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?
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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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.
~ 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:
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 Area Raiders
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.
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.