Minnesota Hockey Magazine http://minnesotahockeymag.com Minnesota's leading online hockey destination. Thu, 23 Jan 2020 19:27:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/cropped-IMG_8923-1-32x32.jpg Minnesota Hockey Magazine http://minnesotahockeymag.com 32 32 The Man With The Plan http://minnesotahockeymag.com/the-man-with-the-plan/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/the-man-with-the-plan/#respond Thu, 23 Jan 2020 02:56:48 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=33523 Guerin’s hockey career comes full circle

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ST PAUL – Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin didn’t let a media interview stop him from having a little fun with some of the players as they skated off the ice following an early-November practice.

“You’re shooting off your back leg again,” Guerin said, in a serious tone to forward Luke Kunin.

As Kunin started to explain, Guerin assured him that he was kidding. Guerin also offered up a “how you doing, buddy?” to another player who walked by a few minutes later. He greeted Jonas Brodin with a “Hey, Brods.”

Guerin made sure to stop a passing Alex Stalock by putting the empty paper cup he’d been holding in Stalock’s goaltending glove with a playful, “Hey, can you hold this for a sec?”

Sometimes it’s that positive attitude at the rink every day that can definitely change the feeling of a team, even one that went through a tough spell on the ice in the fall, according to defenseman Jared Spurgeon.

“He’s a guy that likes to joke around,” Spurgeon said.

As recently as 2010, Guerin was playing in the NHL. Now, he’s the fourth general manager in Minnesota Wild history. He said he tries to remember the feelings of a player and what it’s like in his front office roles. 

“You don’t want to beat up on them too much, and you don’t want to cut them too much slack,” Guerin said.

Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold welcomes Bill Guerin as the new general manager for the team at a press conference at Xcel Energy Center on August 22, 2019 (Minnesota Wild/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Guerin was named the Wild’s general manager in August after Paul Fenton was fired. The four-time Stanley Cup winner (twice as a player) also interviewed for the position last year. There was no doubt for Guerin that this was where he wanted to be, in such an incredible hockey market. He sees amazing potential and ownership in Craig Leipold that Guerin called “fantastic.”

Guerin, who turned 49 in November, played 18 seasons in the NHL with eight teams. He’s one of eight U.S.-born players in the NHL to reach the 400 goals and 400 assists marks, finishing with 429 goals and 856 points in 1,263 career games.

His passion didn’t start and end with playing the game. It spilled over to all the everyday happenings with hockey clubs, building a team and putting a staff together. He spent the past eight seasons in the Pittsburgh front office, the last five as an assistant general manager.

“There’s so much more to it than you think of when you’re a player,” Guerin said. “When I started, I was fortunate to learn a lot of different departments and really see firsthand how it was done.”

He jumped right from his hockey jersey into a suit. Taking that next step up without the “assistant” tag to his new title in Minnesota, Guerin acknowledges there are a lot of other things to be responsible for as the general manager.

It’s about communication with ownership and staff, knowing what’s going on in the rest of the league and helping to support the business side of hockey.

“You just have so much more under your umbrella that you have to be aware of,” Guerin said. “I think every day is a little fire to put out.”

Maybe it wasn’t a fire, but Guerin already made a splash before the 2019-20 campaign even got started. On Sept. 14, he signed Spurgeon to a seven-year contract extension.  Guerin called the decision a “no-brainer” knowing how important Spurgeon’s been to the organization and then coming here to see how valuable Spurgeon is to what Guerin is trying to build in Minnesota.

“Just the way he let us know where he envisioned this team going was big for me,” Spurgeon said. “He has a vision of that.”

It’s been quiet so far on the trade front for Guerin, which could change as the All-Star Weekend and bye week hit. One of Guerin’s main focuses so far this season with his new team was getting to know everybody, evaluate everyone from players to the coaching staff, trainers and folks in hockey operations “and see what makes them tick,” Guerin said.

His time spent around the team will go in waves, he said, though this fall he was at every game as he got a feel for the team. But there will come a time where he’ll need a break from the team, and vice versa.

“If you watch your team too much, you either fall in love with them or hate them too much,” Guerin said. “There’s a fine balance there.”

Spurgeon sees the fact that Guerin isn’t too far removed from his playing days as an asset. He’s a GM that understands what players are going through and is someone to bounce ideas off of, Spurgeon said.

“If you do need to talk… you know it’s not someone who’s never played the game,” Spurgeon said. “At the same time, he demands a lot, and I think that’s a good thing to have.”

Guerin’s biggest challenge early on this season wasn’t necessarily in his control. It was not getting frustrated when the Wild started 0-4 overall and won just one of the first nine road games while taking up residence in the Central Division basement. Though the Wild rebounded some this season, they found themselves back in last place in the division and well out of a playoff spot just before the All-Star Break.

Make no mistake, Guerin said in November that he believes in this Wild group. He wants them to keep the attitudes positive, and they’ve done that, he said. The players have done what’s been asked of them, including their effort and commitment, Guerin said.

“They’ve all been very receptive,” Guerin said.

Guerin addressed the team prior to the season’s start, which seemed to go over well among the players. Listening to him excited a lot of people, said defenseman Matt Dumba. It was important for Guerin because he said he wanted to deliver a clear message of what he wants to start building in Minnesota.

“He definitely wants the best for all of us,” said Dumba, near the end of training camp. “He wants to instill that winning culture, that attitude.”

It was an easy transition with Guerin, even before the season got going, according to captain Mikko Koivu, who expected Guerin to have more of an impact on the team and individuals once the season got going.

“I think we’re excited to have him as our leader,” Koivu said.

The roots run deep for Guerin in Minnesota. Sure, he’s a native of Massachusetts and played for eight non-Minnesota NHL teams. But Guerin was drafted by the New Jersey Devils at Met Center in 1989. He even played a couple of games against the North Stars in 1993 before they moved to Dallas, where he played from 2002-06.

He remembers scoring a goal against the North Stars and Grand Rapids native Jon Casey.  It came during the first period of a 4-2 Devils loss to the North Starts on Jan. 28, 1993 during Guerin’s first full season in the NHL.

“In the old Met,” Guerin said. “And I loved it. I loved walking down the stairs to the ice. They had great ice. Great building.”

Mike Modano also scored in that game, for the North Stars. The hockey careers of Modano, now an executive advisor with the Wild, and Guerin have intertwined for years and eventually come full-circle here, too. They’ve been friends since they were 18 years old, Guerin said, were teammates in Dallas and on three Olympics and two World Cup teams.

Guerin wants the fans to know that there’s a great organization here and that some patience might be required as he does everything in his power to put together a great team.

“They’ve earned my respect,” Guerin said, of the Wild players. “They need me to be patient. They need me to be a solid foundation for them as well.”

Though patience might be the key as he continues to learn about his new team, Guerin said it’s not too early to have goals and a checklist in place. There’s a plan, he said, working with his team of assistant general manager Tom Kurvers, director of hockey analytics Mat Sells and director of hockey operations Chris O’Hearn.

“We’re executing it day-by-day,” Guerin said. “It’s not always just what’s in front of us. There are a lot of different things going on.”

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Dump-and-Chase http://minnesotahockeymag.com/dump-and-chase/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/dump-and-chase/#respond Sat, 18 Jan 2020 22:31:22 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=33534 Blake successfully changes its Hockey Day game plan on the fly

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MINNEAPOLIS – Conditions on Hockey Day Minnesota were tough for everybody. Temperatures hovered in the single digits and felt much lower with brutal wind gusts and occasional snow flurries.

It’s because of those conditions that Blake boys’ hockey coach Rob McClanahan had his team do something he really doesn’t like in their game against Blaine.

“We dumped it and chased it,” McClanahan said. “We found a way to make it successful.

“It’s really hard for me to go to that style. I don’t know if everybody understands, exactly. These fellas have never done that with me, and they responded.”

From the second period on, the No. 8-ranked Bears found their game and ended up on the winning side of a 3-2 victory over Blaine with the sun shining down on Parade Stadium. Junior Joe Miller scored the game-winner with 7 minutes, 57 seconds left in the third period.

So, why the shift to dump-and-chase?

The host Bears put up 17 shots in the first period but faced a 1-0 deficit. Miller said it was frustrating for Blake’s top line, made up of Miller and seniors Jack Sabre and Gavin Best, to get a lot of chances and not score.

IMGL3920They changed their game plan on the fly in the second period, and they started winning races to the puck. Best made quick work of the team’s adjustment, getting the Bears on the board just 1 minute, 34 seconds into the second period to tie the game. The goal, with the assist from Miller, was Best’s 10th of the season and seventh in the past six games.

Blake took a 2-1 lead at the 7-minute mark of the period on a goal from senior Brett Witzke before the Bengals tied it up again early in the third period on a tally from junior Ben Wallraff.

Blaine senior Cole Hansen started the scoring only 27 seconds into the game, tallying his 16th of the season. But McClanahan wasn’t worried, adding that scoring early in a game like that isn’t always a good omen.

“I’ve been on the other side of that where we score right away and then the floodgates open the wrong way,” said McClanahan, a Mounds View hockey graduate, 1980 Olympic gold medalist and first-year head coach at Blake.

Changing the style of play after the first period was good to show just how adaptive Blake can be, Miller said. It shows they’re a dangerous team, regardless of who they’re playing, Sabre added.

“Especially today, showing that we can come out with a win after changing our style of play is good for us and good for our confidence,” Sabre said.

Miller’s winning goal, the 17th of the season for the University of Minnesota commit, went in off his shin pad on a Sabre shot from the point. It was the hockey gods shining on Blake after having missed wide-open nets three or four times, McClanahan said.

“I was just trying to get to the right place in front of the net,” Miller said. “Luckily this guy (Sabre), he was able to turn around and rip one, and luckily it just hit me and went in.”

The win for the Bears was their ninth in their past 10 games as they improved to 13-4-0 overall. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak, in which they outscored opponents 22-3, for the No. 19-ranked Bengals, who fell to 10-6-0.

Though the ice was outdoors on a field, it’s still right across the street from The Blake School. So it’s a bit like “defending your own turf,” Miller said. All the high school players who participated in Hockey Day suited up in make-shift dressing rooms located in the school. Blake’s dressing room was actually the room where Sabre said he had math class last year.  Because Blake was the host team, it likely lifted the importance of the victory for McClanahan’s players, the coach said.

“This is something that these fellas will remember the rest of their lives,” McClanahan said.

With all the preparation and hype that leads up to Hockey Day Minnesota, the players talked before the game about how it would all go by fast. They really wanted to cherish the moment, Sabre said.

“The head hits the pillow tonight, we’re going to want to remember as much as we can,” Sabre said. “So I think we did a good job of that.”

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Common Bond http://minnesotahockeymag.com/common-bond/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/common-bond/#respond Sat, 18 Jan 2020 19:10:31 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=33448 Hockey is something Warroad and Minneapolis can agree on

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MINNEAPOLIS – The contrasts between the Minneapolis and Warroad boys’ high school hockey teams are anything but subtle. More than 420,00 residents separate the big-city behemoth from its Canadian-border counterpart but tiny Warroad’s hockey success dwarfs that of its major metropolitan antithesis. 

They even bore a striking difference in their appearance at Hockey Day Minnesota with Warroad in all black and Minneapolis donning white, virtually from head to toe. What bonds them together, however, is their love for the sport and appreciation for its outdoor heritage. 

“I think the kids really enjoyed themselves and the fans enjoyed themselves and I think it’s one of those things that it doesn’t really hit you until next year, maybe, when Hockey Day is on and the kids will look back and say, ‘Hey, that was us last year,'” Warroad coach Jay Hardwick said Saturday. “It’s just great to be a part of it.”

Warroad’s Owen Meeker scored twice and Jayson Shaugabay added a goal and an assist to help lead the Warriors to a 5-1 win over host Minneapolis in the opening game of Hockey Day Minnesota on Saturday morning at Parade Stadium in Minneapolis. 

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Minneapolis sophomore forward Jack Hanson (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

“I think they maybe had a little more speed than we did and, you know, hats off to them, they were good and they won the battles,” Minneapolis coach Jo Dziedzic said. “We had a couple chances there and we just didn’t execute on our power plays. When we did have chances we found the goalie right in the chest but it was fun; our kids loved it and we had a great time.”

Meeker opened the game’s scoring for the Warriors 10:26 into the opening period and Warroad doubled its lead just 1:33 later on Anthony Foster’s shorthanded goal. 

Shaugabay scored a pivotal goal early in the second period with his 12th of the season, redirecting a Grant Slukynsky feed inside the right post for a 3-0 Warrior lead. Slukynsky chipped in another assist in the final period to pick up his team leading 37th assist and 61st point of the season.

Overcast skies greeted the teams on arrival Saturday morning and while Friday’s snow had departed, it was replaced by a stiff, bone-chilling breeze out of the West. As the game wore one, breaks in the clouds allowed the sun to peek through.

“We had a couple guys come off the ice and say that, you know, it was tough for him to see when we they were going that way,” Hardwick said. “I asked our goalie after the game about it too and he said it was really tough to see the first part of the third period but, luckily, it didn’t become a factor.”

Slukynsky was denied his bid to add to his goal scoring lead by Minneapolis goalie Alex Lamont whose glove hand came out of nowhere to swallow up a shot labeled for what appeared for a moment to be an open net with 7:25 to play. “That was a beauty and he’s going to remember that one for a while,” Dziedzic said. 

“That was a really nice save by him,” Slukynsky acknowledged. “Give the goalie credit, he read the play nice and slid cross and just made a nice save.”

The Warriors were well supported in the big city by a formidable traveling contingent who made themselves known throughout the contest. 

“It’s probably pretty quiet in Warroad today,” Hardwick said. “I know there was, I think, eight of our youth teams and numerous other people down here. I looked up in the stands and it was all black and gold and red, white and blue, so it was great to see all the Warroad people down here supporting us.”

Dziedzic says he hopes the long-term ramifications of Hockey Day coming to Minneapolis leads to growing the sport in his hometown and he’s already seeing good signs pointing toward that goal.

“I think we’ve got some young talent that are hockey players and in the past we’ve had some guys that played hockey but weren’t necessarily hockey players,” Dziedzic said. “They’re just getting experience and, as they get stronger, I think we’ll keep growing.”

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Friday Night Lights http://minnesotahockeymag.com/friday-night-lights/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/friday-night-lights/#respond Sat, 18 Jan 2020 09:02:25 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=33437 Winter storm no match for Minneapolis spirit on eve of Hockey Day

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2020 Hockey Day Minnesota Program http://minnesotahockeymag.com/2020-hdm-program/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/2020-hdm-program/#respond Sat, 18 Jan 2020 08:08:53 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=33347 Enjoy your FREE digital copy of the 2020 Hockey Day Minnesota program.

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Stars Shine Beneath Wintry Blanket http://minnesotahockeymag.com/stars-shine-beneath-wintry-blanket/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/stars-shine-beneath-wintry-blanket/#respond Sat, 18 Jan 2020 05:49:20 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=33403 Minnesota's all-star women play hockey in snow-globe setting

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MINNEAPOLIS – The blue lines weren’t visible. Neither were any of the faceoff circles. The ice surface for the rink at Parade Stadium was completely covered with falling snow that blew around in the air like a snow globe throughout the entire State of Hockey Women’s All-Star Game Friday evening.

What a setting for Hockey Day Minnesota, even if it made actually playing the game a bit more difficult.

“You don’t pick this,” said Kevin Gorg, who filled in as coach for Team Minnesota. “You don’t pick the snow, you don’t pick kind of climate we had tonight.

“But I will tell you that most of these kids grew up playing at some point outside when they were young.”

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Liv Halvorson, Nina Rodgers and Chelsey Brodt-Rosenthal of Team Minneapolis smile at what Mother Nature delivered on Friday night. (MHM Photo / Jonny Watkins)

Indeed, Taylor Williamson played at an outdoor rink at Walnut Ridge Park near her house in Edina. Playing there until the lights went out is something she points to and credits for all the skill and creativity in her game. And one of her teammates Friday, Warroad’s Gigi Marvin, certainly is no stranger to playing in extreme-weather conditions.

“I’m used to it,” Marvin said. “I’ve done that hundreds of times up north. And actually we have way more wind up there. So it was nice not having a wind.”

Marvin and Williamson took care of the scoring for Team Minnesota as they defeated Team Minneapolis 4-3 during the exhibition game that consisted of three 15-minute, running-time periods. Sadie Lundquist gave Team Minneapolis a 2-0 lead in the first before Team Minnesota got on the board with two goals apiece from Marvin and Williamson.

Scheduled two-minute intermissions were extended a bit as crews hit the ice with shovels and snow blowers to try and clear the playing surface off as best as they could. The snow was so steady that it was tough to make out the downtown skyline view that serves as the backdrop for Hockey Day Minnesota.

“It’s definitely tough, but it’s the fun part about being a part of Hockey Day Minnesota and playing outside,” Williamson said. “So it was super fun.”

Despite the blizzard-like conditions that might have kept some hockey fans away, there were a few pockets of cheering sections for the women’s game. Williamson, a former Gophers player and current Wayzata girls’ high school hockey coach, held practice with her team earlier in the day before it was off to Parade Stadium.

“My assistant coach Blair (Parent) was on the other team,” Williamson said. “So they wanted to come and watch us play, which was awesome.”

They had plenty to cheer about with Williamson’s goals. On a night when clouds of snow shot up from the ice as the puck moved along, it was all about “just doing what you’ve got to do to get the puck to the net, for sure,” Williamson said.

The Bloomington Jefferson high school girls’ team also showed up to support two of their assistant coaches, Kelly Pannek and Kelsey Cline. They were on different teams, too, with Cline skating on the winning Team Minnesota. Some of the girls held up signs to show their support as well, with one reading: “We just hope both teams have fun.”

The teams were made up of a bunch of current Minnesota Whitecaps players, plus former Gophers women’s hockey players and plenty of Minnesota ties. Whitecaps assistant coach Laura Slominski coached Team Minneapolis. Former Park Center and Gophers standout Krissy Wendell was slated to coach the other team but was home was a sick child, so Gorg stepped in.

Marvin was bummed Wendall couldn’t be there but enjoyed her replacement, too.

“He’s hilarious,” Marvin said, of Gorg. “He had some good one-liners.”

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Coach Kevin Gorg delivers and inspirational speech to his Team Minnesota players. (MHM Photo / Jonny Watkins)

Any expert coaching advice? Nah, Gorg said he just tried to stay out of the way. He was behind the bench coaching a lot of players he’s known since they were in high school, like goaltender Julie Friend and Erica McKenzie. Coaching as part of Hockey Day Minnesota was “a bonus” for Gorg, a report and hockey analyst with Fox Sports North.

“All year long we look forward to Hockey Day,” Gorg said. “Nights like tonight are really special.”

According to @HockeyDayMN on Twitter, the women’s game included 26 native Minnesotans, 17 NCAA championships, 12 Isobel Cup winners, six Ms. Hockey winners and four Minnesota state high school championships.

For the Whitecaps (10-4-2) players, they will head back indoors this weekend, taking on the Connecticut Whale (1-13-2) for a pair of afternoon games Saturday and Sunday at their home TRIA Rink in downtown St. Paul.

Marvin, who previously played in for the Boston Pride in the NWHL and is now part of the PWHPA, said the experience Friday was just a cool one all around, especially being able to reconnect with friends/teammates she hadn’t seen in a while.  

“Of course it makes all the sense in the world to not only have a men’s pro all-star game but have a women’s (all-star game),” Marvin said. “Because there’s that much talent here. There’s that much skill. 

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A Dream Come True http://minnesotahockeymag.com/a-dream-come-true/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/a-dream-come-true/#respond Fri, 17 Jan 2020 04:23:43 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=33374 Hockey Day Minnesota Kicks Off in Style With Pair of HS Games

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MINNEAPOLIS — The scene felt like something you would see on TV, or perhaps in a video game.

The 14th Hockey Day Minnesota debuted in style in Minneapolis, and the sight was something to behold.

A rink was built into historic Parade Stadium, with the downtown Minneapolis skyline looming in the distance. And with temperatures hovering around 0 degrees, it felt like the quintessential Minnesota experience.

“It was unbelievable,” said Blake girls senior Adelaide Burton. “Leading up to this all week, [the anticipation] had just been building and building

“Being able to see the ice and the city in the background is truly a dream come true,” Burton added. “I could not have asked for better conditions.”

Added Minneapolis girls freshman Celia Midtbo: “It was different, everything felt different. But it also just felt like playing hockey outdoors with your friends.”

The three-day showcase kicked off Thursday night with a pair of girls high school games.

Minneapolis and the Academy of Holy Angels squared off in the opener, with Minneapolis claiming a 3-2 overtime win in Metro West Conference play.

With the teams tied at 2, Midtbo scored on a wraparound try that somehow squeaked through Holy Angels goalie Celeste Rimstad.

“I won the puck and just came around the net,” Midtbo said. “I just threw it [at the net] hoping for the best. Then I just screamed … it was huge.”

Said Minneapolis coach Sarma Ozmen: “She has an amazing shot. She’ll say she just threw it at the net, but I have a feeling she aimed for something.”

Bridget McGuire and Kaitlyn Kneeland scored for Holy Angels, while Maddy Helmstetter and Julia Stevens scored power-play goals for Minneapolis, which improved to 10-9-2 on the season. Holy Angels fell to 7-12.

Ozmen said she could tell her team was a bit in awe of the atmosphere at first.

“The atmosphere was great … I think we had nerves for the first five minutes or so but then we settled in and were fired up that it was a real hockey game,” Ozmen said. “I had to turn around and see the skyline a few times just to make it real with where we’re at.”

Blake senior Lily Delianedis scores the first of her three goals in the Bears’ 8-0 win over Grand Rapids/Greenway on Thursday night at Parade Stadium to complete a sweep for the co-hosting schools on opening night of this weekend’s Hockey Day Minnesota festivities in Minneapolis. (MHM Photo / Jonny Watkins)

Blake wasn’t fazed by the impressive scenery in the nightcap, as the Bears cruised to an 8-0 win over Grand Rapids-Greenway.

Burton led the way with a hat trick and an assist, while senior Lily Delianedis also recorded a hat trick for the Bears.

Each player scored a shorthanded goal in the opening period, before Burton scored twice and Delianedis found the net again in the second period.

“It’s starting out fast and finishing on your chances,” Burton said of the shorthanded tallies. “But I’ve got to give it to our team … we played three full periods.”

Added Blake coach Sean Reid: “Those two have had a bunch of those this year. They’re able to pounce on the puck, see the opening and get those chances.”

Freshmen Elizabeth Morrison and Sam Broz later scored in the third period before Delianedis capped the scoring with her hat trick.

Blake is now 12-5-1 on the season, as goalies Molly Haag (two periods) and Ava Christie (final period) combined for the shutout. Grand Rapids-Greenway dropped to 8-9-2.

But the Bears will certainly remember this win, especially because of the atmosphere it came in.

“Being able to do this on a night like tonight,” Burton said, “it brought our team that much closer.”

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Wild Shines Spotlight On Youth http://minnesotahockeymag.com/wild-shines-spotlight-on-youth/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/wild-shines-spotlight-on-youth/#respond Wed, 08 Jan 2020 06:18:30 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=33034 Wild, U.S. Bank surprise Eagan and Cottage Grove Peewee B1 teams with annual Youth Hockey Spotlight Game

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For the fourth straight year a pair of youth hockey teams received the NHL experience in the Minnesota Wild’s annual Youth Hockey Spotlight Game Presented by U.S. Bank. Peewee B1 teams from Cottage Grove and Eagan received the surprise of their lives at Eagan Civic Arena on Tuesday night when they were greeted by Wild-themed locker rooms upon arrival with custom game jerseys waiting for them in stalls bearing their names on Wild-themed placards.

Each hockey player also received an Adidas duffle bag,  a Wild and U.S. Bank branded water bottle and hat along with a commemorative puck. 

It was all part of the Wild’s yearly effort to spread the Wild game experience beyond the confines of Xcel Energy Center by treating youth teams to many of the team’s traditional NHL game elements. That included Wild In-Arena Announcer Adam Abrams and Wild National Anthem Singer John deCausmeaker taking their talents to Eagan on Tuesday, much to the delight of the packed house on hand for the game.

Minnesota Assistant Coach Darby Hendrickson and Goaltending Coach Bob Mason served as honorary coaches for the game while Wild President Matt Majka appeared with team dog Breezer and Wild Mascot Nordy joined in on the fun as well. Jack Vitek, younger brother of Patric Vitek, the 13-year-old Eagan youth player struck and killed by a car on his way to school on Nov. 1, 2019, made the Let’s Play Hockey! announcement. 

All fans in attendance received a Spotlight Rally Towel and a Chuck-A-Puck was held at the end of the game. Proceeds from the event were split between the Patric Vitek Memorial Fund, and the Eagan and Cottage Grove Youth Hockey Associations.

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Home Isn’t Always Sweet http://minnesotahockeymag.com/home-isnt-always-sweet/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/home-isnt-always-sweet/#respond Sat, 04 Jan 2020 17:07:07 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=32380 Wild start off lengthy bulk of its home schedule with a few clunkers

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Wild start off lengthy bulk of its home schedule with a few clunkers

“Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays…”

Sing it, Perry.

The familiar holiday tune might be off radio stations by now, though it’s one that rings true for the Minnesota Wild. They’re four games into a long stretch of mostly home games – 18-of-22 – after starting the season playing a lot of road games.

But so far for the Wild, home has been more sour than sweet. The latest example was a 4-1 loss to Toronto on New Year’s Eve for the Wild’s second one-goal, losing effort in a row in St. Paul.  

“It’s tough,” said forward Marcus Foligno. “We talk about being at home and how we’re home for a while now.

“It’s great to be home, but unless you’re winning… it’s going to be pretty tough around here.”

The Wild are 1-3 through the first four games of the 18 at home, grabbing just two of the possible eight points while getting outscored 13-5. In the midst of this, they came out of the Christmas break with an exciting 6-4 win in Colorado.

It’s “disheartening,” according to winger Zach Parise, who on Tuesday tied his season-long goal drought at six games.

“We played a good game in Colorado and then responded with a couple of duds back here,” Parise said. “That’s not ideal.”

Toronto captain John Tavares had a goal and an assist in a 4-1 Maple Leafs win over the Wild on New Year’s Eve. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

The loss to the Maple Leafs marked the end of 2019 and also the halfway mark of the 2019-20 season for the Wild, who are 19-17-5 with 43 points, including a 10-4-3 home record and 9-13-2 mark on the road. It’s a recovery from the early part of the season, when things looked pretty bleak.

They opened up the year with a four-game losing streak and lost six of their first seven games, only getting a 2-0 win at Ottawa to stop the bleeding. The Wild didn’t have a winning streak longer than two games until Nov. 26 to Dec. 5 when they rattled off five in a row.

“I think the results weren’t what we wanted, but for the most part, the whole season I think we’ve been playing pretty well,” said Mikko Koivu, after the Toronto game. He assisted on Ryan Suter’s goal Tuesday in his return after missing a dozen games with a lower-body injury. “Now we’ve just got to find it again. We’ve got to reset here and find the mojo back that brought us that confidence that we were tough to beat at home.”

Despite the last couple of sluggish games from the Wild, they’ve still been one of the best teams in the league lately, going 13-6-4 in their last 24 games. They rattled off a season-best 11-game point streak from Nov. 14 to Dec. 5. They made up ground with 30 points since that mid-November mark and got themselves back into the playoff picture for a bit, which was better than being in the standings cellar early in the year.

“When we play our best and everybody plays their role… we usually end up on the right side of the scoreboard,” said coach Bruce Boudreau.  

The Wild also had to get used to playing those roles away from Minnesota. They played 23 of their first 36 games on the road, including a stretch of 20-of-their-first-30 games on the road, the second time in NHL history that’s been done. The Chicago Blackhawks did it in 2005-06 and finished the season 26-43-13.

A 6-0 shutout loss to Winnipeg on Dec. 21 kicked off the Wild’s bulk of 18-of-22 home games. The Wild rebounded well before Christmas with a 3-0 shutout of Calgary. But it was after the holidays that the Wild came out flat at Xcel Energy Center, turning a 1-0 third-period lead into a 3-1 loss to the Islanders. Then they rang in the new year with a whimper against the Maple Leafs, getting down 3-0 before Suter’s power-play goal midway through the second period.

The Wild dug themselves a bigger hole with 30.2 seconds left in the first period when William Nylander made it a 2-0 game. That sequence was a point of emphasis in Boudreau’s postgame comments.

Before that goal, Boudreau noted Joel Eriksson Ek’s 3-on-2 chance where he went to his backhand with the puck instead of going to his forehand on the right side, where a streaking Luke Kunin was headed.

“I think, personally, we try to make the difficult plays instead of the simple plays a lot of times,” Boudreau said. “And it gets turned over.”

The Wild still have some time to redeem themselves from a couple of dud games and not let the slump get any bigger.

“We’ve got to try to figure it out here, sooner rather than later,” Foligno said. “We know we have a lot more home games coming up, but we’ve got to get our game going.”

And even after all those road games to start the season, the Wild will still end up finishing their final four games on the road starting March 29, tying a season-long four-game road stretch. Their home regular-season finale is March 28 against Buffalo. 

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Better Late Than Never http://minnesotahockeymag.com/better-late-than-never/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/better-late-than-never/#respond Fri, 03 Jan 2020 00:52:52 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=32185 Wild finally get Winter Classic

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Wild finally get Winter Classic

The word “finally” seems like an understatement, while also checking in to the cliché column.

Thirteen years after the inaugural Winter Classic. Five years after Minnesota hosted a Stadium Series game. The Minnesota Wild finally have their chance to host the Winter Classic. The game is set for New Year’s Day 2021 at Target Field, the home of the Minnesota Twins.  

Wild forward Zach Parise said the game’s arrival – which will be the 31st NHL outdoor contest – is “a little overdue.”

“You see warm-weather climates getting the game, and you’re thinking, ‘Why are we not getting one? Why haven’t we gotten one yet?’” Parise said.

The news officially broke on New Year’s Day, when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made the announcement during this year’s Winter Classic between Nashville and Dallas at the Cotton Bowl in Texas. In a fitting backdrop to the news, the Wild hosted their annual, open-to-the-public outdoor practice Thursday morning at the Recreation Outdoor Center (ROC) in St. Louis Park.  

“It’s pretty interesting timing,” said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. “It’s a great excitement-builder.”

So, what took so long for the Winter Classic to come to the place that dubs itself the State of Hockey?

Wild President Matt Majka addresses the media in regard to the 2021 Winter Classic (MHM Photo / Heather Rule)

 Wild President Matt Majka noted, “going back in time,” that the NHL wanted the Wild to be a better hockey team and a playoff team with some star power. Those boxes have been checked, he said.

“We’ve been lobbying the NHL for a long time for this marquee game, the biggest game in the NHL annually,” Matt Majka said. “They’ve always said that this market is deserving and our fans are deserving.

“We have been surprised at how long it took to come to the State of Hockey. But all of that’s behind us now.”

The big event will also coincide with the Wild’s 20th anniversary season, “so maybe it’s a good thing that we waited this long,” Majka said.

The Wild’s opponent for the big game is still a mystery. That announcement likely has a “weeks” timeline attached to it, according to Majka. The league is looking at a few factors, including a rivalry opponent, a solid national draw and an opponent whose fans will travel well. Some of the speculation/hopes floating around on social media from fans have been Colorado, St. Louis, Chicago or Winnipeg.

In 2016 for the Stadium Series, the Wild hosted the Chicago Blackhawks, who’ve played in multiple Winter Classics, at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. The Wild won that game 6-1 in front of a paid crowd of 50,426. Only seven Wild players who skated in that game are still on Minnesota’s roster: Devan Dubnyk, Matt Dumba, Mikko Koivu, Parise, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter and Jason Zucker. Dumba is the only one to register a point in that Stadium Series game, scoring the game’s first goal.

Suter reflected on what that experience was like.  

“You walk out there and see all the fans cheering loud,” Suter said. “It’s something I’ll never forget, and I’m sure this is going to be just as special.”

Next year’s outdoor game will be a new experience for much of the Wild’s roster, including veteran Eric Staal. The 35-year-old, who signed with the Wild in the summer of 2016 as a free agent, has never suited up for a Stadium Series or Winter Classic. He’ll finally get to have this hockey feat in common with his brothers.

“They’ve had nothing but positive experiences to say about it,” Staal said. “Pretty cool experience and something that was definitely on my radar of wanting to do before playing this game, and hopefully I get the opportunity next year to do it at Target Field.”

The Wild held their annual outdoor practice on Thursday at the St Louis Park Rec Center. (MHM Photo / Heather Rule)

The Winter Classic will house about 40,000 fans, though the final number will depend on where exactly the rink is configured on the field. Other MLB stadiums have hosted outdoor NHL games, too, including Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium, Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.

As Twins President & CEO Dave St. Peter acknowledged, Target Field wasn’t a venue built to host hockey in January, so the team will fully winterize the building in preparation. That includes making sure there’s running water for restrooms and fully operational concession stands throughout the park.

“That’s a commitment for us,” St. Peter said. “It was something that was necessary to host this event, and from our perspective, we thought it was worth it.”  

Of course, being in Minnesota, Target Field was also built for days “when the weather would be less than perfect,” St. Peter said. He added that the Target Field has more radiant heat than any ballpark in Major League Baseball with more interior spaces than most other parks, too.

Boudreau, who coached the Washington Capitals to a 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field in the 2011 Winter Classic, called the whole experience one of the best of his life. It was everything beyond the game itself that he really enjoyed, like the HBO TV special and the fans lined up along the streets as the team bus traveled from the hotel to the field.

Seeing all those fans along the way – either booing or cheering the Capitals bus – was a cool and memorable sight for Boudreau.

“I think that the state of Minnesota, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and all the other little towns in between here, are going to put on quite a show for the national audience because I think people know this is the state of hockey,” Boudreau said. “They’ll go out and prove how much our people love hockey in this area.” 

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