I know it may not be the best time to talk about hockey in Minnesota. For most, with a few exceptions of Spring leagues most hockey in Minnesota is over and done with. Spring sports of soccer, baseball, track, golf and tennis are in full swing and just this weekend anglers joined the club as it was the fishing season opener. Heck, the sun finally emerged this weekend after a bizarre spring that made people think it was late fall rather than the prelude to summer. I don’t blame people for wanting to get out and enjoy it; the wait has been at least a month longer than normal. Yet I would argue there still are some compelling reasons to keep following hockey. I am not saying that you should plant yourself in front of the TV instead of enjoying the outdoors. Not in the slightest; go ahead and grill, relax with an ice cold beverage on your deck, go and walk around your neighborhood, bike, hike, etc to your heart’s content. I am just saying when the sun goes down and the mosquitoes come out; there is likely some compelling hockey stories to be had that are deserving of any Minnesota Wild fan’s attention.
Sure, there is always the Twins but are their struggles driving you crazy yet? The Major League season is far from being over but do you really want to spend a lot of time being frustrated over the fact that the team’s big money men Joe Mauer is hitting a paltry .235 or Justin Morneau‘s even uglier .202 average? I know I am a bit tired of hearing about the Twins’ troubles. So before there really is no hockey at all, why not ignore the problems of the Twins and embrace the intense action on the ice still going on. Here are 10 reasons why Wild fans should still be following hockey in mid-May. For a greater dramatic effect we will start with our 10th best reason and move to our top reason for Wild fans to be excited about hockey in May.
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Top 10 Reasons to care about hockey in May if you’re a Wild Fan:
10. You don’t have to listen to Dan Terhaar and Mike Greenlay for a whole summer ~ (cue rimshot) Yea, this is probably a pretty weak reason, but the more you get to watch hockey and not hear these two is a sweet blessing to all Wild fans. I am not a big fan of the Wild TV broadcast team, but its a necessary evil to watch them play. Hearing top quality broadcasters like Dave Strader, Mike “Doc” Emrick, Randy Hahn and heck even “Hey hey, what do ya say” John Forslund do well to provide a little more gusto in their play-by-play coverage of the games as they ply their trade during some of the most purely exciting games of the season. Wild fans also do not have to put put up with the gushing overly polite Mike Greenlay; and instead are treated to Eddie Olczyk, Drew Remenda, Darren Pang, and Minnesota-native Joe Michelletti at the analyst spot. If the Wild TV broadcasters had to cover the playoffs; they would find a way to make the playoffs bland. At the very least, they’d be butchering players’ names much the way Terhaar does throughout the course of the regular season.
9. No more Mikko Lehtonen drama as he signs in the KHL ~ At the end of the Wild season, many fans got caught up in Mikko Lehtonen fever as they heard glowing reports about how Lehtonen was such a prolific scorer in the Swedish Eliteserien. Lehtonen was acquired as part of a deadline day trade of happy-go-lucky unorthodox goaltender Anton Khudobin to the Boston Bruins. The reward was this budding lanky Finnish-born forward who has reasonable success as go-to offensive forward in the AHL while playing for Providence; after having tried and failed to make Boston after two seasons he left for Europe where he had more success. The Wild obviously were hoping they could grab an offensively gifted player, and the reports of him leading the league in scoring had Minnesota fans planning next year’s lineup with Lehtonen as the triggerman. Well Lehtonen didn’t even wait until the pre-season to make his decision, as he signed a deal with Cherepovets of the Kontinental Hockey League to ply his trade in Russia. Ever get the feeling your not wanted? Well at least it puts to rest all those crazy pipe dreams about how Lehtonen would rejuvenate the Wild’s anemic offense.
8. CHL season winds down towards the Memorial Cup ~ In the past few years Wild fans have been fortunate to have some of the team’s prospects represented in the Memorial Cup in players like A.J Thelen, Justin Falk, Cody Almond, and Kris Foucault. That will not happen this year, as the Wild do not have any draftees in either the OHL, WHL or QMJHL championship series. However, that does not take away from what is usually an outstanding tournament. At the very least, Wild fans who are salivating for the draft can see many blue chip talents who will be available for June’s draft. It can serve to be a valuable evaluation ground for scouts and fans hoping to get a read on some of the more highly touted prospects. Tournament host, Mississauga-St.Michael’s Majors are already in, but they want the confidence of having an Ontario Hockey League title to their credit. The Western Hockey League has had a vicious back and forth battle between the Kootenay Ice and the loaded Portland Winterhawks, the OHL features the Owen Sound Attack and Mississauga and in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League its the Gatineau Olympiques and the bluechip bonanza in the St. John Sea Dogs. No matter who makes it, any hockey fan will be treated to some outstanding games.
7. Let the Mock Drafts begin ~ Of course not all of the final scouting reports are out yet. Central Scouting released their final analysis just weeks ago. International Scouting Services will release their much in demand, highly detailed “2011 NHL Draft Guide” on May 25th. Everyone from the experts at the various scouting organizations, sports writers, and fans have been pouring over the data available in an attempt to predict the first round. For fans, we tend to stick to more realistic feats such as predicting the first overall pick as well as the first round pick of their team. In regards to the latter, we fans tend to base that pick on any number of things. For example, die hard fans “pick” players they feel their team are in desperate need of. The more casual fans tend to take a more casual view of things. They may “pick” based on national origin of the player, the name (especially if they have an older sibling playing in the NHL or has been recently drafted), or just based on a random guess. NHL.com steadily kicks out Mock Drafts to keep the discussion going. Check them out for yourself. http://www.nhl.com/ice/page.htm?id=68924 Adam Kimmelman‘s Mock Draft. http://www.nhl.com/ice/page.htm?id=68923 Mike Morreale‘s Mock Draft. http://www.nhl.com/ice/page.htm?id=68930 Steven Hoffner‘s Mock Draft. Some see the Wild taking Skelleftea’s Mika Zibanejad while Hoffner thinks we’ll take Kitchener’s offensively skilled defenseman Ryan Murphy. Agree, disagree? The whole ‘what if’ and ‘what is best’ discussion is great fodder for Twitter and message boards.
6. Whether you have a team your rooting for or not, the NHL Playoffs have been incredible ~ I know it was an absolutely beautiful day today, but I hope you’ve managed to watch most of the first two rounds of the NHL playoffs. The overtimes have been plentiful and the excitement has been non-stop. You can feel the energy and the anxiety as each shot is taken and the efforts have been memorable. Its what the playoffs should be. I’d like the Wild to be here, but if they are not going to be there I’d wish for the games to be as epic as these have been. There has been some controversy, including the NHL’s topic du jour in some brutal head shots but that all just adds to the drama in my opinion. With the playoffs nearly half over, I can only imagine it getting even better. I should probably be ranking this higher but honestly if you’re not watching now I think its unlikely you’re ever going to tune in until perhaps the Stanley Cup Finals.
5. You’re waiting for your E-mail regarding tickets to the NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul ~ Christmas was December 25th, but I must admit I am eagerly awaiting an E-mail from the Wild that they will offer me some tickets to purchase for this year’s draft. It has been a while since the Wild held a major NHL event; in fact you have to go back to the 2004 NHL All Star Game. The last time Minnesota hosted an NHL draft was in 1989 at the Met Center in Bloomington. I was in 4th grade then, but I didn’t go. The Wild have been talking about the draft all season long, and it knows an obvious moment it can use to promote itself, the franchise and the Xcel Energy Center when it sees it. I am not a season ticket holder so I don’t have that perk working for me. So far no E-mail from the team has been sent to me yet but I guess the anticipation of it is part of the fun. If I don’t get any tickets I’ll still be in St. Paul enjoying the draft; probably at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub.
4. Mikko Koivu’s military experience coverage ~ I am not sure its my general interest in the military or simply because it fascinates me that we still have a volunteer military. As the Wild captain knows all too well (as you can tell by his uniform) as Finland requires young men to serve in their nation’s military as their way of giving back to their nation. Mikko Koivu surprised some by coming back to his homeland to serve his duty as asked of his fellow countryman. It is unlikely Koivu would be sent into any danger but it sets a remarkable example to his fellow Finns that this NHL player who now is the leader of his nation’s hockey team is not shirking his duty. For those of you who are unfamilliar with Finland’s military history I highly suggest you check it out. Especially during the Winter War from November of 1939 to March of 1940 the Finns held off the military might of the Soviet Union. Maybe that explains the dogged stubborness of Finnish hockey players. I think Mikko’s military experience is fascinating and give all of us Americans who don’t have to serve unless they choose to (unles a draft happens of course) that much more appreciation for those who do make that choice to protect our country.
3. The Wild still need to find a Head Coach ~ Not sure when this will happen, but it appears that Wild General ManagTer, Chuck Fletcher appears to be in no hurry to fill the vacancy created when Todd Richards was fired. Most likely, Fletcher will wait until after the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. If it was a normal draft, he might move sooner to hire a new coach, but with the festivities being held in St. Paul, it is possible that he wants the team’s focus on being the hosting the important event. He also might wish to see if any current coaches might become available once the playoffs have concluded. Fletcher is most likely aware that this hiring will directly impact his own future with the Wild. This time, he will hire based on all due diligence. The team needs a true leader, not a friend. They need a coach who knows how to bring the best in his team based on the roster he is handed. They need a coach who knows how to maintain control of the bench and locker room at all times. And on top of that, they need a true teacher of the game. The team has interviewed former Oilers’ bench boss Craig MacTavish who some believe has an inside track at getting the job; while there are plenty of other promising possibilities in Ken Hitchcock, Michel Therrien, Scott Gordon, Peter DeBoer, John Torchetti, Mike Haviland, Kirk Muller, and current Aeros Head Coach Mike Yeo just to name a few.
2. The Houston Aeros are still in the playoffs ~ However, it will take everything the Aeros have to remain as such. They have had the opportunity to win the series, but failed. And now, with one game remaining in the best of seven series with the Milwaukee Admirals, things are going to get much, much more difficult. When the Vancouver Canucks eliminated the Nashville Predators on Monday night, it created a much steeper hill to climb. With the Admirals being the farm team of the Predators, one can only expect a significant injection of talent into their roster for Game Seven. Players like Matt Halischuk, Blake Geoffrion, and perhaps Jonathan Blum as well could be a huge boost for an Admirals squad that has already given Houston all it can handle. For Aeros fans, they are going to have to hope that the “new” players on the opposing bench are tired and a bit banged up in playing two rounds of the NHL playoffs. At the very least, can we hope that they’re feeling a bit down in the dumps that they’re not advancing to the Western Conference Finals? Somehow I doubt that will be the case. Either way, the Aeros play thus far has seen an emergence of Matthew Hackett as a force to be reckoned with between the pipes and Colton Gillies seems to have rediscovered his confidence.
1. The IIHF World Championships have been a nice showcase of Wild talent ~ Its too bad these games are on so late in the United States since the annual IIHF World Championships have been a nice little event for Wild players. The Wild are well represented, with prospects and current players like Martin Havlat (Czech Rep.), Marek Zidlicky (Czech Rep.), Mikko Koivu (Finland), Mikael Granlund (Finland) Dennis Endras (Germany) Brent Burns (Canada), and Cal Clutterbuck (Canada) representing 4 different countries. If you count former Wild prospects and players like Armands Berzins (Latvia), Morten Madsen (Denmark), and Julien Sprunger (Switzerland) that total goes up to 8 nations. Minnesota may have been too fatigued to put up much of a fight in the closing portions of the NHL regular season, but after a month of rest they are performing well in this international hockey showcase. Burns, Havlat and Koivu are leading the way for their respective nations and prospects Granlund and Endras have impressed with their play as well. It may not have the intensity of the NHL playoffs, but its valuable game experience and another chance to see two Wild prospects who have been honing their game in Europe.