fire a wrister stick side that was absorbed by Backstrom who made the save.  The Wild’s next shooter was Antti Miettinen and he too would opt for a quick wrist shot where he attempted to beat Lehtonen five-hole who closed the pads quickly to make the big stop.  Dallas’ next shooter was veteran Jere Lehtinen who also may have played his last game as a member of the team and he’d move in also attempt a quick wrist shot 5-hole that was robbed by Backstrom.  Minnesota’s next shooter was the rookie Casey Wellman who took a wide right approach but Lehtonen was aggressive against the youngster as he would prevent him from even putting a shot on goal as he pushed the puck away with a diving poke check.  The Stars’ next shooter was rookie Jamie Benn and the former Kelowna Rockets’ star made no mistake as he rifled a wrister by Backstrom to seal a 4-3 shootout win for Dallas.

Let me start by saying that perhaps I may be in the minority amongst Wild fans.  As I sat back and watched the Wild squander a 2-goal lead and eventually fall 4-3 in a shootout to the Dallas Stars that would’ve been bad enough way to end the season if it hadn’t been for the total love fest the organization showed towards Mike Modano.  Some fans may think the Wild’s gestures of appreciation were “classy” but did it really have to go that far over the top?  Did it really have to show multiple video tributes, even one during the game?  I was a North Stars fan and at one point Modano was one of my favorite players but the tributes ignore some very unkind things he said about Minnesota and its fans when the team bolted for Dallas.  It was remarks he made questioning our dedication as well as some derogatory comments about the women of Minnesota should not be ignored but apparently milking the “Modano’s possible last game” was more important.  Sure there were “fans” wearing Mike Modano jerseys and holding up signs like “Mo’ don’t go!” or the even more lame “I got Mike Modano for my birthday!” but is this really what the focus should be?  The Wild were trying to win a game and the players look up and see their organization bending over backwards paying tribute to a player on the opposition, a player who stated rather flatly that he thought NHL hockey would fail if it were ever to return to Minnesota.  Last year the Wild also bent over backwards to recognize Modano’s accomplishment to become the all-time U.S.-born scoring leader, surpassing St. Paul, Minnesota-native Phil Housely.  I too thought that was far overdone and clearly the Wild wanted to outdo that earlier event and sadly, to me at least, many Wild fans bought into it hook, line and sinker.  You could hear a few boo’s but for the most part they were suckers to stand and give ovation after ovation for the player who said their women are ugly and missing teeth and that they did not deserve an NHL team.  Mike was almost tearful in the post-game press conference how he was overwhelmed by the respect the fans of Minnesota showed him, but said he used all his tears in Dallas.  That’s right, we’re not worth crying over.  Saying he couldn’t really cry here does not bother me at all but I too would be humbled, maybe even a little embarrassed and surprised these fans are giving him standing ovations if I said awful things like he did.  Honestly, if someone told you your sister was ugly and that you didn’t deserve something like your job would you treat them to a standing ovation or would you punch them in the face or at the very least ask them to leave.

I remember when Minnesota drafted Modano, and how the North Stars were so excited about what he could bring to the team.  So I am very familiar with what he meant to people here.  However on a night that should’ve been a celebration of what the Wild had accomplished it was about Mike Modano instead, at least by what you could see being done at the arena and especially in the broadcast.  Seeing Modano skate out as the first star of the game in a MINNESOTA North Stars sweater just adds more salt to the wound of having your heart torn out with the team’s departure in 1993.  I strongly question whether many of those proudly wearing their North Stars colors were really fans of the team back then.  Somehow I doubt it.  Bitter, perhaps, but loyal to the Wild, definitely.  It would be nice if the Wild would remember what is really more important.  So should its priority be serenading a former player who was glad to leave Minnesota with his team, or the team that just got finished battling through another 82-game season?

That being said, it was an ending that sort of personified the whole season.  It was a game where the team showed some fire at times but in the end a few lapses proved to be costly and then it ultimately came up short from where you wanted it to end.  Don’t get me wrong, the season was not all bad news but there are certainly some big questions looming as the team enters the offseason.  1.  Which free agents, both unrestricted and restricted will be re-signed and which will it walk away from?  2.  Will the team make a splash with a draft day trade or free agency or will it just hope they will be more fortunate next season with the same lineup they had this year?  3.  Is Pierre-Marc Bouchard‘s career over?  4.  What will the team do with its plethora of blueline prospects?  Only time will tell, but all of these questions only give me plenty to discuss in the months between now and when training camp opens next September.

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen, Kyle Brodziak, Petr Kalus, Chuck Kobasew, Derek Boogaard, Robbie Earl, Cody Almond, Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Wellman, John Scott, Shane Hnidy, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Brent Burns, Cam Barker and Nate Prosser.  Wade Dubielewicz backed up Niklas Backstrom.  There were no healthy scratches.  James Sheppard, Marek Zidlicky, Martin Havlat, Owen Nolan, Guillaume Latendresse, Clayton Stoner and Josh Harding were out of the lineup with lower body injuries, while Andrew Ebbett was out with a broken finger and Pierre-Marc Bouchard has finally returned from Montreal after having his post-concussion symptoms assessed.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey were: 1st Star Mike Modano (yawn), 2nd Star Mikko Koivu, 3rd Star Casey Wellman

~ Petr Kalus wore #29 in his second stint with the Wild this season.  The last player to wear #29 for the Wild was goaltender Jamie “Noodles” McClellan.

~ The State of Hockey News wishes to congratulate Brentwood, Tennessee native and Nashville Predators’ prospect Blake Geoffrion for winning this year’s Hobey Baker Award as NCAA’s best Division I player.  Geoffrion has been a force for the Wisconsin Badgers all season long and he is very deserving of the award.  It marked the first time a Wisconsin player has ever won.

~ The State of Hockey News would like to pass on this message to Fox Sports Net-North.  I hope they take the “This Town” song by O.A.R. and bury it in some swamp up near the boundary waters area and forget about it.  I will not miss that song at all.

Wild Prospect Report:

G – Tyler Cuma ~ Ottawa 67’s (OHL)

2009-10 Playoff Stats:  11GP 0G 5A = 5pts  18 PIM’s  -2

Hockey could be better for Minnesota’s first round pick from 2008, Tyler Cuma as the 67’s struggles against the Mississauga St. Michael Majors.  The Wild know Cuma will never be a big offensive producer but they expect him to be very good in his own zone and is great skating ability make him difficult to play against.  In Ottawa’s most recent game, Cuma ended the game a +1 in a 3-1 loss.  The 6’2″, 192lbs defenseman has added a little more bulk to his frame, but still has a long way to go physically before he’s strong enough for the pro game.  I think the Wild have gotten more of a project than perhaps they first thought when they selected him.  In the Hockey News’ Future Watch issue, Wild Assistant General Manager and Manager of Player Development Tommy Thompson said this ominous sounding phrase about Cuma, “He’s had a rough go compared to what he thought the development process would be.  But he’ll be fine.  The one thing he can do is defend.  We’re not worried.”  Thompson may not be worried, but should Wild fans be?


F – Erik Haula ~ Omaha Lancers (USHL)

2009-10 Playoff Stats:  2GP  0G 4A = 4pts  0 PIM’s  Even

Haula is continuing his scoring ways in the USHL playoffs as he did in the regular season, scoring well over a point-per-game pace and continuing to be a tremendous catalyst for the Lancers.  In Omaha’s most recent game Haula provided 3 helpers in a 5-4 overtime victory over the Tri-City Storm.  The future Golden Gopher is no doubt giving his soon-to-be Head Coach Don Lucia a lot to smile about as well.  Haula’s terrific hands and ability to make plays at high speed make him very dangerous and will be interesting to see if he can take Omaha to the USHL Finals as they hope to hoist the Clarke Cup.  Minnesota’s most tantalizing forward prospect not in the NHL looks to be finishing strong and somehow was ignored by The Hockey News‘ Future Watch as he didn’t make the team’s top 10 prospects losing out to forgotten Wild prospect Petr Kalus who had another underwhelming season in the AHL.

NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship:

Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA) 0 vs.  Boston College Eagles (Hockey East) 5

In what has been a strange NCAA Frozen Four tournament that has featured blowouts perhaps its only fitting that the Boston College Eagles blewout the Wisconsin Badgers 5-0.  The game started out with great intensity as the Badgers were using their superior size and strength to create a few terrific scoring chances that were shut down by John Muse.  Boston College was able to use their quickness and general shiftiness to set up its first goal, a quick wrist shot from the slot by Ben Smith that beat Scott Gudmanson to lift the Eagles to a 1-0 lead.  From here and throughout the 2nd period the Eagles were content to go into lockdown mode, sitting back in a 1-2-2 that allowed them to really stymie the Badgers from creating any sort of counter attack.  In the 3rd period, still leading by just one the Eagles would explode for 3 more goals before Matt Price buried an empty netter to seal a 5-0 victory.  There was no doubt at all, Boston College thoroughly beat the Badgers and seemed to be a step ahead of Wisconsin all game long, a testament to Eagles Head Coach Jerry York who gave the school its fourth National Championship.