Minnesota Hockey Magazine http://minnesotahockeymag.com Minnesota's leading online hockey destination. Sun, 18 Nov 2018 21:01:50 +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 Eagle Takes Flight http://minnesotahockeymag.com/eagle-takes-flight/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/eagle-takes-flight/#respond Sun, 18 Nov 2018 21:01:50 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=30542 Mittelstadt adjusting to NHL life

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Buffalo’s Casey Mittelstadt keeps his eyes on the play in the Sabres 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018 (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Mittelstadt adjusting to NHL life in Buffalo

Casey Mittelstadt is a teenager playing in the NHL. But the beginning of his story is probably pretty similar to many other Minnesota natives across this hockey hotbed: He first put on skates as a toddler and spent hours on his backyard rink as a kid.

After all, living in Minnesota gives kids a geographical advantage, said his dad, Tom Mittelstadt.

“I wanted to put him on skates when he was young and see how it went,” Tom Mittelstadt said.

Considering his son was drafted No. 8 overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2017 NHL Draft, it’s safe to say it went well.

Both Tom and Eden Prairie High School coach Lee Smith described Casey as a rink rat.

“’Dad, let’s go. Dad, let’s go skate. Come on, dad, let’s go,’” said Tom Mittelstadt, of his young son’s pleas to get out on the ice. “He spent hours out there just playing and shooting and stick handling. I think he loved every minute of it.”

Buffalo’s Casey Mittelstadt and fellow former Eden Prairie Eagle, Nick Seeler of the Minnesota Wild, collide while Sabres forward Kyle Okposo, of St. Paul, looks on. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Saturday, Casey Mittelstadt came home and played against his hometown team. He played 13:31 with two missed shots and two faceoff wins as the Sabres defeated the Wild 3-2 in comeback fashion. He also got into a brief, post-whistle scuffle with fellow Eagles alum and Wild defenseman, Nick Seeler, in the third period.

Plenty of Casey Mittelstadt’s family and friends, including his parents and coach Smith, attended the game. His parents watch most of his games, thanks to the NHL TV package, plus they’ve made it to a few in-person as well.

“It’s a little surreal, I have to say,” Tom Mittelstadt said. “We’re getting more and more used to it.”

Casey Mittelstadt played at Xcel Energy Center with four Eden Prairie state tournament teams. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to capture a state title; the Eagles lost 3-2 in the state semifinals to eventual Class 2A champion Grand Rapids in 2017.

“I think that’ll probably haunt me for a little while,” Casey Mittelstadt said. “But I guess the sun comes up the next day, and I’m happy where I’m at now.”

He scored 21 goals and 64 points in 25 games that senior season and was named Mr. Hockey. He finished out his senior season with the Eagles after starting the season in Green Bay with the USHL.

He said he would have regretted not coming back and playing with his friends at Eden Prairie. It was the right decision for him, and he’d do it again, Casey Mittelstadt said.

As a freshman with the Gophers last season, he scored 11 goals and 30 points in 34 games before getting the opportunity to sign a three-year, entry-level contract with Buffalo. He played six games at the end of last season, scoring his first NHL goal and a point in five of the games.

Casey Mittelstadt (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

“If you would’ve asked me in high school if I would only play one year at the U, I probably would’ve thought you were crazy,” said Casey Mittelstadt, who added that the opportunity to join the NHL was too good to pass up. “I grew up watching the NHL and dreaming about being in it. I think it’s a matter of whether you think you’re ready or not, too. It’s a different decision for everyone, but for me, I felt like I was ready.”

Casey Mittelstadt, who turns 20 on Thanksgiving, has two goals and four assists for Buffalo this season, including a shootout winner on his first career attempt to seal a 4-3 victory over Vancouver on Nov. 10. He also had a goal and assist in a victory over Ottawa on Nov. 3. Lately, he’s centered a line with Conor Sheary and fellow Minnesotan Kyle Okposo, a player Mittelstadt said he’s leaned on for help.

Being a youngster in the NHL, it’s also weird for him to see his teammates with their kids and families, and he just finished high school a couple years ago, Casey Mittelstadt said. The travel lifestyle is a bit of a change, too. He remembers the first few plane rides and hotels when he joined the team, saying how nice the plane and hotels were. It makes you step back and realize how lucky you are, he said.  

“I think just the whole thing overall kind of hits you at weird times,” Casey Mittelstadt said. “You kind of get a reality check.”

He’s also playing with guys he watched in Wild sweaters when he attended his five or six Wild games a season as a fan. That’s players like former Wild forward Jason Pominville, who recently played in his 1,000th career NHL game and scored the game-winner against the Wild.

Casey Mittelstadt isn’t the only NHL product from the hockey powerhouse in Eden Prairie. Along with Seeler, Nick Leddy, Kyle Rau and Mitch Rogge came from the Eagles program.

Smith, entering his 26th season behind the bench, was at the Wild game to see Casey Mittelstadt’s first NHL game in Minnesota. He recalled the big smiles on the faces of Casey Mittelstadt and Seeler when they were just young kids loving the game of hockey.

“A lot of kids love hockey, but they had that drive to be special all the way through that I think separates some kids from being really good to having a chance to accomplish something like that,” Smith said.

With his skillset as a forward, Casey Mittelstadt tops the list of Eagles players as far as his accomplishments so far, Smith said, adding that Rau – who led Eden Prairie to a pair of state titles and has played with the Wild – is right up there as well.

In his rookie season, Casey Mittelstadt’s working on improving the defensive side of his game, including faceoffs. He said he’s not too worried about his slow start offensively.

“I have pretty high expectations for myself,” Casey Mittelstadt said. “I’m pretty hard on myself. If I go in and play well and play the way that I think I can play, it usually works itself out.” 

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Blazing Arizona http://minnesotahockeymag.com/blazing-arizona/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/blazing-arizona/#respond Sun, 18 Nov 2018 05:23:08 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=30515 Nathan Burke heats up as Gophers earn split

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Gopher forward Nathan Burke watchs the first of his two goals get behind St. Lawrence goaltender Emil Zetterquist in Minnesota’s 3-0 win over the Saints on Saturday night at Mariucci Arena (Brace Hemmelgarn/University of Minnesota Athletics)

Nathan Burke heats up as Gophers earn split

Nathan Burke addresses the media. (Photo by Declan Goff)

MINNEAPOLIS — Its gold paint may be chipping away revealing its all-white origins and its maroon “M” logos may have seen better days, but the hard hat, emblematic of the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team’s Player of the Game, fit Nathan Burke perfectly on Saturday night.

Burke, the first Arizona native to ever suit up for the Gophers, had just scored scored the first two Minnesota goals — the first points of his collegiate career — in a 3-0 win over St. Lawrence at Mariucci Arena. The freshman’s performance helped  Minnesota salvage a split with the Saints after a devastating 4-3 overtime loss in Friday night’s series’ opener.

“After last night it was definitely cool to bounce back and help my team out,” Burke said. “I have great linemates, (Sammy) Walker and (Blake) McLaughlin, and they did all the work. I just happened to go to the right places.”

The all-freshman line’s six-point night included Walker’s second of the season and a pair of assists by McLaughlin.

“It’s a good statement for him,” Motzko said of Burke who played just his third game of the season after sitting out Friday night. The Gopher coaching staff has been cautious with Burke’s recovery from a bout with mononucleosis which cost him much of the preseason and the beginning of the regular season.

“We can see Burkie’s skill in practice and he got a shot and did his thing,” said goaltender Eric Schierhorn who shut out the Saints with 12 saves. “His second one should probably be on SportsCenter.”

(Brace Hemmelgarn/University of Minnesota Athletics)

Schierhorn was referring to the play in which Burke received a pass from Walker toward the bottom of the right circle, spun away from a St. Lawrence defender, drove to the net and buried his second career goal behind Saints netminder Emul Zetterquist at the the 7:43 mark of the second period.

“I don’t know about that,” Burke said when told of Schierhorn’s SportsCenter suggestion. “But I mean, if it happens, it happens, that’d be cool for sure.”

The well-traveled Burke grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz.where he sandwiched two stints with the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes around stops with the Los Angeles Jr. Kings and the Cleveland Barons before moving on to the North American Hockey League’s Aberdeen Wings for the 2017-18 season.

“It’s definitely cool to represent my state a little bit,” Burke said. “I know (Toronto Maple Leafs star) Auston Matthews is doing a great job at the pro level so I’ll do what I can at the collegiate level.”

When a reporter playfully asked if he was crowning himself the Auston Matthews of college hockey, Burke was quick to refute that assertion.

“No, definitely not,” Burke said with a laugh. “Don’t put those words in my mouth.”

In Aberdeen, Burke led his team and the NAHL in goal scoring with 32 goals in 60 games last season and his 56 points ranked first on the Wings and seventh in the league. The All-NAHL Second Team and All-NAHL Rookie First Team honoree’s 16 power-play goals in the regular season also led the league.

“He’s a hard worker, loves to play around the net,” Motzko said. “That’s where he’s best, right around the goaltender.”

Burke, who originally committed to St. Cloud State back in February, decommitted from the Huskies when coach Bob Motzko departed for Minnesota at the end of last season and brought assistant coach Garret Raboin with him.

“Rabs recruited me really hard and I just felt comfortable,” Burke said. “My mom always said when you know you’d know and I just felt right with them. Frankly, if they went anywhere else, I think I’d follow them there too.”

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Hockey Mom Unplugged http://minnesotahockeymag.com/hockey-mom-unplugged-2/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/hockey-mom-unplugged-2/#respond Wed, 14 Nov 2018 23:07:55 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=30000 Journey thru Juniors

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(Featured Photo: Winnipeg Blues goaltender Jack Branby/Photo by Laurie Anderson)

Journey Thru Juniors

So many hugs.

Everywhere I looked outside of the Super Rink in Blaine, I saw people bracing for hugs and giving hugs. The North American Hockey League (NAHL) Showcase was in town and it was the first time many families were seeing their boys after they sent them off to different cities around the country to pursue a hockey dream.

I was there with a friend whose son had just played. It was great to see his smiling face and get a picture of him hugging her. All the young men were coming outside with their “just showered” hair and dressed nicely in crisp suits. They each scanned the crowd looking for groups of family members beaming with pride. Each young man was slinging a hockey bag over his shoulders.

Made me a little teary.

I miss my boy. His dream has taken him out of the country. Jack is a goaltender for the Winnipeg Blues in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. I still can’t believe it. We knew he wanted to pursue junior hockey but we put down a deposit for college just in case. As the summer progressed, we had to make a decision. It was a dinner with our son that finally sealed it. We had a heart to heart talk and then he said the words that set us on this path, “I will regret it if I don’t give it a shot.” I guess that’s all we had to hear.

So, we made the trek over the border in early September and after several weeks, he was handed the jersey with “Branby” on the back. He is a part of the Winnipeg Blues organization. He is experiencing his favorite sport in a nation that treasures it. Now he begins his journey through juniors.

I am thankful for many things as we watch him chase this dream. Billet families are incredible. We have one of the best. Sweet Alice and her family welcomed Jack with open arms and a wonderful kitchen. When we said goodbye to him on her lawn, I was sad but so happy that he found a place with a family who will support him and be there for him when his parents can only offer advice through a crackly cell phone call.

It’s fun to hear about his life in Canada. They use different words. They approach things in their own way. It’s all a part of the education of playing junior hockey.

Hockey TV is such a gift. It is so nice to see all of the team’s games. It’s still hard for us to not be there in the stands but we watch online even if he is on the bench.

This junior hockey experience is about growth. Growing in your game and growing as a person. This isn’t an easy journey for these guys. It is humbling, challenging and motivating at the same time. When he put on those goaltender pads for the first time as mite, we knew he was hooked.

That love of hockey and of goaltending has directed him to this path. I am excited and nervous for him. In the end, I am so glad he is “giving it a shot.” No regrets. That is the best way to live your life.

Editor’s note: Vineeta has started a Facebook group for other families who have boys in junior hockey. It is called Journey Through Juniors. She invites others to join the group and support each other as our boys go through this incredible experience.

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HBF – Growing the Game http://minnesotahockeymag.com/hbf-growing-the-game/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/hbf-growing-the-game/#respond Wed, 14 Nov 2018 22:48:43 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=29986 Legacy Lives on in Foundation to Advance the Game of Hockey

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(Photos courtesy of Herb Brooks Foundation)

Legacy Lives on in Foundation to Advance the Game of Hockey

by Drew Cove

What man comes to mind when one thinks of hockey in the United States? In Minnesota? In the Twin Cities? On the East Side?

The man is Herb Brooks, committed to growing the game of hockey — not only in Minnesota but across United States — and the architect of the United States Olympic Hockey team that surprised all and won gold in 1980. He was a legendary figure not only to the hockey community, but also the Minnesota and national sports community.

Though Herb died in 2003, his legacy still lives on in his namesake, the Herb Brooks Foundation. The Foundation is committed to Herb’s long-term vision — growing the game of hockey.

“What’s important is trying … to help young people get involved in hockey and build character,” said Jon Cherney, the Executive Director of the Herb Brooks Foundation. “Even though we use hockey as our platform, the goal is to help young people who might not have the means or the access to participate in sports in general and hockey in specifics.”

The foundation does a lot of work now for kids who haven’t had much experience in hockey, but it started over 30 years ago in a somewhat different capacity.

As the foundation existed 30 years ago, it was a fund for a scholarship for some high school students to keep playing hockey.

“My dad had a foundation that he started in 1986 to raise money for myself and some other top seniors in the state … so we could go play in these various [hockey] tournaments around the country,” said Dan Brooks, Herb’s son. “His buddies helped raise money, so we could go play.”

Now that Dan is beyond his playing days, the foundation has changed tunes back to getting kids involved with the game of hockey.

Herb’s friends kept the foundation operating until his death in 2003, then they turned it over to Dan. He then went and renamed it the Herb Brooks Foundation, worked closely with the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn. and assembled a board of directors and got to work on keeping Herb’s legacy alive.

Though the mission remains largely unchanged from the early years of the current state of the foundation 15 years ago, it has always been committed to getting young people into hockey.

“We looked at trying to change the game of hockey itself, how the game was played” Dan Brooks said. “That was kind of a daunting task, so we just wanted to help kids, make people’s lives better through the game of hockey, and make the game of hockey better itself.”

That mission of helping kids through the game of hockey isn’t better explained than their mission statement on the foundation’s website.

“Introducing, providing, and maintain a variety of hockey-related opportunities, at no cost, for our youth — while growing the game.”

Those hockey-related opportunities are not hard to find, either. The foundation runs summer and winter clinics each year, with multiple locations throughout the Twin Cities, primarily Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Kalli Funk is Rink Rats program director for the Herb Brooks Foundation. She has lived the life of a young hockey player in the Twin Cities. As a player from Roseville, she made her way through the Roseville hockey association, Cretin-Derham Hall, then moved on to college to play at St. Cloud State before competing overseas.

Once back in the United States, Funk was put in touch with the former executive director of the foundation, John McClellan, while she was coaching the girls’ team at Cretin and she became involved with the hockey side of the Foundation’s efforts.

“This summer, at our St. Paul clinic, we had a lot of learn to skate participants, [that’s] kids who are just starting out skating” Funk said. “When I first started with the organization, I saw a few more kids who had been skating for a while.”

In July, the foundation held a summer clinic twice a week for the whole month at the Charles M. Schulz Arena in Highland Park. Those clinics had learn to skate, power skating and learn to play hockey clinics. Kids as young as five years old and kids into their teens participated in each clinic to start playing hockey.

The foundation doesn’t just put on summer hockey clinics, though. This winter, at three locations around St. Paul, the foundation will host clinics throughout January and February.

Funk said unequivocally why she does this job is because of the difference she sees with the kids.

“That’s why I do what I do. Just seeing the reaction, the belief that they can do it, you get chills down your spine,” Funk said. “We’re not trying to raise the next NHL star in our foundation, but just seeing that kids believe in themselves, then it’s one more thing they’re able work hard in and put their mind to it.”

From the parents’ reactions to their kids at these clinics is another humbling experience for Funk.

“The biggest reaction I see is gratitude,” Funk said. “They’re always so thankful that we offer these clinics, and especially, everything we offer is free of charge to them, so they’re so grateful that we’re able to do this.”

Beyond the on-ice help, these clinics are free to the participants and their families. The money has to come from somewhere. So where does the money come from?

That’s where executive director Jon Cherney comes back in. While he doesn’t get involved with the on-ice clinics, he is integral to the business side of the foundation and getting businesses to partner with the foundation and help provide money to accomplish the mission.

“Hockey’s expensive,” Cherney said. “Thankfully we’ve got a lot of generous people, both donors and sponsors who have supported our cause over the years, but we need to do more.”

Cherney said the foundation needs to expand its sponsor and donor base by asking people to help the cause who might have not been a part of the foundation before. Though he is a ‘walking PR campaign,’ Cherney said that usually once people hear what the foundation does, they are eager to get involved any way they can.

One of the marquee events for the foundation each year is the Herb Brooks Celebrity Golf Classic. This summer, it took place at Victory Links Golf Course in Blaine, adjacent to the National Sports Center, where the foundation is headquartered.

The event featured some high-profile hockey stars such as Jake Guentzel and Ryan Suter, along with coaches and other figures around the hockey world. In addition to the celebrities present at the golf classic, there were the sponsors; for the holes, the driving range, the putting green. All of it was in part to raise more money for the foundation to continue to provide those hockey opportunities for free.

“We think going forward, we need to have big events all the time [in addition to the golf outing,]” Cherney said. “All of our events, I believe are big events. Some of them raise some more money than others … but when we’re out in the community, it’s a big deal.”

Cherney said the golf classic had over 30 foursomes to raise the foundations profile, but also to raise money with the sponsors and entry fees for what really matters: the kids.

“What all that does is it allows us to raise money so that we can buy ice time, we can buy equipment, uniforms, provide coaching for the kids who might not be able to do so into the coming school year,” Cherney said.

For the future of the foundation, Cherney wants to expand. Though the foundation now has a scope of both the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs, he wants the foundation to have a footprint in places beyond the metro area.

Moving to cities to fundraise beyond Minnesota, including Chicago and Boston, could be plans for the foundation in the future.

Beyond expansion, though, the goal is still to live on Herb’s legacy and provide kids with access to hockey. That isn’t lost on Ross Bernstein, a bestselling author and Board President of the Herb Brooks Foundation, who knows what it means to play hockey the way Herb would have taught.

“That was Herbie’s thing, play the game the right way,” Bernstein said. “We try to instill a lot of those values.”

As for the end goal of Herb’s legacy, it is still living through the existence and acts of the foundation named after him.

“He really had a profound impact on a lot of people,” Bernstein said. “I’ve interviewed hundreds of people: players, coaches, neighbors, family members, everyone just had a crazy, unique story about how Herbie touched their lives, how he had made a difference.”

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Gallery: Caps at Wild http://minnesotahockeymag.com/gallery-caps-at-wild/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/gallery-caps-at-wild/#respond Wed, 14 Nov 2018 04:19:03 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=30470 Minnesota falls 5-2 to defending champs to open homestand

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Minnesota falls 5-2 to defending champs to open homestand [See image gallery at minnesotahockeymag.com]

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If You Build It … http://minnesotahockeymag.com/if-you-build-it/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/if-you-build-it/#respond Tue, 13 Nov 2018 14:54:37 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=29998 Northstar Christian Academy Shines Bright in Alexandria

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(Photos of NCA’s new facility in Alexandria courtesy of NCA)

Northstar Christian Academy Shines Bright in Alexandria

When proven leaders unite in a vision and have backers from the NHL, PGA and NFL behind it, great things happen.

Rick Randazzo, Executive Director of FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes)

The Northstar Christian Academy was birthed through the partnership of a few local Alexandria, MN businessmen and FCA Hockey (Fellowship of Christian Athletes-Hockey). Rick Randazzo, Executive Director for FCA Hockey, his wife Shannan, and their five children were nearing the end of powerful 50 State 50 City Tour where they devoted 5 years to investing Christian principles in hockey coaches and athletes all over the country

The 50 State 50 City Tour began in August 2011. Starting in Maine, the Randazzo family spent 30 days in one city per state providing free hockey clinics to those interested. They worked with athletes, coaches, and teams at all levels, and sought to serve physical and spiritual needs of local families. Rick shared, “It’s been remarkable to see how the Lord has used our family to till the soil, get out there, and meet so many people”

In 2015, as the Tour neared its end, they prayed “Lord, now what?” They had a With the vision to create a home for FCA Hockey, a school based on Christian principles, and also a sports complex that could be used for FCA Hockey events, and to impact athletes, coaches, and a local community long-term. They had 5 different cities vying for the home of FCA Hockey to be in their state

In 2016, Alexandria, Minnesota became the home of FCA Hockey, as well as the Northstar Christian Academy (NCA). With local sports heroes like Tom Lehman and Matt Cullen on board early, over 4 million dollars were raised. The school opened adjacent to the Alexandria public High School in 2016.

Soon later, in October 2017, the dream for a sports complex started to become reality. In a large step of faith, the Northstar Group broke ground in October 2017 on the Northstar Sports Complex

Randazzo recalls praying on September 18, 2017, with Gary Steffes, a former pro hockey player who serves full time on staff with FCA Hockey, on flat land. “We prayed for a building, an arena, and a boy’s hockey team here in Alexandria, MN that could be skating inside a new building.

To say this was really something that would require divine help was an understatement. Funds still had to be raised for the Northstar Sports Complex, sanctioning was needed from USA and Minnesota Hockey, acceptance into a league, and a complete team of coaches and players all in less than a year, all committing to play for a team in a league that was unknown and in a rink that was yet to be built

One year later, miraculously, it happened

On October 4th, 2017 the Sports Complex broke ground. Today, over 7 million of the necessary $8.1 million dollars have been raised and the Sports Complex is nearly completely constructed. According to Randazzo, the 70,000-square-foot facility includes a field house, hockey rink and chapel on a 40-acre campus, with space for expansion

PGA Champion and Player of the Year Tom Lehman says, “I am incredibly excited to se the Sports Complex come alive in my hometown of Alexandria, Minnesota as I know it will impact so many Coaches and Athletes across the country. FCA in Alexandria has a special place in my heart and I look forward to being a part of this project for years to come.

Matt Cullen, a multiple time NHL Hockey Stanley Cup Champion, expressed “I am very excited to see the Sports Complex become a reality here in my home state of Minnesota. It will have a huge impact on both players and coaches through the Midwest by providing opportunities in sports, all while promoting the core values of FCA. The thought of having a first-class facility here for kids to grow in their athletics and faith together is really exciting and something I look forward to becoming a part of when my playing days are over”.

During the past year, the NCA Knights Prep Hockey Program was also launched. USA Hockey and Minnesota Hockey sanctioned the program in February. The newly formed NAHL Prep League, which calls itself “a premier training ground for the development and exposure of high school, Prep and Academy teams throughout North America” accepted the NCA Knights for the 2018-19 season. John Olver, who has 35 years of professional, collegiate and junior coaching experience, accepted the position as head coach, and a full roster of athletes was finalized.

Miraculously, on September 19, 2018, literally a year to the day, Rick, Gary, and members of the Northstar program stepped onto fresh ice, in the new Northstar Sports Complex, with a team of twenty-two players from eleven different states present to play for the first Northstar Knights Prep Hockey Team.

In an interview with the Echo, local Alexandria Cardinals head coach Ian Resch commented, “I know community members are concerned about the impact the Academy will have on our high school program. Personally, I am not concerned. Players and families are looking for the program that best fits their needs.” Resch took his team all the way to the High School boys’ Class A championship game last year, finishing second, after a loss to Orono.

The vision has become reality. The Northstar Christian Academy and Northstar Sports Complex are established. The facilities will be national headquarters to FCA Hockey and a place for many athletes and coaches at all levels of hockey, football, soccer, softball, baseball, and golf to grow spiritually, and physically.

This October will mark the historic Grand Opening of the Northstar Sports Complex. The Northstar Group and FCA Hockey would love to invite everyone interested to come join us for the celebration. The event will begin at 4:00 pm on Sunday, October 14, 2018. There are many lodging options in Alexandria, Minnesota. Please contact Gary Steffes at gsteffes@fca.org for questions

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Gopher Women – Pannek Attacks http://minnesotahockeymag.com/gopher-women-pannek-attacks/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/gopher-women-pannek-attacks/#respond Sun, 11 Nov 2018 17:59:41 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=29988 Kelly Pannek returns to the Gophers a humble world champion.

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(Featured photo: Kelly Pannek returns to the Gophers.  Photo by Brad Rempel/Gopher Athletics)

Kelly Pannek returns to the Gophers a humble world champion.

It’s difficult to encapsulate everything that happened to Kelly Pannek since the last time she put on the Gophers’ “M” for a game. It was March 17, 2017 in a 3-4 loss to the eventual national champion Clarkson Golden Knights. It capped off a season where she led the nation in points and was a top-10 Patty Kazmaier Award finalist. That was just 18 months ago.

Since that game, the Gopher captain received a somewhat unexpected invite to the Team USA senior camp, participated in a boycott that changed women’s hockey, won gold at the 2017 World Championships, made the Olympic roster, and won gold at the Olympics.

GANGNEUG, REPUBLIC OF KOREA – FEBRUARY 7: Team USA Portraits – PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Looking at her skill set and her impressive on-ice vision, it seems almost inevitable she’d be carrying the accolades she has, but it wasn’t a given to Pannek. “I didn’t know where I stood [prior to Worlds],” she says standing in Ridder arena, not far from a mural of Gopher Olympians that has yet to add her face. “I’d made a few camps, and I’d been a part of the program itself for a while, but never felt like I was at that point where I’d be getting a chance to be on the team.”

Pannek had never received an invite to a U.S. Women’s Team senior camp. Then the call came. “After getting that call it was crazy. It was a whirlwind. I just tried to focus on surviving at that level, to be honest.” Though, she says, the speed with which she was thrust onto the national team helped her to not think ahead to the possibility of the Olympic roster. “I didn’t really think at all about what was going on afterward because I had no time to. I think I was a little naïve, and that was kind of a blessing.”

She made the U.S. roster for the 2017 Women’s World Championship, but she almost didn’t get the chance to prove she belonged on hockey’s biggest stage.

The U.S. Women’s National Team threatened to boycott Worlds, which were taking place in Michigan. The players protested the program’s compensation for women and an inequitable treatment of the girls’ and women’s programs compared to the boys’ and men’s programs. It was an unprecedented victory for the women’s program that resolved only days before the start of the tournament.

“It’s something the veterans really explained to us: This isn’t about us, this isn’t about our team,” she says. “I think it’s easy to have those doubts, like ‘Will I have another chance after this?’ But one thing we always talk about with Team USA is that you’re part of something bigger than yourselves. That was a moment where that was the most accurate it could be.”

Worlds was a jarring transition from college hockey. “Before my first shift, my family was in the stands, and they saw the first shift. They were like, ‘Can she do this? Is she going to be fast enough?’” she recalls. She didn’t register any points as the U.S. ran through the tournament with five straight wins to grab gold. But she played well. It was enough to get an invite to centralization and, eventually, the U.S. Olympic roster and a gold medal in Pyeongchang.

Kelly Pannek/Gopher Athletics)

Though, throughout that process, the Gophers weren’t far from her thoughts. “I tried to watch as many [games] as I could,” she says with a smile. “I lived with [Duluth goaltender] Maddie Rooney last year so we watched the games against Duluth. I made sure to keep in touch and ask how things were going, just to be a sounding board for some of the players last year, but also just to watch and be a big fan.”

Coming back to the University of Minnesota hasn’t been a difficult transition despite a wild year away. “I prefer it,” she says. “I was excited for my first day of school. It’s been exciting to be back with the team on a daily basis. It’s a different feel being in the college environment. It’s really fun.”

Her return after a year of growth sets up the Gophers to again be a powerhouse in the WCHA. She returns with Sarah and Amy Potomak, who weren’t on Canada’s Olympic roster, but participated in Team Canada’s centralization and didn’t play last year. Add returning talent and young standouts like Grace Zumwinkle and Taylor Heise, and the Gophers have a good shot at making Pannek’s run of success continue well into 2019.

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Meet the Whitecaps http://minnesotahockeymag.com/meet-the-whitecaps/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/meet-the-whitecaps/#respond Sun, 11 Nov 2018 17:44:16 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=30012 “New” team enters league with long history, familiar faces

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(Featured Photo: MN Whitecap’s Lee Stecklein and Amanda Kessel.  Photo by Rick Olson)

“New” team enters league with long history, familiar faces

There’s nothing else like it in the U.S. The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), now in its fourth season of operations, has brought professional women’s hockey to the States. Players are finally getting paid. (Though, there’s room for growth.) Fans can finally watch top talent play post-collegiate hockey outside of annual international tournaments. And Minnesota is finally getting a team.

The league’s first three seasons featured four east coast teams, loads of Olympic talent, passionate fans, and lots of Minnesotans wondering when the State of Hockey would get a team. But, now, the Whitecaps have arrived in the NWHL Minnesotans have taken up the cause in droves. On the team’s season-opening shutout of the Metropolitan Riveters on October 6, the team was met by a rowdy sell-out crowd carrying signs and lining up to don Whitecaps sweatshirts and shirseys.

While the team is new to the NWHL, it’s far from a new organization. However, the team isn’t exactly new. The Whitecaps have been an outstanding training ground for Midwestern players since 2004, playing for years in the now-defunct Wester Women’s Hockey League (WWHL) and against Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) teams. But the team has been without a league since 2011. Though it has carried National Team talent like Hannah Brandt, Stephanie Anderson, and the Lamoureux twins, its seasons have been limited to practices and scattered exhibition games against high school, collegiate and, occasionally, NWHL teams.

Now, the team joins the NWHL with a refurbished roster, salaries, and a boatload of reasons for fans to head to St. Paul’s Tria Rink throughout the 16-game season. Though the season is young, people have already been showing up. The Whitecaps sold out the first two games and shocked the NWHL’s reigning champions with 4-0 and 3-1 wins.

THE TEAM

While some may predict the Whitecaps to sit outside the championship game in the team’s inaugural NWHL season, Minnesota is not a team to sleep on.

Logistically, the team will face challenges. They only play back-to-backs because of the travel involved in being the only team not on the east coast. Moreover, every back-to-back has them playing in different rinks each night. That could make for tough games on the back-end since most of the roster is holding down a full-time job during the week. (NWHL salaries are part-time salaries.)

There are also schedule oddities other teams aren’t dealing with, like not playing a single league game from January 20 through March 2, when the Whitecaps start their season-closing series on the road. That could be a real disadvantage heading into the playoffs.

On the ice, the biggest question the Whitecaps face is how their depth will measure-up against the league’s established teams. Each of the other four rosters faces turnover year-to-year because all NWHL contracts are for one year. Nonetheless, teams frequently retain some core players and coaches.

That’s not to say the Whitecaps enter the season without any chemistry. There are 16 players who have been with the Whitecaps before, and many of the players skated together in college. The roster features 19 Minnesotans and 17 former WCHA players. Though, only one skater has previously played in the NWHL.

MN Whitecap’s Kendall Coyne-Schofield by Rick Olson

The team is headlined by Olympic stars Lee Stecklein, Kendall Coyne Schofield, and Brandt. However, what might slip under the radar is the kind of talent the team will get from top collegiate skaters who haven’t been in the spotlight of the National Team or the NWHL yet. Those forwards include former Gopher Kate Schipper, former Bulldog Katie McGovern, former North Dakota standout Amy Menke, and veteran speedster Allie Thunstrom.

The lines are far from set in stone, but the Whitecaps opened the season with a top line featuring Brandt at center, flanked by Coyne Schofield and Schipper. It’s a fast line that has already shown great chemistry. It’s not hard to see this being one of the toughest lines to play against in the league, especially when Stecklein and Amanda Boulier are paired up behind them.

In net, the Whitecaps landed a pair of former NWHL goaltenders, including former two-time NCAA National Champion with the Gophers and 2018 NWHL Goaltender of the Year Amanda Leveille. Likely to share time with her is Sydney Rossman, who skated with the Connecticut Whale last year and is just one year removed from an impressive career at Quinnipiac. Last season, Rossman posted an .885 save percentage in 16 starts, but she was backstopping a team that struggled throughout the season en route to a 3-11-2 record. Former St. Cloud netminder Julie Friend is also on the roster.

THE COMPETITION

Boston Pride: The Pride has outstanding goaltending between former NWHL Goaltender of the Year Brittany Ott and Boston College standout Katie Burt. The blueline is led by Warroad’s Gigi Marvin. Up front, Boston has dangerous forward threats like Haley Skarupa, Amanda Pelkey, and Jillian Dempsey. The team should be better than its 4-8-4 record last season, in no small part because of Burt. The team struggled to keep pucks out of the net when Ott wasn’t between the pipes.

Buffalo Beauts: The big get for the Beauts — owned by Pegula Sports, which also owns the Sabres, Bills, and Rochester Americans — may be U.S. National Team goaltender Nicole Hensley and legendary Canadian netminder Shannon Szabados. They’re also carrying plenty of offensive in Julianna Iafallo, Kelly Babstock, and former Gopher Dani Cameranesi. However, the big threat in Buffalo is a deep blueline, led by Emily Pfalzer with Lisa Chesson, Jordyn Burns, and the underrated Blake Bolden.

Connecticut Whale: The only of the original four teams without an Isobel Cup looks like one of the weaker teams again this year. Yet, there’s plenty of talent and faces Minnesotans will recognize, like former Bulldogs forwards Michelle Löwenhielm and Katerina Mrázová. It’ll still be tough sledding for the Whale this year.

Metropolitan Riveters: Their partnership with the New Jersey Devils may serve as a blueprint for the partnership between the Wild and Whitecaps. (Both NWHL teams play in the practice facility of their NHL partner.) It’s served the Riveters well. They enter the season as the reigning Isobel Cup champions. The Rivs return players from last year’s squad, as well as Olympian Amanda Kessel, who played with the Riveters the season prior.

The team also carries a loaded blueline with Kelsey Koelzer, Michelle Picard, Kiira Dosdall, and former Badger Jenny Ryan. But there’s plenty of offense in long-time Riveter Madison Packer, Erika Lawler, Rebecca Russo, Miye D’Oench and others. Along with the Beauts, the Riveters are the team to beat.

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WCHA Women – Badgers Dig In http://minnesotahockeymag.com/wcha-badgers-dig-in/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/wcha-badgers-dig-in/#respond Sun, 11 Nov 2018 17:33:13 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=29992 Wisconsin won last year's regular season title - Can the Badgers repeat?

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(Featured photo: Minnesota goaltender Sydney Scobee, courtesy of Jim Rosvold, Gopher Athletics)

Wisconsin won last year’s regular season title – Can the Badgers repeat?

Minnesota Hockey Magazine presents capsules on the WCHA women’s programs for the 2018-19 season.
BEMIDJI STATE

Coach: Jim Scanlan, 5th season

Last season: 16-19-3, 5th in the WCHA (9-13-2-1, 30 points)

Key losses: Six seniors graduated, including goaltender Erin Deters (12 starts, .916 save percentage) and Alexis Joyce and Emma Teres, who ranked fourth and fifth on the team in scoring last year.

Emily_Bergland_BSU_Photo_Services

Key returnees: Haley Mack and Emily Bergland, who tied Terres for the team lead at 11 goals, return. As do veteran defenders Melissa Hunt and Briana Jorde. However, one of the biggest impacts is expected from sophomore Clair DeGeorge, who spent part of the summer playing with the U.S. Women’s U22 team, where she made her presence felt against Canada with the opening goal in the final game of the three-game series.

Top newcomers: Five freshmen step onto the team, including Lexi Cheveldayoff and Ellie Moser, who have both previously received camp invites from USA Hockey.

Outlook: It’s a young team and a program that continues to be on the verge of making noise in the conference. They’re easily the favorite among the bottom tier in the conference, which includes Minnesota State and St. Cloud. It’ll be an uphill battle for the Beavers, but there’s no doubt there’s talent on this team. The top of their lineup will be sturdy defensively and has offensive threats that could turn a game.

MINNESOTA

Coach: Brad Frost, 12th season

Last season: 24-11-3, 3rd in the WCHA (13-8-3-0, 42 points), won the WCHA Final Face-Off, earning a berth in the national tournament where they were shutout by Wisconsin in the first round.

Key losses: The Gophers lost four seniors, but they were significant losses. Captain Sydney Baldwin and starting goaltender Sidney Peters both graduated. Add in seniors Cara Piazza, and Caitlin Reilly, the team lost 30 goals and 50 assists between the three graduating skaters.

Key returnees: The big story isn’t the return of impact forwards like Grace Zumwinkle and Nicole Schammel, who led the team with 17 goals each last year. It’s the return of Olympic gold medalist Kelly Pannek, as well as Sarah and Amy Potomak who spent part of last season centralized with the Canadian national team. Those are three major offensive threats. In her junior season, Pannek led the nation in points.

Top newcomers: As ever, the Gopher rookies are impressive. Seven freshmen join the program, including Amy Potomak; Taylor Heise, who led the U.S. U22 team over the summer with two goals and three points; and Grace Ostertag and Catie Skaja, who have both spent time with the national team. Another big add is junior goaltender Sydney Scobee, who transferred from the University of Vermont where she faced plenty of stiff competition in Hockey East.

Outlook: It should surprise no one that the Gophers are one of the nation’s most formidable rosters. The defense might not be as strong as past years, but it should be solid. The only real question mark is in net. Sophomore Alex Gulstene grabbed 11 starts last year behind Peters, but she’ll be competing with Scobee, as well as senior Emma May and junior Serena D’Angelo.

MINNESOTA DULUTH

Coach: Maura Crowell, 4th season

Last season: 15-16-4, 4th in the WCHA (10-11-3-2, 35 points)

Key losses: Duluth lost a whopping seven seniors, including Katerina Mrazova, who put up eight goals and 13 assists last year.

Key returnees: Despite the losses, the team’s youth took the reins last season. The offensive firepower between Naomi Rogge, Ashton Bell, Jalyn Elmes, Sydney Brodt, and Ryleigh Houston is formidable. Also returning is gold medal-winning goaltender Maddie Rooney. She could steal games during her sophomore year. Now, she returns from a year of playing against the best competition in the world.

Ashton_Bell_UMD_Athletics

Top newcomers: Duluth is going to have a young squad with nine freshmen vying for roster spots. (They also have eight sophomores.) Among those rookies are four players who have won gold with Team USA at a U18 Women’s World Championship tournament: Lizi Norton, Gabbie Hughes, Anneke Linser, and Maggie Flaherty.

Outlook: The team is without the top-tier firepower of the Badgers or the Gophers, but don’t sleep on their young stars just because their last names aren’t Clark or Pannek. They’re good. With Rooney in net, this team absolutely has the ability to surpass expectations. They start the season ranked fourth in the WCHA by coaches, but it’s not hard to see them finishing higher than that. Though, the young blueline will be tested in a year where the WCHA carries as much offensive talent as any year in recent memory.

MINNESOTA STATE

Coach: John Harrington, 4th season

Last season: 5-28-1, 7th in the WCHA (3-21-0-0, 9 points)

Key losses: Seven seniors graduated, including Lindsey Coleman and Hannah Davidson, who ranked fourth and fifth in scoring last year. Also departing is, ahem, key defenseman Anna Keys.

Key returnees: Seven is a good pile of seniors, but the team returns its top three offensive threats: Brittyn Fleming, Jordan McLaughlin, and Corbin Boyd. The team also keeps goaltenders Chloe Crosby and Katie Bidulka, who split time in net last year.

Top newcomers: Five freshmen will attempt to crack the roster, including Miss Hockey finalist Claire Butomac and Anna Wilgren, who twice won the Molly Engstrom Award for best defenseman in Wisconsin.

Outlook: Last season wasn’t great for the Mavericks, but Bidulka and Crosby held their own and, at times, kept the Mavericks competitive. Retaining both with a year more experience is a boon, as is getting freshman goaltender Abigail Levy, who will absolutely compete for time. But even with top performers returning, the Mavs only potted 57 goals in 34 games last year. They’re losing 18 goals in graduating seniors. Wins won’t come easy.

OHIO STATE

Coach: Nadine Muzerall, 2nd season

Last season: 24-11-4, 2nd in the WCHA (14-6-4-3, 49 points), made it to the Frozen Four and lost an overtime contest to Clarkson, the eventual national champions.

Key losses: Ohio State graduated six seniors. That group included Juliana Iafallo, whose 12 goals and 15 assists ranked fourth on the team in points. However, the biggest loss is undoubtedly the transfer of star goaltender Kassidy Sauve.

Key returnees: Top scoring threats Emma Maltais, Tatum Skaggs, and Maddy Field are all back in red. As is defenseman Jincy Dunne, whose star continues to rise. Despite the praise, she’s vastly underrated and should be a major player for the Buckeyes in her junior season.

Top newcomers: Of the seven freshmen, a handful have international experience and could make an immediate impact, including Finns Eve Savander and Sara Saekkinen, and Swiss Olympian Andrea Braendli. Defenseman Madison Bizal is another player to watch.

Outlook: Ohio State didn’t exactly surprise last year when it made a run to the Frozen Four, but, let’s say it surpassed rising expectations. Now, the expectations are high. The most lethal threats are back and Dunne anchors the team’s blueline. The biggest challenge will be replacing Sauve’s .938 save percentage posted in 32 games. Amanda Zeglen played well through seven games in net as a freshman, but Sauve was a next-level star who took on a major workload, playing 68 games over the last two seasons.

St,. Cloud State’s Janine Alder. Photo by Maddie MacFarlane.


CLOUD STATE

Coach: Eric Rud, 5th season

Last season: 8-20-5, 6th in the WCHA (6-14-4-1, 23 points)

Key losses: Three seniors graduated, including Alyssa Erickson and Emma Turbyville, who ranked fourth and fifth in scoring last season, respectively.

Key returnees: Goaltender Janine Alder split time last year between the Huskies and the Swiss Olympic team. Julia Tylke will be a leader among forwards this season, and the underappreciated talents of German forward Laura Kluge will also be crucial for the Huskies. Outstanding defender Abby Thiessen leads the blueline.

Top newcomers: Five freshmen look to crack the lineup, including Jenniina Nylund, who has spent time with Finland’s senior national team; and defenseman Olivia Hanson.

Outlook: They’re a step back from the conference’s top tier, but the Huskies will absolutely surprise some teams this year. Goaltender Emma Polusny showed she can hang with the best netminders in the conference last year, posting a .934 save percentage in 20 games. That earned her a trip to the USA Hockey National Team Evaluation Camp last month. Between her and Alder, they can steal games with either of two netminders. If those two can hold back the tide, the top line can score and St. Cloud can log some wins.

WISCONSIN

Coach: Mark Johnson, 16th season

Last season: 31-5-2, 1st in the WCHA (20-2-2-2, 64 points), made it to the Frozen Four but lost to Colgate in double overtime during the semifinals.

Key losses: The Badgers are down three seniors from last year. That includes Claudia Kepler who led the team with 22 goals last year and ranked second overall in the WCHA. Veteran leader Baylee Wellhausen also graduated.

Key returnees: The WCHA regular season champions come back with starting goaltender Kirsten Campbell, and top offensive threats Abby Roque and Presley Norby. They’re also getting Olympian Emily Clark and Annie Pankowski, who was a redshirt last year while she centralized with the U.S. National Team.

Top newcomers: The standout among the team’s five freshmen is Sophie Shirley, who spent last season centralized with the Canadian National Team. It’s no stretch to think she’ll make an immediate impact in the collegiate ranks.

Outlook: All this team did last year was turn opposing defenses inside out. Between Roque, Norby, Sam Cogan, Sophie Shaver, and Alexis Mauermann, they put up 53 goals. (That’s more than the entire St. Cloud roster and just four fewer than Minnesota State.) Add in the return of Clark and Pankowski with rookie Shirley and this Badger team could light up opponents even more than it did last year when the team averaged more than three goals per game.

 

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High Goals Not Changing http://minnesotahockeymag.com/high-goals-not-changing/ http://minnesotahockeymag.com/high-goals-not-changing/#respond Sun, 11 Nov 2018 16:57:49 +0000 http://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=29982 Healthy, productive Parise key to Wild’s success

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(Photos by Jeff Wegge)

Healthy, productive Parise key to Wild’s success

Six years.

It’s a timeframe that’s been highlighted for the Minnesota Wild. For the past six years, they’re one of just three NHL teams to make the playoffs, a group that includes back-to-back Stanley Cup winners, the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017, and the Anaheim Ducks, who made it to the Western Conference Finals twice in that span. For the Wild, they haven’t made it past the second round and have been ousted in the first round the past three seasons.

The goal for the Wild is always the same, according to left winger Zach Parise: Make the playoffs.

“And we’ve got to get over the hump and make a little deeper run in the playoffs then we have in the last few years,” Parise said.

Indeed, a deep run would be welcomed. The Wild finished the season with a 45-26-11 record (including 24-10-8 with Parise in the lineup) before an early exit in five games to Winnipeg in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Six years ago, the Wild rang in the Fourth of July holiday with the dual signing of defenseman Ryan Suter and Parise to 13-year, $98 million contracts. The deals skyrocketed the expectations of the Wild franchise and fans, with the goal of bringing a Stanley Cup to the state of hockey.

It’s been six years, and the Wild are without a Cup and have seen the ups and downs of Parise’s career. Most of the downs have been thanks to injuries. Last season, everything appeared to be on track for him, until microdiscectomy surgery on Oct. 24 kept him out for the first 39 games of the season.

This year, it’s a different story for Parise. He’s recovered from his injury last spring, had a healthy preseason and is ready to start the 2018-19 season with a clean slate. He said he felt great about his summer from everything to his training, skating and just overall “feeling normal again.” After his surgery last season and catching up to the rest of the players when he returned, Parise started to ask himself if he was ever going to be the player he was before, physically. The short answer is yes.

“It was hard, but I think just, expectation-wise, I just feel like I’m back to being the player that I’m capable of being because my body’s allowing me to,” Parise said.

The rest of the squad will start the year healthy, too, (plenty of fingers are likely crossed to make sure it stays that way). After the Wild played with at least one player injured in 73 of the 82 regular-season games last year, the health factor is something captain Mikko Koivu recognizes.

“I’ve never experienced something like what we had last year,” Koivu said. “For sure, mentally it’s not ideal. I know it’s part of the game, and that happens. I think coming into the season, you really appreciate it. Now, it’s all about starting to build again with this team.”

Parise suited up for his first preseason game and scored the lone goal for the Wild in a 3-1 loss to the Dallas Stars. He tipped in a Koivu shot as he cruised in front of the net. The goal didn’t mean any less to him because it came in the preseason.

“You’re always hungry to score,” Parise said after the game. “It was a really nice play by Mikko. You want to get into those habits early of getting to the net, and getting goals from around the crease.”

Coach Bruce Boudreau was pleased with Parise’s play, saying postgame that he played him, along with Koivu, 22 minutes in the game. They didn’t seem to run out of energy, Boudreau said.

“I played him a lot on purpose just to… see how he could handle it,” Boudreau said, of Parise.

When the Wild shutout Colorado 7-0 in the next preseason game, Parise scored the final goal of the night on the power play. Again, it was puck that came from a Koivu shot in the circle, and Parise was once again camped out front. All he had to do was tap it in, to borrow a line from the movie “Happy Gilmore.”

Putting the fact that it’s the preseason aside, it’s good to see those types of goals from Parise. For years, he’s has made his home on the ice in front of the net, taking plenty of crosschecks in shoving matches with defenders in the process. He said he’s worked over the summer to broaden his game, but he knows where he needs to be on the ice, and that’s right around the crease.

“I think I can probably count on two hands how many goals I’ve gotten from outside 10 feet,” Parise said. “It’s not a lot.

“I know what my strengths are.”

At just under 6 feet, Parise is certainly not the biggest guy on the ice but makes up for it with his gritty play and ability to put the puck in the net. Since his arrival, he’s been one of the leaders on the team both figuratively and on the stats sheets.

Zach Parise will be the key to Wild’s playoff success

He’s coming off a season where he played just 42 games, the fewest he’s played in a season since wearing a Wild sweater. His first game wasn’t until the calendar flipped to 2018, when the Wild hosted Florida on Jan. 2. He scored 15 goals and 9 assists in the second half of the season before scoring a goal in each of the first three playoff games against the Winnipeg Jets. Then he fractured his sternum in game three, which not only ended his season but made things much tougher for his teammates to win in the series as well.

Maybe this is the year Parise can finally stay healthy. That’s the hope, anyway.

For Boudreau, he knows how good it is to have Parise back for the team, but it’s really more than that.

“I think it’s a real boost for Zach,” Boudreau said after Wild practice the day before the season opener. “He’s going into the game tomorrow (in) as good of condition and feeling as physically well as he’s done in years. If I’m him, I’m really excited about, ‘hey, this is me now. I’m back.’”

Since joining the Wild, Parise has not played a full season of games. To be fair, the NHL lockout in 2012-13 disrupted things for everyone. But after that, Parise has played in 67, 74, 70, 69 and then 42 games during the regular season for the Wild. Compare that to his first seven years in the NHL with New Jersey, where he suited up for either 81 or 82 games in six of the seven seasons out east. His biggest outlier in the games-played column came when he suffered a knee injury Oct. 30 in a game against Los Angeles. He played just 13 games in 2010-11 thanks to the injury, tallying three goals and three assists.

Blame injuries or the rough-and-tough play in the blue paint, but this now-34-year-old player hasn’t had the durability on the stat sheet anymore. With seven years left on his contract with the Wild – through the 2024-25 season – Parise still has a chance to turn that around and get his numbers back up again.

Looking at his career, he’s a six-time 30-goal scorer, last reaching the mark with 33 tallies in 2014-15 and netting a career-high of 45 in 2008-09 with the Devils. Parise also leads the Wild franchise in playoff goals, power-play goals and is second in shots on goal. He has 333 career goals, the leader among active American-born players.

If the Wild want to push their playoff streak to seven years, they’re going to need Parise to not only stay healthy, but get back to his goal-scoring roots for a 20-to-30 goal season. It may be a lot of pressure on just one player. There’s just no denying how valuable Parise is to the Wild.

“Seeing what he went through last year, first we’re just happy for him that he can be back and start fresh right away and start healthy,” Koivu said. “But then for sure for the team, it can be a huge piece that we were missing pretty much all early last, whatever months he was out.

“I think it goes both ways. He’s going to help us, but we’re trying to help him as much as we can. That’s the way it goes for the team.”

 

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