It feels like it’s been a while, but the Wild have found their way back into the win column. The crazy part of it, is that you would think I’d be happier about the win. However, for some reason, I feel rather ambivalent about it. Perhaps it’s an unfortunate side effect of the Wild’s “optional” practices as of late. In fact I feel that this post-game report should be “optional” as well. However, you and I live in the real world and rarely are our activities optional. We have to show up to work/school and do our jobs. At the very least, tonight’s play seemed a little more inspired.
The first period alone showed a bit more fire on the Wild’s bench. Yet, there was a distinctive feeling of deja vu throughout much of the game. Of course it started with the early power play goal by Andrew Ebbett. The wrist shot was a hard earned one as Ebbett had a skater in front of him, moving with him while he shot. One added benefit of Ebbett’s goal, is that goaltender Josh Harding tallied his first point of the season, with an assist along with one from Marek Zidlicky. That foreboding sense continued, when just over seven minutes later, lead goal scorer Guillaume Latendresse netted his twenty-fourth goal of the season. While the goal was technically unassisted, Wild fans could say that Latendresse got a lot of help on a failed clearing attempt behind the net by Sabres goaltender Patrick Lalime. If you’re like me, you started to think, “this reminds me a lot of Tuesday’s game against Florida.” And if you had that feeling, you knew this could be bad.
Thankfully, some of that sense of dread was dispelled by a late second period goal. If anyone was to end that bad feeling, it would be none other than Andrew Brunette. Plus, if you wanted to see a “typical” Brunette goal, it would be this goal. In typical Brunette fashion, he happened to be camped out in front of the crease on the far post and Lalime’s glove side to take that pass from Antti Miettinen. A quick little tip-in counts just as much as a blast from the point, a break away, etc. Yes, Wild fans could go into the third period with a three-goal lead. Even better, it was nice to see the Wild scoring more than two goals, which hasn’t happened in what seems like forever.
While the Sabres fans were out of the game, the Buffalo players weren’t. Just like the Wild scored their first goal of the first period in just over three minutes of play, the Sabres would do the same. As the old saying goes, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” however, I’d rather not have that much copying going on. For Minnesota fans, it should have come to no surprise that the first goal of the third would come from a Buffalo player that many of them are familiar with. Taking advantage of the man-advantage, Thomas Vanek notched a slap shot goal with assists going to Derek Roy and Jason Pominville. While the Wild were still up by two goals, that sense of dread that Brunette somewhat reduced, came back full force. To increase that feeling even more, Vanek would again score late in the third period. Even worse about that goal is that it was scored shorthanded. Everyone on the Wild bench, in the press box, the fans at home had to have that feeling of “not again” in the back of their mind.
While he did let in the two goals, everyone can say a huge thanks to the efforts of Josh Harding. There were moments where he found himself at the bottom of a pile of players, yet somehow managed to keep the puck out of the net. It seemed like the Sabres realized the key to success was to get in his territory. We can all thank the stars in the heavens that they didn’t crash the net more than they did.
At the very least, Wild fans can be thankful that tonight’s result isn’t a duplicate of the Gopher men’s hockey team’s visit to North Dakota tonight.
~ Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Owen Nolan, Antti Miettinen, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak, Andrew Ebbett, James Sheppard, Robbie Earl, Chuck Kobasew, John Scott, Jaime Sifers, Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz, Cam Barker and Marek Zidlicky. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1. Josh Harding, 2. Thomas Vanek, 3. Antti Miettinen.
High School Hockey Report:
It was day two of the State Tournament on Thursday, and now its the big schools’ turn to have at it as the Class ‘AA’ quarterfinals began yesterday. Everyone is battling for a spot in Semi-final Friday, who made it and who entered the consolation round?
No. 2 Edina (21-6-2) 7 vs. Roseau Rams (22-6-1) 3
Looking at Edina on paper does not leave anyone really awestruck by a super star scorer, but what teams find out when they play the Hornets is just how much depth they really have and that is precisely what Roseau found out yesterday. After battling to a 1-1 tie in the first period, it was Roseau grabbing the lead early in the 2nd as Adam Knochenmus found the back of the net to give the Rams its first and only lead of the game. Edina would answer back in a big way scoring 3 times in the 2nd period, including a rocket of a slap shot by Jake Sampson who lit the lamp with just 21 seconds in the period. It was Sampson’s goal that Roseau Head Coach Andy Lundbohm conceded was rather demoralizing and that his team wasn’t quite the same after it. Seven different Hornets lit the lamp, a testament to their balanced attack which makes them a nightmare to match up against, although Edina Head Coach Curt Giles (yes, the former North Stars defenseman, who is joined on the bench by fellow former NHL’ers Mark Langevin and Don Beaupre) said he felt the most important thing was to deny Roseau from having time and space to work with. Obviously it worked out pretty well for Edina as they head to the semifinals.
No. 3 Blaine (21-5-3) 0 vs. Apple Valley (18-11) 2
In any one game based hockey tournament, all it takes is one hot goaltender and you can go far and who knows but Apple Valley has to feel like that scenario has played out for them as they deliver the only upset over a seeded team thus far. Back in 1996, the Apple Valley Eagles rode a hot goalie, current Syracuse Crunch (AHL) assistant coach Karl Goehring all the way to a State Championship which included a 5-overtime marathon win over Duluth East where Goehring made over 60 saves. Could Apple Valley’s Aaron Gretz be this tournament’s Karl Goehring? Gretz was solid all game long, squaring up to the shooter well and shutting down a very potent Bengals attack with perhaps the best high school player in the state in Nick Bjugstad (12th rated North American skater according to Central Scouting). The Bengals were peppering Gretz with shots, out-shooting the Eagles 22 to 9 through the first two periods but as anyone who follows the game will tell you, the number of shots that are goals is all that matters as both teams found themselves tied at 0-0 despite the discrepancy in shots. It was senior Adam Robson who managed to tap a puck through the pads of Blaine’s Danny Harper to give Apple Valley a 1-0 lead. The Bengals tried to pour on the offensive pressure, culminating in Bjugstad’s point-blank range chance late that narrowly missed as it fluttered over Gretz’ paddle. Freshman, and leading scorer Hudson Faschling buried an empty netter to seal a 2-0 victory for the Eagles. Another player who shined for the Eagles was sophomore forward A.J. Michaelson whose deft moves caused Blaine problems all night, and even Bjugstad seemed impressed by Apple Valley’s young and speedy lineup. Apple Valley will play against Edina on Friday, which ironically was the team the Eagles beat in 1996 for the state title. Junior goalie Aaron Gretz had 30 saves in the shutout. Will they surprise the Hornets again in 2010?
No. 1 Minnetonka (26-1-2) 6 vs. Lakeville North (11-16-2) 1
Sometimes a 6-1 game can sound better than it really was. As a coach I know this all too well as I remember a game where my team had 250 yards in penalties but still won the game 44-0. I gave my team a tongue lashing after the game for their lack of discipline but those words of mine were likely muted (in the ears of my players) by the fact they won in such convincing fashion. Perhaps that is how Minnetonka Head Coach Brian Urick felt after his team’s vaunted blueline that features no less than three Division I prospects was guilty of being a bit too overzealous, taking unnecessary risks that gave Lakeville North chances to counter attack. Urick more or less stated his concern in this quote he gave the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “It seemed like I was yelling a lot for a defenseman to get back, It seemed sometimes like defenseman Andrew Prochno and Justin Holl were leading the forecheck.” Minnetonka didn’t need such aggressive measures as senior forward Max Gardiner (36th rated North American skater by Central Scouting) was more than enough for the Panthers to handle as netted a hat trick, just the 2nd one of the tournament so far as his team rolled to a 6-1 win and into the semifinals.
No. 4 Hill-Murray (26-2-1) 5 vs. Duluth East Greyhounds (19-6-4) 3
Maybe its just something about being the late-game of the tournament but it always seems to bring out the excitement, especially if Duluth East is involved. In what was a back and forth battle where both teams seemed to have lots of flash and dash, and the near capasity crowd fed off the intensity. The Greyhounds’ Trevor Olson lit the lamp, and it was an explosion of sound as Duluth East jumped out to a 2-0 lead. The Pioneers would answer back with two goals scored just 10 seconds apart in the final minute of the first period to tie the game but it would be short lived as the Greyhounds’ Dom Toninato fired home a goal with just 15 seconds left in the first period to give Duluth East a 3-2 lead going into the 2nd. With the crowd at a fever pitch it was Hill-Murray who got off to a fast start scoring two goals in the first minute of the 2nd, to take a 4-3 Pioneers’ lead. The game would slow down a bit at this point as both teams were hesitant to take unnecessary risks by being wide open offensively. The Pioneer’s padded their lead with a goal midway through the 3rd period on a goal by Jack Walsh on a nice pass by Zach LaValle. It was a perfect sort of game to cap the evening and even though Hill-Murray’s Head Coach Bill Lechner probably wanted a less dramatic outcome he summed up his feelings pretty well when the told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “I will think about it more later, but I am glad it was a great game for the fans.”