Hall of Fame weekend normally doesn’t hold a lot of interest for me. The inductees are often just formalities as their career accomplishments and statistics. Occasionally, a player with limited accomplishments sometimes bypasses more obvious choices. This year’s class; which includes Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, Ed Belfour, and Mark Howe. Its the decision to include Mark Howe that draws my ire a bit. While Howe had a fairly solid NHL career, and a stellar career in the WHA does he deserve to be in the Hall of Fame more than South St. Paul’s Phil Housley? Housely went from playing in high school to being a star in the NHL. Housley put up 1,232 points in 1,495 games. While Housely’s detractors will mention the fact he split time at forward and defense his statistics are impressive at either position. The difference? Housley didn’t have a legendary hockey figure for a father, and let’s not forget he’s not Canadian either. Whether the Hockey Hall of Fame wishes to admit it or not, but the group tends to see Canadian-born players with rose-tinted glasses, its how players like Dick Duff could get in before more worthy candidates. Either way, I think Housely should’ve been in this time around.
Minnesota is in the last game of its 5-game road trip. It has had a mix of success and pathetic failure through its last 4 games. It may look on paper as though Minnesota is entering the easiest game of this road trip as it faces league-basement dweller Columbus but history has shown the Blue Jackets always raise their game when the Wild come to town. The Wild will have to be ready to play if it wants to earn a win against what will likely be a very desperate and eager Columbus team. Will Minnesota play like its capable of playing or will it be another game where you’re questioning if this team has what it takes?
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1st Period Thoughts: The Blue Jackets were exhibiting that hunger early, as Sami Pahlsson rips a shot early that had Niklas Backstrom reaching to make a leg-pad save. Minnesota would try to answer some of that energy early on by putting out its 4th line of Warren Peters, Colton Gillies and Brad Staubitz. Staubitz would give the Blue Jackets their first power play as he leveled rookie John Moore with a late check that sent him careening into the boards. Columbus enforcer Jared Boll wanted to fight Staubitz but the officials would step in and other than a few nasty words. The Blue Jackets would come ridiculously close to leading the game as Ryan Johansen and Rick Nash couldn’t get the puck into the back of the net as they slid shot after shot through the crease to no result. Columbus had to really feel snakebitten as they had Backstrom flopping around his crease with tons of space up high to work with and yet nothing ont he scoreboards to show for it. Perhaps out of frustration more than anything, James Wisniewski would drive a slapper on goal that was frozen by Backstrom and the Blue Jackets would crash the net and a scuffle would take place near the Wild crease. Matt Calvert and Boll for Columbus and Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Cal Clutterbuck for 10-minute game misconducts for the chirping they were participating in. Minnesota would quickly earn a power play soon after the ugliness near the crease as Pahlsson was hit with a hooking penalty. The Wild had a good chance early as Marek Zidlicky stepped into a slapper that just missed wide. A few moments later, Zidlicky would help out the home team as he attempted an ill-advised pass that went right into the skates of Kyle Brodziak that he couldn’t play and the puck was picked up by a forechecking Antoine Vermette and he raced towards Backstrom and fired a shot on goal that was stopped but Vermette swept home the rebound to lift the Blue Jackets to a 1-0 lead. The shorthanded goal actually drew a few cheers from the near non-existent home crowd. The Blue Jackets continued to show jump and energy while the Wild appeared slo and sluggish as Derek Dorsett rocked Zidlicky with a clean hit. Warren Peters immediately went after Dorsett and the more experienced pugilist Dorsett quickly took control of the fight. Peters traded punches for a while but Dorsett took over and Peters simply leaned back and looked to the official to stop the melee. A clear win for Dorsett, but to add insult to possible injury the Wild also gave Columbus a power play because of a cross checking call on Clayton Stoner. The Blue Jackets were moving well but a bit more relaxed from its first man advantage where it looked hungry and eager. Columbus would score late in the man advantage on a diagonal pass from Nikita Nikitin that snuck by Dany Heatley right to Mark Letestu for an easy tap in goal, 2-0 Blue Jackets. You could see the annoyed and disappointed glare from Mike Yeo‘s face as he called out the next group to hit the ice. At this point in the period, the domination was evident beyond the scores as Minnesota was being outshot 16-3. The Blue Jackets were skating well as Minnesota was trying to climb out of the hole it had dug for itself. Minnesota was hustling more, but even when it had chances to shoot it wasn’t able to put anything on goal. After a few inconclusive minutes where neither team was able to accomplish much of anything, the Wild would earn a power play when Rick Nash was called for hooking. On the power play the Wild didn’t managed to accomplish much of anything other than a few long range blasts from the point. The 1st period couldn’t have ended much worse than it did. Out shot 18-5, and being dominated by the worst team in the NHL. An abysmal start and I wonder if Yeo rips into him or simply says, “you get what you deserve boys.”
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota’s hustle was better to start the 2nd as they had nearly a minute of power play time at its disposal, and a point shot by Jared Spurgeon was redirected by Heatley that was stabbed to the corner by the knob of Steve Mason’s stick. The Wild would send out its energy line of Kyle Brodziak, Darroll Powe and Nick Johnson and the line was able to create some pressure on the forecheck, as Johnson hammered a snap shot that was steered aside by Mason. The Blue Jackets were counter punching, and their top line nearly cashed in as an intercepted pass turned into an odd man rush led by Letestu and the former Penguiin attempted a cross-ice saucer pass that just flailed to click with Ryan Johansen. Minnesota found itself on its heels over the next few minutes, just happy to chip the puck out of the zone as the Wild’s captain floated back to the defensive zone as if he was on a vacation. The Wild would get a bit of a break a few minutes later as Columbus was given a ‘too many men’ penalty. Minnesota’s power play was spending a lot of time on the wall early, but they’d finally get things settled down as Mikko Koivu worked the point and he’d dish it to Nate Prosser who fanned on a shot that turned out to be a nice pass to Setoguchi who was waiting near the goal crease and he tried to spin around and shoot but was denied by Mason. Soon after this great chance, the Wild worked the puck to the point and Jared Spurgeon ripped a slapper that got to Mason who made the initial save as he stopped Brodziak from close range and Matt Cullen swept in and lifted a backhander over Mason to cut the Columbus lead in half 2-1. Minnesota would add another goal just 20 seconds later as Warren Peters hammers a slap shot that was stopped by Mason and with another flurry near his crease it was Nick Johnson who would gather up the loose biscuit and backhand a shot over the Columbus goalie to tie the game at 2-2. The game had pulled a complete 180, where they seemed to be circling the drain, but now the Wild seemed to be poised to pull ahead. Both clubs were sensing the urgency and the game would open up. Columbus; perhaps a bit ornery their lead disappeared so quickly started to pour it on and tried to be physical on the forecheck as well. The Blue Jackets’ Fedor Tyutin would haul down Cal Clutterbuck who was hustling for a loose puck giving Minnesota another penalty late in the period. On the power play, the Wild were perhaps a bit too relaxed early as they nearly gave up another shorthanded goal as a good hustle play by Letestu nearly became an easy goal for Derek McKenzie that he pushed wide of the mark. Minnesota would regroup and they nearly cashed in the closing seconds as Nick Schultz would feint at a shot and then pass it down to Devin Setoguchi who snapped a heavy shot on goal that was knocked down by Mason and Marc Methot would hold up Matt Cullen before he could pounce on another rebound and Mason would cover up the puck for a whistle. Late in the 2nd, Mikko Koivu would pick up a loose puck and race down the ice in a 3-on-1 with Spurgeon and Heatley and instead of taking a shot with two players available to pounce on a rebound he passed it to Heatley who flung a wrist shot that would deflect off the stick of a Blue Jacket defender and up into the netting. As bad as the 1st period, the 2nd period was a nice recovery. Minnesota outshot the Blue Jackets 12-10. Better hustle and a simplified approach allowed the Wild to get back into this game. Let’s see if they can finish it strong.
3rd Period Thoughts: Both clubs showing some hustle and grit early as they hoped to build some momentum with its 3rd and 4th lines. The Blue Jackets were taking every opportunity to finish their checks and this would create a little space as R.J. Umberger drove to the crease where Backstrom kicked away a shot but as he did so it was Nick Schultz was water skiing as he did so he’d earn a trip to the penalty box. The Blue Jackets power play was able to create the first big shot from the perimeter but Minnesota’s defense was supporting Backstrom very well and able to sweep away rebounds. A few moments later, Jeff Carter would lift his stick right into the face off Falk that struck him right underneath the eye, and Wild Athletic Trainer Don Fuller would check up on the big defenseman but he was ok. Carter would earn a trip to the sin bin and Minnesota would go on the power play. Minnesota’s power play was ok, moving the puck out to the point where they tried to set up a redirect by Heatley that fluttered high and wide of the Blue Jackets’ goal. The play was going back and forth after the power play and Minnesota was gaining confidence with each rush as a broken up rush by Jared Boll would be countered with a nice rush by Pierre-Marc Bouchard that skated down the right side with speed and then dropped a pass back Clutterbuck who bombed a one-timer by Mason to lift the Wild to a 3-2 lead. The Blue Jackets were trying to press for the equalizer but puck luck would again go the Wild’s way as Columbus somehow failed to cash in on a scoring chance near the crease that seemed to be another gimme but Nash’s shot struck the pipe and went out instead. Moments later another quality chance for Columbus from close range, with the benefit of traffic near the crease but Backstrom made a great save. Columbus was continue to create dangerous chances as a soft Wisniewski shot turned into a rebound opportunity for Nash as he spun a backhand that skittered through the crease. With the Blue Jackets pressing the attack, Minnesota’s defenseman were content to chip the puck off the glass / boards and just hope to clear the zone and force Columbus to reset itself. Nash was playing like a man possessed, as he was denied on a great initial chance and as he gathered up his rebound and swept around the back of the Wild goal his backhand wrap around would be a bit short and go off the side of the goal. Minnesota was leaning heavily on its energy line, and its ability to win battles on the wall. With just over 3 minutes left in regulation, the Wild were in full rope-a-dope mode, just hoping to tie up the Blue Jackets and prevent them from having any real quality scoring chance. Columbus was still able to create some excellent opportunities as a battle lost along the boards squirted out towards the point where Tyutin uncorked a blast that was snagged out of the air by Backstrom. With about a 1:33 left, Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel decided to talk things over with his club. The timeout brought about a much-needed respite for a Wild defense that had been playing a man short for over half of the game. Minnesota would put out Devin Setoguchi, Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, and the Memorial Cup winning pairing of Justin Falk and Jared Spurgeon while the Blue Jackets sat their goalie for a sixth attacker. The Wild would win the all important draw, and Jared Spurgeon picked up the puck and motored up the ice for what looked like a great chance at a quick empty netter but instead of shooting he just backhanded the puck deep into the Columbus zone. Columbus would charge back up the ice and the Blue Jackets would force a shot near the slot that would hit a cluster of bodies and float wide and it was Spurgeon hustling along the boards to get the puck out of the zone and it was Setoguchi who picked up the loose biscuit and he’d backhand the empty netter to seal a 4-2 victory.
Niklas Backstrom was again very solid, making 43 saves in the victory. Especially late as Columbus was pouring it on he made himself big enough in the crease to get his body, stick and other limbs on the puck to keep it out of the goal. He also got great support from his defense; with the exception of Zidlicky who was again awful. Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner, Prosser and Jared Spurgeon were all extremely solid down the stretch. They made smart plays with the puck showing good strength along the wall and poise under pressure. I think Zidlicky’s loss was maybe even a blessing for the Wild, because his early gaffe nearly cost the Wild the game. Yeo characterized Zidlicky’s injury as having his “bell rung” but wouldn’t go as far to say it was a concussion.
Offensively, the Wild again managed to win a game where its top line was not all that much of a factor. While Setoguchi scored the empty netter, it was the 2nd and 3rd lines bringing home the bacon once again. Matt Cullen continues to light the lamp, which has been a god send considering the fact Heatley and Koivu have combined for a whopping 6 gooals this season. One thing that baffles me, is the fact the team called up but then chose to sit down Casey Wellman. Wellman is basically a top 6 or bust type of forward; worthless as a grinder but a speedy and skilled player with some reasonable hands, not to mention a player who has had gained some confidence while thriving down in Houston. Why call him up; when you have an opening on the Top 6 just to make him a healthy scratch? I understand Columbus has a tougher player like Jared Boll dressing, but consider who you’re playing. The Blue Jackets are desperate, why dress a player (Brad Staubitz) for Boll to dance with? Why not force the desperate team to play hockey instead of revving themselves up with a few ill-timed penalties and Staubitz early 1st period infraction was just that. Stupidity.
It was not a great effort; the 1st period was horrendous and they’re extremely lucky to have come away with a win, let alone in regulation. Sure, its the sign of good teams that they win games they may not deserve to win but you don’t want to roll the dice as often as the Wild did on this road trip and expect to come out ahead in the win / loss column. However its tough to be too mad when you find yourself at the top of the Northwest Division and in 2nd place in the Western Conference while Vancouver sits out of the playoff picture. As far as I can tell, hell did not freeze over, yet. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo had this to say to the media, “Its what we expected, it wasn’t going to be perfect for us, its been a long trip, but I’m really impressed with the character of our guys, who found a way to elevate their game and got a character win tonight.” I was a bit surprised he was as forgiving for the team’s awful first period as he was, who seemed to chalk it up to the travel and fatigue of a 5-game road trip. He added, “we may always win, but we’ll go down swinging.” Either way, its a team that keeps finding a way to win and there is something to be said for that.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Mikko Koivu, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Kyle Brodziak, Brad Staubitz, Warren Peters, Nick Johnson, Cal Clutterbuck, Colton Gillies, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Jared Spurgeon. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Guillaume Latendresse, Marco Scandella and Casey Wellman were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Niklas Backstrom, 2nd Star Cal Clutterbuck, 3rd Star Antoine Vermette
~ Attendance was 10,833 at Nationwide Arena, OUCH! (and I think that number was generous).
Where are they now?!?!
Since I feel I’ve covered the progress of the Wild’s prospects fairly well the last month or so; I thought why not take a few opportunities to find out what happened to the former members of the Wild. Some of these players only had a brief stay in the State of Hockey while others were key components of the organization in a segment I’m calling, Where are they now?!?!
F – Sebastien Bordeleau (EHC Biel, Swiss League) ~ While he only played 14 games with the Wild, Sebastien Bordealeau does hold the distinction that he is the only 1-goal Wild player in franchise history to have his lone tally come through a penalty shot. After being waived by the Wild, he would leave in the NHL completely after the 2001-02 season and take his game to Switzerland where he’s had a fair amount of success. Currently, Bordeleau has 5 goals and 16 points in 21 games.
C – Stacy Roest (Rapperswil, Swiss League) ~ Roest was selected as part of the expansion draft prior to the start of the 2000 season. After playing two seasons with the Wild, the speedy centerman found himself toiling in the minors for Detroit (which was the same team he was claimed from in the Expansion draft), so at the start of the 2003-04 season he opted to play in Switzerland and has been there ever since. Like Bordeleau, he has had a fair amount of success in the Swiss league; and currently has 3 goals and 12 points in 23 games.
D – Lubomir Sekeras (Dukla Trencin, Slovak Extraleague) ~ The Minnesota Wild drafted Sekeras, a seasoned professional from the ranks of Europe to augment what it got during the Expansion draft. A little known fact is that Sekeras was the team’s 2nd leading scorer during its inaugural season still with the club after it had chosen to trade top scorer Scott Pellerin to the Carolina Hurricanes. Sekeras’ tenure with the Wild ended after the 2002-03 season, but he played just 4 more games in the NHL for Dallas. After failing to stick with the Stars he bounced around various Euorpean leagues in Sweden, Germany, Czech Republic, and his native Slovakia. “Sufferin” Sekeras is still plying his trade with Dukla Trencin and has 1 goal and 4 points in 34 games.