Varlamov shuts down the Wild in 2-0 home loss

Wild vs. Avalanche

Whenever I drive back home for a weekend, part of the highlight of my 3+ hour commute is the chance to listen to NHL Home Ice radio on XM.  One of my favorite shows for serious, focused hockey talk is Hockey Unfiltered with Todd Lewis.  Unlike many of the other personalities employed by NHL Home Ice like Mick Kern, Jim “Boomer” Gordon, and Scott Laughlin there is less schtick and just straight up hockey talk.  Personally, I don’t want schtick and I don’t really care what celebrity women they thought were hot back when they were in high school in the 1980’s, let’s keep it to hockey.  So as I was listening, Todd Lewis listed the Minnesota Wild as one of the teams he had written off as a possibility for the playoffs.  With over a hundred miles ahead of me I called in to register my 2 cents.  Before I ended up being on the aire, the studio person asked me if the Wild were going to get Zach Parise.  I told him that is something a lot of Minnesota fans want to see but I’m not so sure since we have so many young forwards that are going to be auditioning soon.  When I finally got on the aire, the question I asked was whether the team was just 1-2 players away from being a playoff team or does it require a complete demolition since we’re about to have our 4th season in a row without the playoffs?  Lewis did not seem to think the team was that far away from the playoffs and felt the division we were in (which is the subject to change) gave the Wild a favorable chance.  Not sure if I totally buy that even if we were staying in the division when you consider the fact Edmonton is so young and only getting better and much the same can be said for Colorado who coincidentally is tonight’s opponent. 

Zach Parise  Is Zach Parise in the Wild’s future?

Minnesota was completely dominated by the Red Wings Friday night, but that’s hardly unusual.  The Wild looked like a team that did not want to be there.  I know its playoff hopes are but a formality of mathematics, but it still needs to show up.  It still needs to play like it cares, and more than a few guys are literally fighting for their NHL futures out there.  The Wild return home to play against the Colorado Avalanche a team that is scrapping, hoping to surprise and sneak their way into the post season so Minnesota can at least try to play the role of a spoiler.  If it wants to.  We’ll find out tonight. 

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Matt Cullen

1st Period Thoughts:  I wish the Wild would just let its fans know it really is throwing in the towel.  It certainly would save us all a lot of time and know to watch something else.  The Wild had a few ok scoring chances early in the game as Matt Cullen set up Darroll Powe for a close-range opportunity that was denied by Semyon Varlamov.  The good vibes of that early offensive pressure would quickly be dismissed when Peter Mueller slapped a puck on goal that was stopped by Matt Hackett but he’d give up a rebound right to Jamie McGinn who snapped it home, 1-0 Colorado.  The goal effectively killed the home crowd.  With near dead silence the Wild would give Colorado a power play when Darroll Powe hauled down an Avalanche defenseman for an easy call.  The mistake would prove costly as Peter Mueller wound up and hammered a shot on goal that again caused a big rebound from Hackett and McGinn was there to pounce on the loose puck to make it 2-0.  Over the next few minutes the Wild tried feebly to answer back but Colorado seemed to have a step or two on Minnesota at all times.  The only line that was consistently putting pucks on goal was the 2nd line of Powe, Cullen and Devin Setoguchi.  Colorado was also looking to bury Minnesota early as Matt Duchene dangled around a Wild defender before unleashing a heavy wrist shot that nearly fooled Hackett.  Minnesota’s 4th line tried to give Wild fans something to cheer about as Stephane Veilleux won a battle along the boards deep in the Avalanche zone before taking the puck and tried to wrap it around Varlamov who held the post well for a stop.  At a few different points throughout the period it appeared as though the Avalanche were toying with the Wild, as they attempt to set up McGinn for a hat trick.  The Wild defense was disorganized and guilty of not moving their feet as the team looked unprepared to play.  Mercifully the period would end and the Wild had to feel a little lucky they only trailed 2-0 at this point despite being out shot 17-11.  I am not sure why this team chose to dress Erik Christensen, he floated around the ice as he normally does.  (sigh)  It can’t get worse can it???

2nd Period Thoughts:  Minnesota had an outstanding chance early in the 2nd period as Tom Gilbert feinted at shooting and instead gave a pass to Kyle Brodziak who tried to out wait Varlamov who aggressively moved towards Brodziak and prevented him from getting off a good shot.  The Wild would get its first power play of the game when Cal Clutterbuck was high sticked by Mike Connolly, but there was also a missed call as Varlamov played the puck just beyond the trapezoid which should’ve been an additional penalty.  On the power play the Wild were not able to create much other than a two blasts from the point that were dismissed by Varlamov.  After coming up empty, Minnesota would have a better chance as Dany Heatley find a little time and space after a pretty little pass by Cullen and Heatley moved in and lifted a backhander that struck the crossbar and out.  Minnesota continued persist offensively, as Jared Spurgeon sent a shot wide that caromed back out front and Nick Johnson and Kyle Brodziak tried to chip it by Varlamov but he was able to hold the Wild off the scoreboard.  Colorado would counter attack with the McGinn, Mueller line and Minnesota scrambled around its own zone as the puck skittered in and around the crease before Jed Ortmeyer was able to work it out of the Wild zone.  With Minnesota pressing so hard for a goal, the Avalanche had opportunities to go on the odd-man rush that involved two Avalanche blueliners in Jan Hejda and Ryan Wilson, and Hejda’s pass to Wilson was just tapped wide by Wilson.  The Wild was also activating its defense as virtually all of Minnnesota’s defenseman took their turns to join the rush.  Minnesota looked like a pee-wee team out there, as they had a herd of players chasing the puck all over the ice, and Colorado nearly cashed in on the poor defense as Mueller found himself set up for what look liked a sure goal only to be denied by a diving play by Heatley.  One player who really was playing his heart out and could be found all over the ice was Matt Cullen.  Cullen had speed, energy and quickness to create some room for himself where he ripped a wrist shot that was blocked away by a stretching Varlamov and the puck would stay deep in the Colorado zone and Minnesota moved the puck to Matt Kassian for a shot but he couldn’t pull the trigger and finally a diving Cullen snapped another shot on goal.  The Wild’s hard work and persistence would finally yield another Colorado penalty as Hejda was tagged with an interference call with 44 seconds left.  In the closing seconds of the period, the Wild were far too predictable in their puck movement, making it easy for the Avalanche to anticipate where the puck was going and Colorado was able to prevent Minnesota from generating any shots.  Minnesota out shot Colorado 11-10, but too many of the Wild’s chances were one and done.   

3rd Period Thoughts:  The Wild started the period with 1:16 left on the power play and they created a quality scoring chance early as Cullen sped into the zone and dropped it off to Heatley who nearly tapped a shot by Varlamov.  Minnesota was still hustling and causing havoc but again it still wasn’t able to get sticks on the rebounds that Varlamov was giving up and another power play came up empty.  Minnesota would give the Avalanche another power play but the Wild’s penalty kill was aggressive and kept Colorado to the perimeter and gave them nothing to shoot at.  After the successfully kill, the Wild went back on the attack and again leading the way was Matt Cullen who seemed to be on a mission.  He was flying all over the ice.  Cullen’s speed continued to be a catalyst for scoring chances for the Wild as Minnesota got its forecheck working and this would cause Matt Hunwick to clear a puck into the stands for a delay of game penalty.  On the power play the Wild moved the puck fairly well before Devin Setoguchi pulled the trigger on a Cullen set up that was stopped by Varlamov and Heatley looked to be in perfect position to bury the rebound but the Avalanche goalie stoned Heatley with his leg pad.  For the rest of the power play the Wild were waiting to set up the perfect shot and you could hear the anxiousness in the crowd and as Steven Kampfer‘s pass was intercepted the Wild were serenaded with a loud chorus of boo’s.  Colorado tried to counter attack as Paul Stastny came dangerously close to cashing in as Hackett came up with a big save with his arm and got just enough to cause the puck to trickle wide of the goal mouth.  Minnesota would try to pull Hackett with just under 2:30 left but they were never able to really control the puck enough to sustain any sort of offensive pressure and after a few futile attempts they’d run out of time, the owners of a 2-0 defeat. 

Its pretty tough to blame Matt Hackett for the loss, who probably wished his rebound control was a little better early on as the Wild found themselves down 2-0 just prior to the 8:30 mark of the game.  I thought Hackett was seeing the puck pretty well through traffic, and at times was victimized by lazy play in his own zone.  He stopped 35 shots, and by what I’ve seen he’s ready for NHL duty.  Defensively, after an atrocious first 10 minutes the Wild settled down and actually played fairly well defensively.  I thought Jared Spurgeon had a good game, and I felt Tom Gilbert looked much more comfortable out there.  I didn’t mind Steven Kampfer except during that first 10 minutes where he looked a bit lost on the ice. 

Offensively the Wild actually were creating some quality scoring chances but Varlamov was outstanding.  At times I felt we were taking a bit too long to shoot and that bought Varlamov that half second he could used to get across his crease.  Heatley had 3 shots, Setoguchi had 4 shots but Minnesota’s best player by forward by far was Matt Cullen.  Cullen had just 3 shots on his own but he was causing Colorado fits most of the nice and his motor was in overdrive.  After a really apathetic 1st period, Erik Christensen showed a little chemistry on the top line with Setoguchi and Heatley, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see that combination on Tuesday in Colorado.  Yet, where was everyone else?  The offense was jumping into the play and taking its chances but the game was won and lost near the crease.  The Avalanche scored twice off the rebound, and how many rebound chances did the Wild have?  1-2 at the most?  Minnesota must dig deep and be willing to pay the physical price to get sticks on the pucks in those tough areas of the ice.  This is definitely an area where the Wild misses a bigger power forward type in Guillaume Latendresse or Nick Palmieri to stand in those areas to screen the goalie and bang home the garbage goals. 

No goals in two games, we’ll see how much longer this goal drought lasts.  If anything the Wild will have plenty of recent film on the Avalanche as the coaches will have a chance to devise a way to beat them on Tuesday.  The expectations are gone for this team.  Now we’re playing for pride and the players are playing for jobs.  Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo seems to be at wits end when he addressed the media, “There’s no excuse,” adding, “I got to do better at getting these guys ready to go.”  I think if you had a sigh counter during the press conference there were more of them than the Wild had shots on goal tonight.  Am I wrong in feeling a little sorry for him?  Hopefully it turns around before someone turns Yeo’s sighs into a drinking game. 

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck, Darroll Powe, Jed Ortmeyer, Warren Peters, Erik Christensen, Matt Kassian, Stephane Veilleux, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Tom Gilbert, Steven Kampfer, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon.  Josh Harding backed up Matt Hackett.  Nick Palmieri, Kurtis Foster, Niklas Backstrom, and Chad Rau.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Semyon Varlamov, 2nd Star Matt Hackett, 3rd Star Jamie McGinn

~ Attendance was 17,354 at Xcel Energy Center. 

~ Steven Kampfer wore #38, the last Wild player to wear that number for the Wild was Robbie Earl.

Houston Aeros Report:

Joel Broda

Every season has its ebbs and flows, its good times and its struggles.  The Aeros are no different.  Houston entered a rare 1-game weekend with a Saturday night match up against in-state rival San Antonio Rampage.  With Matt Hackett playing up with the Wild after Niklas Backstrom‘s groin injury, that meant Darcy Kuemper was going to have to carry the mail for the Aeros.  Unfortunately for Kuemper he found himself more or less alone out there as the Rampage peppered him for 31 shots on goal.  The stalemate was finally broken in the 2nd period as the Rampage’s Bill Thomas scored, and then San Antonio’s Eric Selleck added another to put the Aeros behind by two.  Team captain Jon DiSalvatore tried to right the ship by scoring his 20th goal of the season but it was too little too late and Houston fell 2-1. 

WCHA Men’s Hockey Final Standings:

Minnesota Golden Gophers

1. Minnesota ~ 24-12-1
2. Minnesota-Duluth ~ 22-8-6
3. Denver ~ 21-11-4
4. North Dakota ~ 20-12-3
5. Colorado College ~ 18-14-2
6. Nebraska-Omaha ~ 14-16-6
7. Michigan Tech ~ 14-16-4
8. St. Cloud State ~ 14-18-4
9. Wisconsin ~ 17-16-3
10. Bemidji State ~ 16-16-2
11. Minnesota State ~ 12-22-2
12. Alaska-Anchorage ~ 9-23-2

The Minnesota Golden Gophers brought a lot of excitement back to Mariucci Arena after a dramatic come-from-behind 2-1 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers Saturday night which capped off their first WCHA regular season title since 2005.  Apart from the Golden Gophers’ McNaughton Cup, the biggest surprise of the weekend was 8th place St. Cloud State earning a victory and a tie with 2nd place UMD.  It will be interesting to see how that rough week against SCSU affects the Bulldogs in the Pairwise rankings.  The WCHA playoffs start next week with the match ups as follows: (1) Minnesota vs. (12) Alaska-Anchorage; (2) Minnesota-Duluth vs. (11) Minnesota State; (3) Denver vs. (10) Bemidji State; (4) North Dakota vs. (9) Wisconsin; (5) Colorado College vs. (8) St. Cloud State; and (6) Nebraska-Omaha vs. (7) Michigan Tech. 

Wild Prospect Report:

Erik Haula  Golden Gophers’ Erik Haula

LW – Brett Bulmer (Kelowna, WHL) ~ Good players raise their game down the stretch to power their clubs to the post season and Brett Bulmer is doing precisely that for the Rockets.  The 6’3″ power forward had 2 goals and an assist to go along with 14 penalty minutes in a 6-3 win over a very tough Kamloops Blazers squad Friday night.  Bulmer followed that up with another 3-point performance on Saturday as the Rockets prevailed against the Blazers in a rematch.  A six-point weekend is not too shabby, as Bulmer has 32 goals, 57 points and 87 penalty minutes.    

C – Zack Phillips (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ As Coyle continues to rapidly rise up the score sheet, it should be remembered that the Wild also have the leading scorer on the Sea Dogs in current 2nd line center Zack Phillips.  Phillips has terrific hands and like Coyle has the vision and instincts to set up his teammates, but also bury the biscuit himself.  Yet Phillips most impressive performance in the 8-1 rout of the P.E.I Rocket was his 12-for-18 (66.7%) on his draws. 

C / RW – Charlie Coyle (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ The most recent signee of the Minnesota Wild responded with a 4 assist night in an 8-1 thrashing of P.E.I.  Coyle is an adept playmaker in addition to being a decent finisher, and the 4 helpers gives the Weymouth, Massachusetts native 12 goals and 29 points in just 18 games. 

LW – Jason Zucker (Denver, WCHA) ~ The Las Vegas-native had a great weekend for the Pioneers who successfully swept the Nebraska-Omaha as he chipped in a goal and two assists.  Zucker set up Daniel Doremus‘ game winning goal in overtime to earn the sweep.  The speedy Wild prospects has 20 goals, 47 points and 32 penalty minutes in 31 games. 

LW – Erik Haula (Minnesota, WCHA) ~ Scoring big goals is often about timing as it is about quantity.  The Pori, Finland-native scored one of the more dramatic goals of the season when buried a shorthanded chance to tie the game last night against Wisconsin that sparked the comeback that led to a Golden Gopher victory.  Haula has 15 goals, 38 points and 26 penalty minutes in 37 games. 

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!

Setoguchi’s late goal ends stalemate in 1-0 regulation win at home against Avalanche

Wild vs. Avalanche

Are you ever cursed from a bad memory?  For whatever reason, its a memory that sticks with you that may be a bit uncomfortable or annoying.  Whether that memory is from a trip to the dentist or an unfortunate physical gaffe of just being clutzy or something stupid you said at the worst possible moment those memories can sometimes stick for ages.  All it takes is something to trigger you mind back to that moment and you re-live that uncomfortable moment in your mind.  I have a moment that sticks in my mind everytime I think of the Colorado Avalanche.  It was back in 2001 when Colorado won the Stanley Cup.  I was lucky enough to have a hometown hero; Elk River’s Dan Hinote (who currently serves as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets) as one of the winners and he chose to spend his ‘day with the Cup’ by bringing it back to Elk River to use it to raise some money for the local hockey association and to thank the program, coaches, and community that got him to where he was.  A generous and noble gesture on his part, without question.  It was advertised the Elk River Star News, that Hinote was going to give the community and opportunity to see the Stanley Cup up close and personal where you could get your picture with Dan and the greatest trophy in all of sports.  So my fiance and I went to the arena.  We got to the arena extra early so we’d get a good seat and thus a good spot in line for this opportunity to see Dan Hinote and the Stanley Cup.  After Dan Hinote gave a speech to the community and was given an honory certificate by the Mayor of Elk River, it was time to stand in line and have this ultimate fan moment, right?  Wrong, because it was at this moment I realized I forgot one very crucial item.  A camera.  At this point I was feeling pretty stupid, since just about everyone else had a camera.  For whatever reason I didn’t ask anyone else if they could take a picture and send it to me.  In fact, the thought never even crossed my mind.  I just felt stupid for not remembering such a crucial piece of equipment on this rare occasion.  Needless to say I didn’t get a picture with the Cup, just a handshake and a sharing of congratulations over his accomplishment and thanking him for sharing it with the community. 

The Wild play the Avalanche this evening, it will be with an injury-riddled defense that has forced it to lean heavily on its farm system.  Young defenseman Jared Spurgeon, Justin Falk, Nate Prosser, Clayton Stoner, and now Kris Fredheim (who will make his NHL debut this evening) all have less than 100 NHL games of experience.  Minnesota currently sits atop the Northwest Division and in 2nd place in the Western Conference.  Will it remain in this position after tonight?     

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Matt Duchene

First Period Notes:  Cautious.  There were moments during the opening period, where you felt both Minnesota and Colorado were simply attempting to feel out their opponent.  Neither team wanting to make a critical mistake early.  Now both teams had at times their small bursts of offensive effort, but nothing to write home about.  Minnesota did get an early power play due to a tripping infraction by Colorado’s Matt Duchene.  However, the problem that has plagued the Wild all season with their power play was once again the issue yeat again tonight.  That being dumping the puck into a corner and then not having players fast enough or having enough initiative to get to that puck before the Colorado skaters.  When you do that, you do nothing more than waste precious time that should yield decent possession time and scoring chances.  But then that is a problem that Minnesota has at even strength as well, so I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised.  However, I will give Minnesota credit for hustle (just not into the corners to grab the dumped puck).  Now if they could just utilize that hustle to create sustained offensive pressure, we’d be getting somewhere.     

The last minute of the period is what I would describe as frustrating.  Ill-advised passes, poor passing, especially passing into your teammates skates, etc.  Sometimes you have to wonder if they get on the ice and they forget the fundamentals of the game.  There are times you wish you could send them to a little kids hockey practice where they work on nothing but the basics of hockey.  Catching a clip of tonight’s “Little Chippers” game during the intermission, the girls on the ice at the very least could show the grown men on the Wild bench and thing or two about skating with your stick on the ice.  Red Green always ended his show with the following line: And to the rest of you, thanks for watching. On behalf of myself and Harold and the whole gang up here at Possum Lodge… keep your stick on the ice.  Minnesota will go into the second period on the penalty kill because of a penalty to Clayton Stoner because of a trip on Duchene.  Also, we can hope that the Wild have adjusted to being back home and will give the fans something to cheer about.   
Second Period Notes:  If you didn’t know better, one might think that it was the Wild that started the period with the power play.  Cal Clutterbuck had an early scoring attempt due to a coughed up puck by the Avalanche.  Plus, Colorado just seemed to struggle to get the scoring chances with the man advantage, that any attempt the Wild had short-handed looked more impressive than it might have normally looked.  Also, Wild skaters started playing a far more physical game.  After the Wild killed the penalty, Colorado picked their game up and got some great scoring chances, helped by Minnesota making poor choices with passing and clearing attempts.  The Wild desperately needed to get some offensive zone time, and mid-period, that time came thanks to the “energy” line of Darrol Powe, Nick Johnson, and Kyle Brodziak.  Their possession time makes you wonder sometimes why they don’t play more considering that the players that should be creating energy (Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Mikko Koivu) are not.  Tonight also appears to be a night of officials keeping their whistles in the pockets, as Powe was checked multiple times by the same Colorado player within seconds as well as blatant examples of holding also in the second half of the period.  However, I shouldn’t complain too much, as the Wild’s power play isn’t about to make a difference in this game or any game for that matter.  Just over five minutes before the end of the period, Nick Schultz had an open net, that you just have to shake your head and wonder how he couldn’t score.  Hopefully that inability to score doesn’t come back to bite the team in the end.  Minnesota goaltender, Niklas Backstrom definitely more action at his end of the ice this period, as Colorado notched thirteen shots in the second, whereas the Wild only got a measly five on Jean-Sebastion Giguere.  The entire Minnesota bench needs to find more of that energy that the “energy” line has, and to use it to take more chance.  Plus, five shots on goal in a period doesn’t exactly build  condfidence for a team.  It would be very nice to see a pumped up Minnesota squad come out and dominate the third.

Third Period Notes:  Even though the Wild were once again outshot this period, Minnesota seemed to have a greater sense of urgency.  Even after Devin Setoguchi scored the go-ahead goal just minutes from the end of regulation, the Wild appeared to want to score more than Colorado.  Even with the extra attacker, the Avalanche seemed a bit more passive.  Tonight, the Wild had the second fewest shots of their season.  And as one would expect, we tend to get outshot more games than none, but somehow they continue to find way to win.  Niklas Backstrom now has twenty-four career shutouts and extends his record against Colorado to 18-4-2.  This was not a beautiful game, but for me, I don’t care if a win is pretty or not.  A win is a win is a win.  I’ll take it in whatever shape or form it comes in.  And ugly win is worth the same two points in the standings as a pretty one, however one could argue that the wins would be nicer if the top line would start scoring on a regular basis.  With tonight being the start of a six-game homestand, this would serve as a perfect opportunity for that top line to start showing up on the boxscore on a nightly basis, and not just as assists.  It is hard to win games when you can only tally one goal, and looking at the upcoming schedule, we have mostly divisional or conference opponents.  Points are absolutely critical if you want to stay ahead of everyone else.  However like Wild head coach Mike Yeo has stated, the team needs to concentrate on each game on its own and not on the overall homestand.  St. Louis will be coming to town on Saturday, and I’m quite sure they’d like to payback the Wild for the win two weeks ago, especially now with new head coach, Ken Hitchcock at the helm. 

Wild Notes

~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi, Darroll Powe, Dany Heatley, Brad Staubitz, Colton Gillies, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Nick Johnson, Warren Peters, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, Nick Schultz, and Kris Fredheim.  Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Tonight’s Wild scratches were Marek Zidlicky, Marco Scandella,  and Casey Wellman.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star, Niklas Backstrom; 2nd star, Devin Setoguchi; 3rd Star, Nick Schultz.

~ Attendance was 16,779 at Xcel Energy Center.

~ Kris Fredheim wore #59 for the Wild.

~ Nick Schultz played his 700th game tonight, all with the Minnesota Wild.

Where Are They Now?:

RW – Tony Virta (HPK Hameeiina, Sm-Liiga) – Minnesota’s early strategy was to add experienced European talent via the draft than to simply sign them as free agents.  It was cheaper and by drafting them you secured their rights preventing others clubs from having that opportunity.  Tony Virta was one of those players who was a noted scoring star in the Finnish Elite League.  He did not get much of an audition with the Wild, playing just 8 games but he did register 2 goals and 5 points over in that ‘cup of coffee.’  He did have a decent season with the Wild’s AHL affiliate in Houston where he was one of the team leaders with 58 points in 68 games.  After trying one more time to stick with the Wild and coming up short he returned to Europe where he bounced back and forth between the Finnish and Swedish Eliteserien.  Virta finally ended his playing career in Leksand after a 10-game trial in 2009-10.  Currently he is an assistant coach with the Sm-Liiga’s HPK Hameelina. 

LW – Christoph Brandner (Klagenfurter AC, Austria) – Another attempt by the Wild to add a more experienced European player via the draft, Brandner was a promising power forward who was the leading scorer in the German Bundesliga.  At 6’4″, 225lbs, he had the big body and the soft hands that NHL scouts covet.  He had a 35-game tryout with the team back in 2003-04 but struggled to show the same scoring prowess he had in Euope after registering just 4 goals and 9 points.  He was dispatched to the Aeros where he battled some injuries before finally taking his game back to Europe where he played in Sweden, Germany and eventually to his native-Austria where he continues to ply his trade today.  Brandner currently has 3 goals and 4 points in 16 games with Klagenfurter AC. 

D – Ladislav Benysek (Asiago Hockey, Italy Series A) – Benysek was a defenseman that many Wild fans loathed for his lack of offense, and lack of footspeed but while he was not the most flashy of defenders he was a reasonable shot blocker.  After flaming out with the Wild after 2 seasons, he was sent down to Houston where he was a reliable stay-at-home defenseman in a season where the Aeros won the Calder Cup.  Benysek would return to Europe where he bounced from multiple leagues; including Sweden, France, Denmark, Czech Republic and finally in Italy where he has played the last few years.  Currently he is in playoffs in Italy’s Series A playing for Asiago Hockey.  He had 1 goal and 5 points in 28 games. 

RW – Maxim Sushinsky (Salavat Ufa, KHL) – Perhaps one of the more strange and humorous stories in Wild history, is the short and odd saga of Maxim Sushinsky.  Like the other players mentioned in this segment, Sushinsky was an older European player who was added to the club via the draft.  Sushinsky was said to be a skilled, but smallish-scorer but his work ethic was baffling at best.  After playing 35 games for Jacques Lemaire where he tallied 7 goals and 11 points; apparently Sushinsky had enough with North America and made a tear-filled request to then Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough to be released of his contract and be allowed to return to mother Russia.  Risebrough let him go providing he’d pay back the $50,000 signing bonus the team gave him; and Sushinsky quickly wrote him a check and then left for home.  The check bounced.  Sushinsky has been a scoring star in the Kontinental Hockey League ever since.  Most of his time has been spent with the powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg squad where he was amongst the KHL’s top scorers.  In addition, Sushinsky has been a regular for Team Russian in international events including the Olympics.  Currently the former Wild winger is playing for Salavat Ufa and has 6 goals and 15 points in 23 games. 

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!