Minnesota loses its 5th straight, in frustrating 2-1 road loss to Calgary

Wild vs. Flames

This last weekend was the start of college football’s ‘bowl’ season where 72 Division I-A teams get to play one last football game at various venues across United States (sorry Canada, the International Bowl is no more).  I haven’t even mentioned the Division III, Division II or the Division I-AA (FCS) playoffs which more or less should also be mentioned as well.  Fans take their winter trip to support these teams with the hope of taking home a trophy that states they’re the champions of (insert bowl here).  I would like to take the time to congratulate some of our early champions thus far.  The Temple Owls, winners of the New Mexico Bowl, the Ohio Bobcats who were champions of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and of course the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns who took home the hardware from the R & L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.  I also do not want to forget to congratulate the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on winning its 3rd straight Division III title with a 13-10 victory over Mount Union.  As an alumni of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls I appreciate to see that the winner of the Stagg Bowl is a member of the WIAC.  So what does this have to do with the Minnesota Wild?   
Beef O Brady Bowl  Would you be inspired to win the Beef O’ Brady Bowl?

Now I don’t want to minimize the importance of these bowl games.  But let’s be frank and honest, does any college football fan (who hasn’t made any significant bet on the outcome) really care about who the winner of the Beef O’ Brady Bowl between Florida International and Marshall is?  Or the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl between Illinois and UCLA?  Probably not, but I have little question the players will care.  The Minnesota Wild are battling through some serious adversity right now.  Its almost to the mid-way point of the season and they may be finding it difficult to find something to inspire them.  Perhaps the team should consider turning the game against the Flames into an internal Bowl Game.  Where the team will award itself a ‘who cares’ trophy if they win.  Maybe they give it to the player they felt was the most responsible for the victory and it can be something they pass around the locker room.  I’ve seen this done on other teams; most notably the Calgary Flames who used to give a hard hat to the player they felt was MVP of the night.  Sure, some fan may laugh that you have the Beef O’ Brady patch on your jersey or the goofy hard hat, but those in the room will know what you did to get it and there would be a lot of guys that would want that honor.  So will the Wild find a way to dig deep and earn a win in Calgary or will the Flames keep Minnesota in search of inspiration? 

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Kyle Brodziak

1st Period Thoughts:  Minnesota pressed the attack with its 2nd line of Darroll Powe, Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson and they caused some chaos with a good forecheck as Johnson tried to jam a puck through Miikka Kiprusoff but he’d cover up the biscuit for an early whistle.  The Flames tried to answer back with its 2nd line and Olli Jokinen fired a sharp angle shot that Josh Harding fell onto his back to freeze it before Calgary could poke home a rebound.  A bad decision to clear the puck right in the middle of the ice by Greg Zanon turned into a quick scoring chance for Roman Horak who blasted a shot on goal that was gloved by Harding.  The Wild were watching a little too much as Minnesota and Calgary would score off the rush as Jarome Iginla skated into the Minnesota zone and he dished it to Curtis Glencross moving through the slot and he beat Niklas Backstrom as Matt Cullen was guilty of a lazy backcheck to make it 1-0 Flames.  Minnesota’s response after the goal was pretty milquetoast, an ineffective shift of chasing around as the Flames had more jump and more urgency so it wasn’t screaming resiliency to me.  The Wild would answer back, as shot from the wall by Jared Spurgeon reached Kiprusoff that he stopped but Pierre-Marc Bouchard was there to shovel home the rebound to tie the game at 1-1.  A nice ugly, workmanlike goal that has been missing the last few games.  Minnesota nearly squandered its positive momentum as Justin Falk made a foolish decision to try to beat a defender by skating towards the Wild crease that nearly was taken from him in prime scoring position.  The Wild would get a little lucky as a shot from the wall by Derek Smith caromed off the boards right to a waiting Brendan Morrison but the puck would be bouncing a bit and he was unable to pull the trigger on what should’ve been an easy goal.  Instead he had to turn and swing a shot on goal and Harding was able to get across and make a fairly easy save.  Minnesota would have a quality scoring chance of their own as some great hustle by Jed Ortmeyer to beat out an icing call turned into an opportunity for Brad Staubitz who took the puck to the crease that Kiprusoff stopped but unfortunately the puck was just out of the reach of a roving Warren Peters.  A few minutes later, the Wild had another glorious chance as Matt Cullen went down low for a puck and he dished it back to the slot where Heatley was waiting to rip a wrist shot that was stopped by Kiprusoff and again Minnesota wasn’t able to cash in on the rebound.  The Flames started to raise the physical aspect of the game and Blake Comeau was throwing his body around with reckless abandon as he leveled Jarod Palmer with a big check.  The physicality inevitably set the stage for a fight and Brad Staubitz would drop the gloves with former Park Center Pirates star Tim Jackman.  It was a short lived fight with Staubitz firing right handed jabs but the Wild fighter would stop as Jackman started to bleed rather profusely.  You could see Staubitz trying to explain why he wasn’t throwing anymore punches and the officials moved in, and both would head to the locker room with fighting majors.  It didn’t appear that Staubitz had caused the bleeding, and with an incomplete fight could mean we may see some fireworks between these two a bit later in the game.  After the fight the Wild would get caught in a long shift and that led to a hooking penalty on Palmer as he was caught reaching and not skating.  With just over 2 minutes left in the period, the Wild had a huge kill ahead of them.  Minnesota’s penalty kill nearly gave up the goal right away as a failed clearing attempt by Jared Spurgeon slapped a puck that hit the back of of Warren Peters and the puck was picked up by Iginla who skated around a sprawling Backstrom only to be denied by the help of Spurgeon who tried to make up for his mistake.  The Wild’s penalty kill was aggressive and a strong play along the wall by Justin Falk led to a turnover and a 2-on-1 between Falk and Darroll Powe and Powe fed it back to Falk who directed a shot on goal and Minnesota nearly cashed in on the shorthanded chance.  Roman Horak had one last point-blank range chance late in the period and was robbed by a nice glove save by Backstrom to preserve a 1-1 tie going into the 2nd period.  It wasn’t their best effort, but they were taking their opportunities to shoot when they had them and Minnesota was pretty even with the Flames in the period despite being out shot 11-13. 

2nd Period Thoughts:  Calgary had good jump to start the period and Lee Stempniak had a little space to fire a wrister up and over the Wild goal aftet some good hustle in the Minnesota zone.  Jarome Iginla and Clayton Stoner would exchange some words and a few shoves and there might be something brewing between those two.  Yet Stoner would get into his own fight with Tom Kostopoulos a few minutes later as both pugilists were unloading big right hand haymakers and early on it was the Wild defenseman landing a series of punches early.  Although it was Kostopoulos landing a big punch which knocked Stoner off of his skates and he’d try to pop back up but the officials would move and both would sit for 5 minutes for fighting.  I think the most honest thing is to say it was a split decision but the take down punch probably makes it a win for Kostopoulos.  The Flames would go on the power play as a long stretch pass bay the Flames would turn into a nice set up as Iginla fed a pass to Glencross off the rush and he was slashed by Marek Zidlicky before he could get a shot on goal.  On the man advantage, the Flames had a few fine opportunities as Stempniak ripped a few wrist shots that gave Harding a little trouble as the puck was hitting skates and sticks and it took the Wild puck stopper a few anxious seconds before he could cover up the puck for a much-needed whistle.  As the power play expired, the Wild were unable to clear the zone and the Flames would throw it on net and Minnesota’s defenseman did not take the body and Iginla was able to jam a shot through to give Calgary a 2-1 lead.  Spurgeon and Marco Scandella need to understand there are places on the ice where a poke check is appropriate and places where you need to get mean and just knock someone on their ass.  Minnesota would try to answer back, but the Flames’ were hustling well and the Wild found themselves chasing around their own zone.  It would take a few minutes before the Wild were able to get something going offensively and the new 3rd line of Peters, Clutterbuck and Palmer that would provide the spark as Peters tried to fling a shot that was skittered through the crease and then Palmer fired a shot that was stopped by the leg of Kiprusoff.  Minnesota started to look pretty lazy, standing and reaching and it was no surprise the Flames were winning all the little races and battles for the loose pucks.  The Wild were not even looking to make quality passes, and were just moving the puck to areas and just giving it away.  It was an absolutely brutal period that was very reminiscent of a Todd Richards‘ coached hockey club.  No thought, no rhyme or reason just move the puck, dump it and change as if we’re up 2-1 instead of trailing as we are.  No one seems overly interested in putting a shot on goal and the result is no pressure, and without pressure we’re not drawing any penalties.  Nick Johnson flung a weak wrist shot from the blueline with about 2 minutes left that Kiprusoff stopped and there should’ve been a Bronx cheer if it had been in Minnesota for this period of futility.  If I were the Flames’ players, as Minnesota tried to feint at being a little angry at the end of the period I would’ve just laughed at them and said, “sure, you sure played angry this period, if that’s angry I’d hate to see what you’d look like when you’re content.”  Minnesota was out shot 13-3, so much for a sense of urgency.   

3rd Period Thoughts:  The Wild would finally create a shot that had Kiprusoff had a little difficulty with as defensive gaffe machine Marek Zidlicky blistered a slap shot that he knocked down and Brodziak was tied up before he could bang home a rebound and the Flames net-minder was able to pounce on it for a whistle.  Minnesota was skating with a bit more purpose and they started to get some pucks on goal as a long diagonal pass by Scandella was redirected on goal by Heatley that Kiprusoff absorbed.  The Flames were trying to counter punch a bit, as their top line would force Minnesota to scramble in its own zone and with a host of bodies near his crease, Harding somehow froze the biscuit on a close in chance by Glencross.  Cal Clutterbuck would draw a penalty as Cory Sarich was guilty of a late hit giving Minnesota much needed power play.  On the power play, the Wild were very careless with the puck and they did a fine job of killing a minute of power play time through their own ineptitude.  Even when they did get the puck set up in the offensive zone, and I say that loosely, Minnesota had a lot of passing and not a lot of shooting which made for a pathetic effort and not even some positive momentum to show for it.  Ugly.  The Flames went right on the attack after the power play and Minnesota had to fend off a flurry near its own crease, which is precisely what it needed on its failed power play.  The tempers were starting to flare as Matt Cullen and Mikael Backlund appeared as though they might drop the gloves but Cullen would ignore the challenge and finish his shift.  A turnover in the Flames zone turned into a scoring chance for Kyle Brodziak whose shot was denied by Kiprusoff but it was too little too late.  I have to admit, I kept watching the game but I decided to just watch the train wreck and let it all sink in.  Two power plays, and absolutely no initiative to shoot until the last moment where you had bodies in the shooting lanes and the result was predictable.  EPIC FAILURE! 

Josh Harding deserved a better fate after giving up 2 goals on 30 shots.  He did all that he could to give Minnesota a chance to win this game.  He was making saves, many of them with a fair amount of traffic near his crease.  Defensively I was disappointed how weak Minnesota was near its crease; too often the Wild defense opted for stick checks when it needed to show a little nastiness and take the body.  Iginla’s game winner was the result of a lack of physical initiative.  The sooner this team deals away Zidlicky the better.  He’s a disaster on skates. 

Offensively, the question has to be asked, what in the heck happened during the 2nd period?  Minnesota left a not bad 1st period to completely implode in the 2nd where they were badly out played and worse yet they were out worked.  The Wild appeared to be going through the motions, and the skating stopped and Harding found himself under siege while Kiprusoff was allowed to take a vacation.  Minnesota was blindly throwing the puck away and the persistence that marked most of the first quarter of the season seems to have completely disappeared the last few games.  Even when the Wild had a tiny bit of good fortune they lacked the initiative to just fire it on goal.  A classic example occurred during the 3rd period where Marek Zidlicky wound up and hammered a slap shot that was blocked but the puck went right back onto his stick where he was able to step around the opposing forward for a clear shooting lane and what does he do?  He attempts a foolish diagonal pass and the result is no scoring chance at all.  So when your toughest defender is yourself its difficult to win games.  That could be a side effect of a lack of confidence, but what more does the Wild need.  Shoot the f$cking puck!  Good things happen when you shoot, you create secondary chances, you draw penalties.  Just as was the case in Vancouver the Wild got cute in the 2nd period and the team was just dead emotionally as it hung on.  This time, the game didn’t completely slip away from them and even with a game potentially still up for grabs they lacked the will to make it happen.  The power play was also an unmitigated disaster.  I have no idea why the team has Marek Zidlicky on the ice; not only is he very reckless with the puck but he isn’t showing me he’s on the cusp of getting anything going offensively that he’s such a better option than Marco Scandella who has at least as much skill as the overpriced Czech does. 

Before I rant too much more, I do question why the team insisted on dressing 7 defenseman this evening.  The Wild do not have many defenseman that shoot the puck, so when your problem is putting the puck on the net why dress more guys who are less likely to shoot?  So Colton Gillies has struggled; then why not bring up someone who will shoot the puck at forward if he’s really that bad?  Why dress another defenseman?  Why make it that much tougher for this team to put shots on goal?  It doesn’t make sense to me.  I am not panicking but I wouldn’t mind seeing a trade of a defenseman (I don’t care who as long as its not Scandella) to shake things up.  This team needs to understand this kind of laissez-faire play isn’t acceptable.  I think Mike Yeo has been sending that message but sometimes you need something else to shake things up.  The Wild better find a way to win on Thursday and you could argue this may be the toughest challenge of the trip considering its the last day before their short holiday break. 

Wild Notes:

~ The roster tonight was as follows: Dany Heatley, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Warren Peters, Jarod Palmer, Cal Clutterbuck, Brad Staubitz, Jed Ortmeyer, Nick Johnson, Kyle Brodziak, Darroll Powe, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner, Mark Zidlicky, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella.  Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding.   Colton Gillies, Mikko Koivu and Mike Lundin were the healthy scratches. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Jarome Iginla, 2nd Star Mikael Backlund, 3rd Star Miikka Kiprusoff

~ Attendance was 19,289 at Scotiabank Saddledome.

Wild Prospect Report:

Colton Jobke

D – Colton Jobke (Regina, WHL) ~ It usually is no surprise that often a player in Canadian junior has his best season as an overager, but in Colton Jobke’s case I think you have to say the results have been a bit unexpected.  The 6’0″ defender with a little bit of nastiness to his game was more or less seen as a stay-at-home defenseman very similar to that of current Wild blueliner Nick Schultz.  Yet this season Jobke is showing that he may be more than a defense-only player as he’s been a regular contributor on the Pats’ score sheet.  This certainly was true Sunday night when Jobke blasted home 2 goals in a 6-5 barn burner over the Edmonton Oil Kings.  When you consider the fact that Jobke had registered just one goal over his first two seasons of major junior play I doubt many expected to see that he’d have 9 goals this season (18 points) in 36 games thus far.  Adding to the story is that Jobke was traded for the supposedly more offensively gifted Myles Bell, and the high-risk, high-reward offensive blueliner has just 5 goals and 14 points (and is a -11 compared to Jobke’s +2) tells you definitively who has gotten the better deal thus far. 

High School Girls Hockey Report:

Roseville Raiders  Roseville Area Raiders

Record:  7-0

One of the Top rated teams (#4) in Class AA is the Roseville Raiders.  The Raiders win with a devastating combination of an explosive offense and a stingy defense that can turn most games into a rout in a hurry.  Roseville is led by the dynamic forward duo of Junior Kate Flug (17 goals, 26pts) and senior Hanna Brodt (9 goals, 23pts) that are amongst the most potent scorers in the state.  Roseville dominated Forest Lake 5-1 on Saturday.  In the crease, senior Erika Allen is one of the best puckstoppers in the metro area with a ridiculous .39 goals against average and a .977% save percentage.  It should come as no surprise that Roseville is one of top contenders for a Class AA title this year. 

Anoka Tornadoes  Anoka Tornadoes

Record:  10-1

The Tornadoes are a team that wants to make the state take notice this season, a win over conference arch rival (#8 rated) Elk River, 3-1 last week Tuesday certainly did not hurt.  Anoka is led by Emilie Brigham (8 goals, 23pts) and Katie Johnson (10 goals, 20pts) who work well to pile up the points for the Tornadoes.  Katie McLain is one of the best goaltenders in a very competitive Northwest Suburban Conference, with a stellar 1.61 goals against average and a .937% save percentage.  Tornadoes Head Coach Pete Hayes has his club buying into the mantra of “Kill the Bear” (meaning defeating the perennial girls hockey powers) and so far Anoka is well on its way to doing just that.  

About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!

Defensive mistakes burn Wild in 5-2 home loss to Calgary

Wild vs. Flames

On May 14th, 2011 the State of Hockey was shocked to hear of the passing of its much-loved former enforcer Derek Boogaard.  It was later concluded he died due to consuming both prescription pain killers (which he had an addiction for) and alcohol.  While the circumstances of his death may have tarnished his reputation to some people, virtually anyone who knew him considered him a kind and (yes) a gentle soul.  Sure, his job in hockey was the role of the enforcer which meant he was the one teams looked to send their toughest player to square off against him.  This was a task not for the feint of heart, and everytime he dropped the gloves his opponents knew just how devastating he could be.  His complete annihilation of his opponents is what quickly made Derek Boogaard the most feared fighter in the NHL when he broke into the league in 2005-06 after being drafted by the Wild in the 7th round in (202nd Overall) in 2001.  Even though he was a fighter, his path to the NHL was never a certain one; after all when your best attribute is your ability to fight you will have more than enough challenges as you work your way up the minors and Boogaard did just that.  The lesser told story about Boogaard was how despite understanding that his primary role was as a fighter he understood that even though he was 6’7″ 260lbs (a weight that seemed to fluctuate from 240lbs-270lbs depending on how much he destroyed an opposing fighter) he needed to improve his skating if he ever wished to make it to the NHL.  So while he was starting his professional career with the now-defunct Louisiana Ice Gators (ECHL) he worked tirelessly to be a better skater.  So there he was working on being a better hockey player while taking on anyone who dared challenge him, and the lower the level of the minors the more the fights (and thus more fighters) he had to engage in.  Each time he dropped the gloves he knew if he got totally destroyed his NHL dreams may end right then and there.  I doubt many people that are reading this have jobs where you may literally have to fight to keep it, yet that’s what Boogaard had to do, amassing over 600 penalty minutes the next 3 years in one season in Louisiana and two more in Houston before earning that big call up to the Wild.  After some absolutely devastating fights in his first two seasons “the Boogeyman” rarely was challenged and in some ways you could say he was almost too good at his job.  Being so feared that he diminished his role with the team, but he was and still is a huge fan favorite in the State of Hockey.  Before tonight’s game, the Wild will recognize the life of Derek Boogaard and perhaps its only fitting that we all share our own favorite memory of “the Boogeyman” to those we know who appreciated what he did with the team and his life in general. 

Derek Boogaard

A team Boogaard used to terrorize was the Calgary Flames.  Early on, before Boogaard’s arrival the Flames often relished the opportunity to take physical liberties with the Wild players.  Not to offer any sort of slight of Boogaard’s predecessor as the Wild’s primary policeman in Matt Johnson who himself was very effective in that role, but he did not seem to carry that same aura of instant retribution as #24.  Boogaard loved to dish out big body checks as much as he liked to throw hay-makers and his obliterating checks on Stephane Yelle, Brandon Prust and Rene Bourque prompted the Flames to try to dress a few heavyweights of their own to answer the call.  First there was Brian McGrattan, who had some outstanding slug fests with Boogaard both with Calgary and Ottawa but each time Boogaard came away with a clear victory.  Next was Andre Roy who tried his best, only to become a big ugly punching bag for Boogaard.  Calgary had more success with Eric Godard, who got the best of Boogaard in their first fight but Boogaard would clash again with Godard and it was the Wild enforcer with a decisive advantage.  It certainly was a huge sign of respect to Boogaard that clubs like Calgary (McGrattan, Roy, Godard), Edmonton (Steve MacIntyre), Colorado (Scott Parker, David Koci) intentionally made roster moves to try to address the “Boogaard problem” but none of these clubs found the answer they were looking for until Minnesota decided to let him go in the summer of 2010 where he played a single season with the New York Rangers.  The Wild replaced Boogaard’s role with Brad Staubitz, a cruiser weight enforcer.  While Staubitz has not hesitated to be a player to drop the gloves, he doesn’t hold a candle to Boogaard in terms of sheer intimidation.  The last time the Wild played the Flames, it was a non-fighter in Calgary-native Nick Johnson that got into a fight with Wild killer and Flames’ captain Jarome Iginla that drew controversy when Johnson was given a match penalty for an alleged head butt.  The league did not levy any suspension against Johnson which more or less was vindication for him but I have little doubt tonight’s game could be a bit chippy.  After all, its against divisional opponents who both feel they have a lot to prove.  So will the Wild answer the bell the way Boogaard did for so many years or will they turtle like an alleged tough guy in current Edmonton forward Darcy Hordichuk

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Brad Staubitz vs. Tim Jackman

1st Period Thoughts:  Minnesota was moving its feet well to start the 1st period, as the top line worked efficiently to set up a blast from the point by Jared Spurgeon that was redirected by Dany Heatley but it never made it on goal however it did bring about the first penalty of the game.  Calgary’s Mark Giordano was tagged with a high sticking call as he got his lumber into the face of Devin Setoguchi.  Minnesota’s power play struggled to get set up in the Flames’ zone, but they’d turn it around after a minute of futility.  A subtle play near the point where Pierre-Marc Bouchard tried to dump the puck deep into the zone was blocked just inside the Calgary zone but a smart little play by Dany Heatley to shovel the puck to Mikko Koivu who wasted little time before threading a diagonal pass to Cal Clutterbuck who made a nice patient move to deke around a sprawling Miikka Kiprusoff for an easy backhander to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.  A few minutes later, the Flames would tied the game as Mark Giordano would pick up a puck along the boards and he’d take a shot that was about parallel with the goal line that struck the back of Niklas Backstrom‘s leg and in.  It was a smart play by Giordano to take the only shot that was available to him and there was a little chirping after the play between Matt Cullen, Clayton Stoner and the Flames’ Curtis Glencross.  The Flames would have a chance to take the lead a few moments later when a turnover in the neutral zone turned into a 2-on-1 for Blake Comeau and Matt Stajan, and it was Backstrom coming up with a huge save on Stajan to keep the game tied at one goal apiece.  Yet the stalemate would not remain for long as a few moments later, it was Lee Stempniak racing around Marco Scandella for a quick wrist shot that beat Backstrom to give Calgary a 2-1 lead.  Minnesota would answer back fairly quickly as the energy line of Darroll Powe, Nick Johnson and Kyle Brodziak had an outstanding shift as Johnson was crushed along the boards by Derek Smith but as Calgary tried to clear the zone Brodziak would hold the line and then dish it over to Johnson who wound up and hammered a slapper that beat Kiprusoff to tie the game at 2-2.  Again, the stalemate was extremely short-lived as just 40 seconds later rookie T.J. Brodie found a little space along the right side and he unleashed a backhander that beat Backstrom 5-hole to Calgary a 3-2 lead.  Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo had seen enough, and he pulled Backstrom and sent out Josh Harding.  Minnesota did not help its cause by taking a penalty just a few seconds after the center ice faceoff as Clutterbuck was sent to the box for high sticking.  On the Calgary power play, the Wild’s penalty killers pressured the puck carrier effectively to keep the Flames power play from sustaining any sort of momentum on the man advantage.   The tensions were starting to rise and after a slow shot by Olli Jokinen that was stopped by Harding, Glencross and Stoner would exchange words and a few shoves and both players ended up sitting for 2 minutes.  With the ice a bit more open 4-on-4 the Flames nearly added to its lead as Alex Tanguay set up Jay Bouwmeester for a wicked one-timer that was stopped on a beauty of a save by Harding.  The Wild were downright careless at times as Harding was caught up behind the Wild goal by Mikael Backlund, and with the Wild goaltender not between the pipes the puck was picked up by Justin Falk who attempted an ill-advised pass that nearly was intercepted cleanly by Backlund but fortunately he wasn’t ready to pounce on what should’ve been an easy giveaway goal.  Minnesota’s defense was making some very sloppy plays with the puck, preferring to just chip the puck out of the zone but not with a lot of force and thus the Flames were able to keep the Wild bottled up in their zone.  The Wild had one last quality scoring chance late in the period as Marco Scandella stepped into a slap shot that Kiprusoff just got a piece off to deflect it up and over the goal.  Overall it was not a good period for the Wild.  Too many poor decisions with the puck, and some poor goaltending dug themselves a hole in this game.  While 3-2 is certainly salvageable, Minnesota is not the kind of team you want to see try to see compete in a high scoring game.  Especially if you’re being out shot 15-7 as the Wild were. 

2nd Period Thoughts:  The period would start with a scoring chance for each club as Minnesota raced into the Wild zone as Nick Schultz uncorked a slapper that missed wide and as the puck caromed off the boards it turned into a 3-on-2 for the Flames.  Olli Jokinen would feed a pass over to Alex Tanguay who hammered a shot that was steered wide by Harding.  The pace of play was fast, end to end that may make those fans wishing for a return to the 1980’s happy but as Brad Staubitz outlegged T.J. Brodie for a puck he fired a quick shot that was stopped by Kiprusoff and the Flames would counter attack as Rene Bourque ripped a shot from the slot that was absorbed by Harding.  Minnesota would give the Flames their 2nd power play of the game as Warren Peters was tagged with a phantom slashing call.  The Flames worked the puck down low to a wide open Jarome Iginla but he was unable to lift a shot over Harding and Minnesota’s penalty killers kept the Wild within one.  After the failed Flames power play, the pace resumed to its furious tempo.  The Wild and Flames would trade rushes with one another, and at times Minnesota’s defense was again guilty of making foolish plays with the puck as a blind backhand attempt to clear the zone by Clayton Stoner was stolen by Backlund which eventually turned into a shot on goal for Calgary.  The Flames were making some miscues of their own as a blown defensive coverage gave Kyle Brodziak some space and he wired a slap shot by Kiprusoff but his shot would strike the crossbar and out.  In a battle of 4th lines, the Flames were able to keep Minnesota bottled up in its own zone but despite winning the battle of territory they were unable to muster much in the way of shots on goal.  The 1st line also found itself being out hustled to the loose pucks and you could sense the anxiety in the crowd beginning to build as they struggled to finally relieve the pressure in the Minnesota zone.  The Wild would get a bit of a break as Rene Bourque tripped up Justin Falk deep in the Minnesota end.  Minnesota’s power play was a bit scrambling but with some good puck support they were able to recover from their mistakes to generate some good offensive pressure.  A great example was early in the man advantage as Nate Prosser lost an edge and fell but Matt Cullen was there to cover up his mistake and Minnesota would re-establish itself in the Calgary zone and Prosser would fan on a shot and then flutter an attempt wide of the mark.  But the puck would be gathered up by Cullen who threaded a quick pass to Devin Setoguchi who snapped a shot off that missed high.  The next minute of the power play was ugly and disconnected as they couldn’t even get set up in the offensive zone and the home crowd would chime in with some boo’s over its ineffectiveness.  Just after the failed power play, Minnesota’s 2nd line would show some life as Pierre-Marc Bouchard made some pretty moves to enter the zone and Cal Clutterbuck would pick up the biscuit and deliver a great cross-ice pass that was redirected towards the goal by Cullen who missed wide right.  A few moments later, the Wild had another great opportunity as Cullen set up Dany Heatley who was skating down the slot but his backhander was stonewalled by Kiprusoff.  Minnesota started to use the stretch pass to catch the Flames in transition and a great long range pass by Marco Scandella to Brodziak who tried to power his way to the crease but he was held up by Smith for an obvious penalty.  On the power play the Wild were a bit disorganized at times as they had a difficult time of getting set up in the offensive zone but they still managed a few shots on goal but nothing that was real threatening.  Minnesota would get real lucky when Dany Heatley was not called for a slash and in the same sequence Lee Stempniak was given a holding the stick penalty.  Again, it was another ugly period where Minnesota had lots of lapses defensively.  However despite now being outshot 26-17 the Wild still only trailed by a goal, 3-2. 

3rd Period Thoughts:  Minnesota’s challenge would get that much worse as a bad decision by Harding to wander from his crease and Alex Tanguay picked up a loose puck for an easy goal to extend the Flames’ lead to two, 4-2.  The Wild woudl try to answer back and the 2nd line had a great shift where they won the races to the loose biscuit time after time but all they could manage was a few frantic shots on goal that never really made it on goal.  Minnesota’s struggles continued as Glencross gathered up the puck down low and he made a nice pass to the top of the crease where Iginla banged it home to give Calgary a 5-2 lead.  After Iginla’s goal a member of the Wild bench would foolishly would squirt a watter bottle at the Flames’ captain earning Minnesota an unsportsmanlike penalty.  You could sense the frustration continuing to grow with the Wild as each play seemed to create a shoving match as Minnesota’s lack of discipline was a problem for the 2nd game in a row.  The Wild looked pretty sloppy and lacking in focus over the next few minutes of the period.  Mental mistakes continued to pile up, even a simple entry into the offensive zone was thwarted by a lack of focus and that little extra move that yields an offsides call.  The Wild appeared to be sleepwalking and despite trailing they couldn’t manage to even register a shot on goal to save their lives as the time continued to evaporate off the clock.  Lee Stempniak would ring a shot off the pipe in the closing minutes and the Flames nearly added to their lead as Matt Stajan would back into Harding as Tim Jackman jammed a puck home but it was immediately waived off.  It wasn’t a good call as Harding was actually knocked over by his own player and Minnesota would earn a power play as Stajan was sent to the sin bin for goaltender interference.  On the power play, the Wild struggled to create even a few token chances in the closing seconds and the look of disgust from Mike Yeo said it all as the Wild fell 5-2 to the Flames. 

Goaltending stung the Wild early as Backstrom seemed to be in a different place right from the start as he gave up 3 goals on 8 shots.  I am not sure his personal issues has anything to do with it; but you can bet a quick outing like that will only ramp up that speculation in the next few days.  Josh Harding was relatively solid in relief (making 25 saves) but he killed any chance Minnesota had to come back in this game with his ill-advised sojourn from his goal in the 3rd period.  Defensively it was another ugly night.  Not only were Minnesota’s defenseman again not physical enough, they made a number of terrible decisions with the puck that turned into scoring chances for the Flames.  Justin Falk and Nate Prosser are probably feeling pretty nervous right now as they know the team wants to get Mike Lundin into the lineup which would mean one of them will be the scratch and possibly be sent down to the minors or put on waivers.  The poise that was such a trademark of Minnesota’s young defense has completely faded away into confusion and worse yet, hesitant play. 

Offensively, the Wild still aren’t getting nearly enough out of its top line.  6 shots from Setoguchi, Heatley and Koivu isn’t nearly enough.  Minnesota as a whole wasn’t putting nearly enough shots on goal, and thus making Kiprusoff’s job fairly easy as he stopped 19 shots for the win.  Only the 2nd line seemed to be able to create chances offensively and while its good to see them still have jump and creativity they can’t be the only line being dangerous on a consistent basis.  The energy line still had some great hustle but they shouldn’t have to score each night for the Wild to have a chance.  Its time for the 1st line to step up their game and start lighting the lamp.  Its pretty tough to win if you can only manage about 2 goals per game. 

Minnesota took a big step backwards tonight.  They looked unfocused, were extremely sloppy in their execution of simple plays and the Flames managed to prompt the Wild to take some undisciplined penalties.  Wild captain Mikko Koivu, who normally avoids tough questions told reporters, “This can’t happen again.”  Head Coach Mike Yeo didn’t mince words, “I am not sure we can play worse than that, but I guess its something to fall back on.  We need to prepared to play this game and mentally we were unable to deal with our mistakes and it unraveled after that.”  He stressed that Minnesota’s failure was “between the ears” not about what happened on the ice.  The 2nd straight loss has Minnesota asking a lot of questions, and its clear that he feels some of the players got complacent due to the team’s recent success.  As they say adversity reveals character and we’ll see what kind of character this team has tomorrow night against the Lightning. 

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster this early evening is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck, Warren Peters, Brad Staubitz, Colton Gillies, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Darroll Powe, Nick Schultz, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk, Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella.  Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom shared duties between the pipes.  Mike Lundin was the lone healthy scratch for the Wild. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Jarome Iginla, 2nd Star Lee Stempniak, 3rd Star Cal Clutterbuck

~ Attendance was 16,864 at Xcel Energy Center. 

~ Kudos to the Wild organization for what was a very heart-felt pre-game ceremony for Derek Boogaard and attempting to turn his tragedy into a positive by supporting the hockey-focused charity of Defending the Blueline.  If you want to learn more about this charity, click on this link here

Wild Prospect Report:

D – Sean Lorenz (Notre Dame, CCHA) ~ The Littleton, Colorado-native is having a strong senior season thus far playing on the Fighting Irish’s 2nd defensive pairing along with junior blueliner Sam Calabrese.  Lorenz chipped in 2 assists in the series split against the Lake Superior State Lakers this weekend.  So far the former U.S. National Development Team product has 2 goals and 8 points in 15 games. 

C – Erik Haula (Minnesota, WCHA) ~ The Pori, Finland-native’s scoring pace has slowed over the last few weeks, but he is still 2nd on the Golden Gophers in scoring with 8 goals and 21 points in 16 games.  Haula chipped in a goal in Saturday night’s 4-4 tie against the Michigan State Spartans. 

LW – Jason Zucker (Denver, WCHA) ~ The Las Vegas, Nevada-native doesn’t seem to be providing the high drama he did as a freshman, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been consistent at getting his name on the score sheet.  Currently, Zucker is 2nd on the Pioneers in scoring with 6 goals and 17 points in 13 games.  While playing in this holiday weekend’s Denver Cup, Zucker contributed two assists in two games against the Princeton Tigers and Miami (OH) Redhawks respectively. 

LW – Brett Bulmer (Kelowna, WHL) ~ Bulmer has had some heavy lifting to do since being returned to the Rockets after an 8-game stint with the Wild.  That being trying to buoy the Rockets’ lagging season, and even if hasn’t been able to make Kelowna into an instant winner it isn’t for a lack of trying.  On Saturday evening in a 6-5 win over the Victoria Royals, Bulmer netted a hat trick, giving him 6 goals and 15 points in 10 games this season and a solid +6 rating on a team that does not possess a ton of firepower. 

C – Zack Phillips (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ I remember hearing a sports broadcaster (sorry, I can’t remember which one) utter the phrase, “you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him” which really is an apt way to describe Zack Phillips while playing in the QMJHL so far this 2011-12 season.  The Fredericton, New Brunswick-native extended his scoring streak to an incredible 19 games after scoring an empty netter and adding an assist in a 4-1 Sea Dogs victory over Cape Breton.  The Sea Dogs captain currently has 16 goals, 46 points, 17 PIM’s and is a +28 in 26 games this season. 

F – Mario Lucia (Penticton, BCHL) ~ Not to be forgotten, Wild 2nd round pick from 2011 Mario Lucia continues to have a strong season in the BCHL as he prepares to sharpen his game before joining Notre Dame next fall.  Lucia had a goal and two helpers in the Penticton Vees’ 9-0 demolition of the Chilliwack Chiefs on Saturday night.  The former Wayzata star is 2nd on the Vees in scoring with 17 goals and 45 points in 22 games. 

Wild Prospect Camp Tryout Report:

Often times we forget about these young players to whom we give a tryout to, but I think many actually might be worth an additional look or consideration for a contract. 

C – Kyle Thomas (Norwich, ECAC Div. III) ~ The speedster from Division III’s Norwich Cadets continues his blazing pace for 2011-12 as he records a goal and two helpers in their victory over Elmira College.  The Waltham, Massachusetts-native has 6 goals and 15 points in just 6 games for the undefeated Cadets this season. 

RW – Dylan Willick (Kamloops, WHL) ~ The hard working winger’s tryout experience with the Wild garnered headlines back at home in Kamloops and he has returned to the WHL to play a dominant role with the Blazers this season.  Willick has mainly embraced goal scoring as he has 14 goals and just 4 helpers in 24 games this season.  The Prince George, British Columbia-native tallied a goal in the Blazers’ 8-2 thrashing of the Seattle Thunderbirds Saturday night. 

Minnesota Boys High School Hockey Report:

Elk River Elks

Elk River 2, Champlin Park 1

The Elk River Elks defeated the Champlin Park Rebels in their 2011-12 season opener at Elk River Arena on Saturday night.  The Elks were dominant right from the drop of the puck, controlling the play with a strong forecheck and a willingness to take every opportunity to shoot the puck.  Champlin Park’s Tyler Nelson found himself under siege quickly but it was penalties by both sides that had set the tone of the 1st period.  Being on the man advantage, the Rebels were able to finally get out of their zone and put some shots on goal.  Elk River would strike first on the man advantage as Blake Hillman threaded a cross-ice pass to a waiting Andrew Zerban who wasted little time before firing a wrist shot that beat Nelson cleanly to give the Elks a 1-0 lead.  In the 2nd period, a lapse in judgement by the Elks defense turned into an odd-man rush for the Rebels as they bore down on Anders Franke in a 2-on-1, and Franke managed to stop the first shot but senior Matt Blaeser pounced on the rebound to tie the game at 1-1.  In the 3rd period, Elk River’s puck possession and stifling forecheck steadily wore down the Rebels.  The Elks would score the game winner in the final stanza as senior Ryan Heid buried a rebound after a wicked slap shot from the point by Nick McCormack.  The score was not indicative of the overall game as Elk River dominated most of the game, out shooting the defensive minded Rebels 45 shots to 26. 

About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!

Wild opportunistic as they cruise to rare 4-0 road victory over Calgary

Deadline day, a day of phone calls and internet rumors and updates that NHL fans do their best to stay on top of.  For some fans it means their team will be sending players away for picks or prospects as their team attempts to sell off what it can for the future.  While for teams that feel they are close to something great, they will be mortgaging picks and prospects for players they feel will give them the edge in the post season.  Most of the players moved are those who will become unrestricted free agents this summer.  Traditionally for Minnesota, the deadline has been a day of inaction and was a major reason that Wild majority owner Craig Leipold decided to fire then General Manager Doug Risebrough. Wild fans still cringe at the deadline deal of Chris Simon a few seasons ago, or deals for mundane role players like center Dominic Moore.

The big question looming for the Wild was whether they were going to be a “buyer” or a “seller” in this environment.  The answer?  A seller.  While not a big seller the team did make one noteable deadline day deal by sending center Eric Belanger to the Washington Capitals for a 2nd round pick.  Not a bad deal for what many would consider to be a role player for the Wild, although they will miss his ability to win faceoffs.  Belanger always acquitted himself with tremendous class, and was the consumate team player.  The 2nd round pick will help make up for the one the team lost when it traded for Chuck Kobasew earlier in the season.  Belanger was the team’s 5th leading scorer so there will be a few less goals in the lineup as well.  The Wild made their most notable ‘deadline’ deal in the ‘soft deadline’ before the Olympic break when it traded Kim Johnsson and 2009 1st round pick (16th Overall) Nick Leddy to Chicago for defenseman Cam Barker.  What direction will the Wild go tonight when they travel to the Saddledome, a place they have struggled at throughout the franchise’s history?  Will they feel a bit more focused with the deadline behind them and for the most part being well-rested or will they look defeated and demoralized as they endure a loss against the Flames?

The game started with a cautious pace as both teams were trying to dump the puck deep and chase but the defense was able to track the pucks down and outlet the biscuit out of danger.  Minnesota had the first great scoring chance on a fine play by Martin Havlat to steal a puck along the boards and then skate towards the crease where he tried to backhand a shot sort of behind his back that was stopped by Miikka Kiprusoff.  The Wild followed up the scoring chance with an excellent, very physical shift by a line of Derek Boogaard, Owen Nolan and Cal Clutterbuck as Nolan and Boogaard were forechecking well and it was Nolan feeding a puck towards the crease that the Minnesota enforcer just couldn’t get a stick on.  The Flames would attempt to answer back as rookie Mikael Backlund made a nice no look pass from down low to Curtis Glencross who chipped a shot on goal that Niklas Backstrom stopped before it was swept aside by James Sheppard.  Minnesota’s forecheck was really causing some confusion for the Flames and a bad pass somewhat forced by Antti Miettinen nearly turned into a goal as Andrew Brunette fed a puck towards the crease as Kiprusoff was sprawling, but Mikko Koivu wasn’t able to reach it to take advantage of the nice pass.  The Wild continued to attack and Sheppard would dish a pass towards Owen Nolan who could only manage a weak shot that was easily steered away by Kiprusoff.  The Flames again tried to rally but Minnesota was taking away time and space well, in addition to being physical and separating puck from player and then carrying it out of their own zone.  Both teams would trade rushes with one another for a few minutes but all they could manage is a few weak shots taken from long range that were easy stops for Backstrom and Kiprusoff respectively.  Minnesota continued to show good hustle and energy as Brent Burns would pinch along the boards, win a battle for the puck and then thread a diagonal pass out to the point to Cam Barker who unloaded a slapper that was knocked down and covered up by Kiprusoff.  The Wild appeared to have more jump in its skates and it looked as though it was only a matter of time before that edge in speed would turn into a prime scoring chance for Minnesota.  Yet, it was Calgary having a golden opportunity as a strange carom would pop back out into the Wild crease that was behind Backstrom who was going to play the puck but luckily for the Wild only Mikko Koivu was there to sweep the puck away before any member of the Flames could pounce on it.  A few minutes later, the Flames had a great opportunity off a great individual effort by Eric Nystrom who dangled around one Wild defender and then flung a backhander that went wide of the Minnesota goal.  The Flames would have another great scoring chance as Niklas Hagman flung a wrist shot from the point that was blocked aside by the leg pad of Backstrom.  Calgary continued to press the attack as Robyn Regehr fed a pass near the crease but Nystrom was unable to tap it by Backstrom who got some timely help by Greg Zanon who drove the puck to the corner.  A few moments later the Wild would strike late in the game off a neutral zone turnover by Marek Zidlicky who pushed the puck up to Nolan who skated into the zone and he dished a cross-ice pass to Kyle Brodziak who wasted little time before firing a shot that found the back of the net behind Kiprusoff giving Minnesota a 1-0 lead.  The Flames would try to answer right back as a wrist shot from the point by Mark Giordano reached Niklas Backstrom and as David Moss couldn’t manage to lift a shot over a sprawling Wild goaltender and Minnesota was able swat away his saucer type shot and the Wild would carry their one-goal lead into the 2nd period.

The 2nd period would again start out with a cautious pace of play, with some sloppy passing from both teams.  Minnesota’s 1st line would try to establish some offensive pressure down low only to be thwarted by a strange bounce off what were surprisingly lively boards at the Saddledome.  The Flames would try to ratchet up their forecheck, and they’d be marginally successful off a dump in and they would work the puck around the perimeter which would culmiante in a point shot by Giodano that would be held onto by Backstrom. Calgary continued to bottle the Wild up in their zone and Minnesota started to look a little tired as they repeated failed to clear the zone and this would lead to another long point shot that forced Backstrom to make another save.  The Wild would have surprisingly good opportunity on the rush as Andrew Ebbett ripped a shot on goal that Kiprusoff stopped as Boogaard moved for the rebound but Nick Schultz was only able to push a weak shot that nearly slid behind Kipper but he would make the stop.  The Flames went right back on the attack as Calgary cycled the puck well down low, and they would create a bunch of chances with the Wild’s defense scrambling about its own zone.  Minnesota would get the break it needed from the first line on an outstanding tic-tac-toe play off the rush as Koivu took a pass from Brunette and he moved up the ice and dished it to Miettinen who drove down low drawing the defense towards him and he passed it back to Brunette who had an easy long tap in goal to put the Wild up 2-0.  The Flames tried to renew their forecheck and were moving their feet well but all they were able to manage were long range shots which were reaching Backstrom but he was stopping without too much struggle.  The top line would again help the Wild relieve pressure with some great forechecking of their own.  Just moments later and still on the same shift, Minnesota would strike again as Andrew Brunette passed the puck to Koivu who raced in the Flames’ zone where he’d wind up and blister a slap shot that beat him high glove side to lift the Wild to a 3-0 lead virtually silencing the Saddledome crowd.  Minnesota would have another great opportunity a few moments later as Ebbett found a little space to fire a shot on Kiprusoff that he managed to steer aside.  The Flames tried to answer right back and it was Rene Bourque hammering a slapper that was gloved and held onto by Backstrom as a cluster of Flames crashed his crease.  The live boards would again play a factor in creating another great scoring chance for the Flames as a point blast caromed out front where Nystrom was denied by a sprawling Niklas Backstrom.  Minnesota’s 2nd line would create some pressure as Martin Havlat, Guillaume Latendresse and Andrew Ebbett would make some nice passes but unfortunately the best shot they were able to create was a sharp angle shot by Latendresse and the Wild had to feel good now leading by three going into the 3rd period.

The Wild had an outstanding chance early in the period as the 2nd line again put on a showcase of nice passing as the puck eventually ended up on the stick of Guillaume Latendresse who slid a backhand shot just wide of a gaping Calgary goal.  Minnesota had another tremendous chance just moments later as the top line had another pretty tic-tac-toe cross-ice play where Koivu fed a diagonal pass to a wide open Nick Schultz who seemed surprised by the great feed and pushed a shot way wide of the net when he should’ve had an easy goal.  The Flames seemed to not have the heart to really counter attack with that much vigor and it was Mikael Backlund taking a puck and racing into the Wild zone before he uncorked a slapper that was gloved by Backstrom.  Calgary would try to use its top line to battle along the boards but Minnesota was taking the body and again all the Flames could manage was a long range shot that was stopped by the Wild goaltender.  Minnesota’s Greg Zanon would earn a penalty for playing a puck with a broken stick and the Flames had a good chance early on the man advantage but as Backstrom dropped to make the save the Wild would benefit from a quick whistle which drew the ire of the home crowd.  The Wild would manage to kill off the penalty by challenging the puck carrier well.  Minnesota would have some more good luck as a long range shot yielded a nice rebound but on the 2nd chance Chris Higgins would break his stick pushing the puck wide of the mark instead of driving it into the back of the goal.  The Wild were content to just drive the puck deep and keep their shifts short and wait for transition chances.  One of those came on a fine long pass to Kyle Brodziak who got behind the Flames’ defense but his forehand bid would find the left post.  As the Wild attempted to crash the net Mark Giordano would get into a shoving match with Derek Boogaard and the officials would bust the Minnesota enforcer for cross checking much to the Boogeyman’s chagrin.  Minnesota’s penalty kill was putting on a clinic as they won the races to the loose puck and clearing the zone with relative ease as the crowd serenaded their team with some boo’s as the Flames again languished on the man advantage.  Even when the Flames were able to get set up in the Wild’s zone, Minnesota’s penalty killers were pressing the puck carrier well and as they distributed the puck the Wild were able to get their sticks on the shots to keep them from reaching Backstrom and they would again earn another big kill.  The Wild could sense a chance to move in for the kill and the 2nd line just kept moving towards the Calgary goal as Latendresse’s chance was swept off his stick and Havlat would just chip a shot on goal as it eluded Kiprusoff to put Minnesota up 4-0.  Rene Bourque would try to take out some of his team’s frustrations by giving Cal Clutterbuck a big hit that got a cheer from the home crowd, but Clutterbuck would soon return the favor.  The Flames tried to work for a pride goal, but Minnesota was playing rope-a-dope hoping to preserve its shutout by just flipping the puck into the air whenever they got the chance.  Minnesota could sense its sloppy play may deny them their shutout, so they began to increase their effort and move their feet but Calgary was really trying to press to take something positive away from this game.  You could sense the Saddledome crowd wanted nothing more than for the game to end as they cheered the announcer as he announced just one minute left in the game.  Minnesota would prevail, with a rare 4-0 shutout in Calgary!

Niklas Backstrom was solid, making 29 saves in the victory.  It should be noted that Backstrom did benefit from some good support from both his defenseman and forwards who combined to block over 14 shots as well as sweeping away numerous pucks from his crease that could’ve turned this game around.  Yet Backstrom seemed sharp, perhaps a bit more relaxed from not having to worry about the Olympics hanging over his head anymore and when he had a clear view of the pucks he was very sharp, absorbing the puck and not giving up rebounds.  The Wild also did an excellent job at keeping the Flames to the perimeter and being physical against what was one of the meekest efforts I’ve seen out of a Calgary team in years.

Offensively, the Wild got good support from the defenseman to help press the attack and then Minnesota was opportunistic and taking full advantage of its scoring chances.  The top line of Koivu, Brunette and Miettinen were passing the puck with increased crispness perhaps further refined from their Olympic experience and they really were the offensive workhorse for the Wild this evening.  Cam Barker, Marek Zidlicky and Shane Hnidy all ended up with an assist in this game.  The 2nd line started to bring it in the latter half of the 2nd and 3rd period.  Minnesota had great energy and were quick to turn turnovers into transition chances and used their superior speed to its fullest effect.

In what was the first time in franchise history where the Wild have won their last two games in Calgary, and just the 2nd time they managed a shutout at the Saddledome.  Wild Head Coach Todd Richards had this to say about tonight’s effort, “I think we deserved the win tonight, we still made some mistakes but I think it was due to our time off but we better work on those things before our games against Edmonton.”  The Wild are still sitting in 13th, but it is still a relative log jam in the Western Conference but they must be looking for a similar effort and result in Edmonton on Friday.

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Owen Nolan, Andrew Ebbett, Cal Clutterbuck, Chuck Kobasew, James Sheppard, Derek Boogaard, Kyle Brodziak, Guillaume Latendresse, Brent Burns, Shane Hnidy, Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky, Nick Schultz and Cam Barker.  Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom.  John Scott was the lone healthy scratch.  Clayton Stoner is still on injured reserve healing from groin surgery and Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still out with post-concussion syndrome.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Niklas Backstrom, 2nd Star Mikko Koivu, 3rd Star Andrew Brunette

~ The Houston Aeros have signed veteran forward and former University of North Dakota star Tony Hrkac for what they hope is another long playoff run.  Hrkac, 43, has been the Head Coach at Concordia (WI) University.  The ‘Hrkac Circus’ is back!

High School Boys Hockey Report:

Section Finals are approaching soon all across the state, where teams have that final game before they punch their ticket to the state tournament next week.  It is hockey’s version of ‘March Madness’ in Minnesota where players do whatever it takes to earn a shot in the most-watched high school hockey tournament in the world.  With little doubt, some of the players who will be taken in the 2010 draft will finish their high school careers on high school hockey’s largest stage.  Here are some breakdowns over some of the high profile section final matchups.

Section 7A Final ~ Hibbing/Chisholm (14-10-2) 0 Vs. #8 Virginia/Mt. Iron-Buhl (17-7-3) 3

This battle for bragging rights in the Iron Range pits two teams familiar with one another.  In the season series, it was split with Hibbing losing their first matchup 5-1 but the Blue Jackets would rally back to win 3-2 on Feb. 16th.  Hibbing/Chisholm has been a solid program with a few state appearances under its belt but it may not have enough firepower against a quality Virginia/Mt. Iron-Buhl squad.  Virginia/Mt. Iron-Buhl center Garrett Hendrickson (185th rated North American skater by Central Scouting) could be the x-factor in this game.  No matter what I think this will be an very hard fought game that will give the crowd at Duluth’s DECC lots to be excited about. Prediction: Virginia/Mt.Iron-Buhl wins 4-2.  (Virginia/Mt.Iron-Buhl won 3-0, which is a 3rd straight appearance for this Iron range team)

Section 2AA Final ~ #9 Bloomington-Jefferson (19-5-3) 1 Vs. #5 Edina (19-6-2) 4

This is your classic south suburban showdown between two of the state’s most competitive hockey programs and divided by I-494, and have traditionally had a heated rivalry.  Both teams have numerous state titles to their credit and would be strong contenders in the tournament.  The Jaguars have a number of players who could very well end up being selected in the 2010 draft including seniors Caleb Herbert (101st rated North American skater by Central Scouting) who leads the team in scoring with 30 goals, 31 assists in 25 games as well as Joe Faust (110th rated North American skater) who has 15 goals, 48 points as a defenseman.  The Hornets have also had another solid season, and Head Coach Curt Giles (former Minnesota North Stars defenseman) has to feel ready after defeating #13 ranked Holy Angels 3-2 to make it to the section final.  Hornets’ junior Steven Fogarty leads a modest Edina attack with 19 goals and 34 points in 20 games.  The Hornets and Jaguars never faced one another this season.  This game is being played at Target Center which is not your typical hockey venue unless you’re talking to ‘Grandpa Sports’ Sid Hartmann. Prediction: Bloomington-Jefferson wins 5-1.  (Edina would win 4-1, the Hornets early lead was too much to overcome.)

Section 4AA (semi-finals)

~ 3rd seed Stillwater (15-9-2)  1 Vs. 2nd seed White Bear Lake (16-9-1)  3

Stillwater is a program that seems to be getting better with each season since former NHL star Phil Housley took over as the Ponies’ bench boss.  The Ponies’ have lost both meetings against White Bear Lake by identical scores of 4-3 showing that they’re closely matched but it does give the Bears a distinct Psychological edge.  The Bears have traditionally been strong but have struggled to find much success at state having never won a state title.  The Ponies are led by senior forward Wilson Housely (Phil’s son) who has 15 goals and 31 points in just 16 games.  White Bear Lake is led by junior Brandon Wahlin who has 21 goals and 44 points in 20 games.  Prediction: White Bear Lake wins 4-2.  (White Bear Lake took care of business, winning 3-1, I was right, but we’ll see if they can beat Hill-Murray.  I doubt it.)

~ 5th seed Mounds View (12-12-2) 0 Vs. Top seed #3 Hill-Murray (23-2-1)  6

You have to pull for the underdog, and if there was a Cinderella story in this series of section finals / semi-finals it is the Mounds View Mustangs.  The Mustangs have never been known as a real hockey powerhouse so it will seem like they’re David and perennial state tournament entry Hill-Murray will make for an awfully nasty Goliath.  Led by Head Coach Bill Lechner, the Pioneers again look to be in good position to perhaps make a run for the state title and they do so with a very deep team.  The Pioneers leading scorer senior Willie Faust has 21 goals and 41 points in just 21 games, and with Tim Shaughnessy in net it will be asking a lot for a fairly mundane Mustangs attack led by senior Jeff Anderson (15 goals, 25 points in 18 games) to pull off an upset.  Expect a defensive battle where Mounds View just hopes to keep the game close enough so they don’t need many goals pull off a section 4AA shocker.  Prediction: Hill-Murray wins 7-2.  (Pioneers win 6-0, close enough)

Section 6AA Final ~ #4 Eden Prairie (22-4-1) 2 Vs. #1 Minnetonka (24-1-2)  7

For some Minnesota High School hockey fans they will be disappointed not to see this matchup in the state tournament.  These two teams have been at or near the top of the state rankings all season long, and they have only played each other one time with the Skippers earning a 1-0 victory.  Minnetonka has a team full of potential 2010 NHL draftees in senior forward Max Gardiner (36th rated North American Skater by Central Scouting), brother of Anaheim Ducks 1st round pick from 2008 Jake Gardiner with 18 goals, 49 points in 17 games as well as senior defenseman Justin Holl (54th rated North American skater by Central Scouting) who has 18 goals and 33 points in 19 games in addition to blueliner Andrew Prochno (155th rated skater by Central Scouting) who has 7 goals 32 points.  Yet the Eagles are led by junior phenom Kyle Rau (brother of Wild farm hand Chad Rau) who is a dynamic forward who is a total gamebreaker with outstanding speed and fantastic hands as he’s racked up 39 goals and 75 points as seen by his strong performance on Hockey Day Minnesota.  This game will also be played at Target Center.  Expect a low scoring affair as both teams will be wary of the other’s potent attack.  Prediction: Eden Prairie will win 3-1.  (Minnetonka advances with 7-2 win, guess I was wrong.  Wow, that is what you call a statement win.)

Section 8AA Final ~ Roseau 2 Vs. Moorhead (14-10-2) 1

This section has two more members of Class AA state tournament royalty in the Moorhead Spuds and Roseau Rams.  Roseau always seems to be a team that beats the odds as a school that qualifies to play as a Class A team but chooses to battle the big schools and it is dangerous to overlook them.  The season series is split with Roseau winning the first game 4-1, but the Spuds were convincing in the more recent game with a decisive 6-2 rout to their credit.  Both Moorhead and Roseau play schedules where they battle against schools from the Twin Cities and both will not be intimidated or surprised by who they may face in the state tournament.  Prediction: Roseau wins 4-1.  (Roseau wins 2-1, and the Rams go back to the State Tournament so they can surprise more big schools.)


About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!