One of my favorite hockey documentaries is In the Crease. A documentary that follows a California based Bantam team called the California Waves. This Bantam club has become a nice little source of college and professional talent. Mention hockey teams in Southern California and other Sunbelt markets and you'll get a snicker and a sarcastic remark from hockey fans from traditional areas most notably Canada. What is often deemed another folly of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, I would argue it has been a success. While there certainly are still issues for some clubs, part of the reason to expand into the Sunbelt was to attempt to foster growth of hockey at the lower levels and eventually turn them into sources of hockey talent. Yes, I'm fully aware that the expansion fees and the healthy financial bonuses they provided the league were probably the most immediate 'payoff' I'd argue that especially in Southern California the area has quietly become a pipeline for future NHL and college hockey talent. The NHL caught up with former Hill-Murray Pioneer and Golden Gopher's star Craig Johnson and how he helped lead a Southern California high school team to a state championship. Johnson's story gives you some proof of how NHL experience trickled down to foster grassroots growth of the game. You can read that article here. Without the Anaheim Ducks, this never would've happened.
Oh, but its the Gretzky effect you say? Yes, for some kids it was but for many of these kids Wayne Gretzky's days donning the black and silver of the Los Angeles Kings were over with by the time they were born (sorry if I made anyone feel old by that statement). The reason the kids play is because of the success of the current NHL teams and that has inspired parents to encourage their children to give the game a try. Jonathon Blum, Emerson Etem, Nic Kerdiles, and the Wild's Jason Zucker are all examples of kids from the Sunshine State not only being drafted but being drafted in the 1st and 2nd round. Both the Wild and the Ducks have been excellent stewards of the game and encouraging high school programs. Will the Wild be able to pull off a big road victory in Anaheim tonight?
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1st Period Thoughts: The period started off ok, the Wild were exhibited good poise under pressure making good short passes, but after a few minutes the coolness under fire started to disappear. The Wild started to throw the puck blindly against the boards making easy turnovers for the Ducks whose defenseman were stepping up to keep Minnesota bottled up in its own end. The ice tilted in the Minnesota end as the Wild spent much of its time chasing the Ducks around their zone. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry connected a few times but Josh Harding made some big saves to weather the zone. Minnesota was only able to offer up a few token shots on goal, but it wasn't without some fireworks. Off a long range shot on goal, Wild forward Matt Cooke shoved smallish Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen into Jonas Hiller who knocked the net off its moorings. Hiller was unhappy with Cooke, and skated out towards Cooke who chirped back at the Ducks goalie. A little later, Cooke was confronted by Getzlaf and the two exchanged more harsh words until they were both tagged with matching unsportsmanlike penalties. Later in the period, Cooke was flying around dishing out hits and drawing the ire of the Ducks' bench. Minnesota would start moving their feet a bit better with the ice a bit more open 4-on-4 and the Wild would give the Ducks a few problems as Jason Zucker redirects a shot on goal that was denied by Hiller. Nino Niederreiter would get his nose dirty on a puck near the crease but couldn't jam it by the Ducks' netminder. The period would end with both clubs still waiting for their first goal but Anheim with desive edge in shots on goal and scoring chances. Minnesota needs to find some more ways to create shots on goal and sustain more offensive pressure. Starting out the 2nd on the penalty kill is not going to help anything.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would do a nice job on the penalty kill. Good hustle and active sticks forced the Ducks to settle for shots from the point instead of near the blue paint or the slot. The good geelings from the early kill would be dimmed as the Ducks would light the lamp as Alex Grant motored his way into the offensive zone where he pulled the trigger on a slap shot from a sharp angle that beat an unscreened Harding, 1-0 Ducks. It was a soft goal from a goaltender who had already made a number of good saves to keep his team in the game. Anaheim would force another holding penalty on Jonas Brodin giving the Ducks an opportunity to extend its lead. They nearly did as a great backdoor pass ended up on the stick of Perry who rang a shot off the post and right out to Dustin Penner who got off a quick shot that fluttered right into Harding. Harding would bail out his team a bit later with an unreal save on Teemu Selanne who still looks faster than most of the Wild's roster. The Wild again had a very difficult time creating anything offensively as Anaheim appeared one or two steps faster all game long. Minnesota couldn't find time and space and even when they were able to get a step the Ducks were getting into shooting lanes deflecting shots before they reached Hiller. The Wild were doing nothing to slow down the Ducks as they charged through the neutral zone and as Getzlaf and Perry continued to put on a clinic in the Minnesota end. Gezlaf seemed to be able to elude Minnesota defenders with ease with the same power turn down beneath the goal line where he fed the puck out into the high slot for a one-timer and it was a one-timed blast by rookie Hampus Lindholm that struck off the boards and bounced out front that was tapped out of mid-air by Perry and off Harding and in to make it 2-0. You couldn't blame Harding at all for the goal, but the Wild's defenseman were doing a lot of standing and watching and Minnesota had to feel a tiny bit lucky they were only trailing by two going into the 2nd intermission. The Ducks were playing with the confidence that the Wild's defense could not handle them physically and Minnesota was doing nothing to contradict that notion. Minnesota was outshot 7-14, and even 7 shots seemed generous for the Wild as only a few could be considered quality. The Wild's best chance came off a turnover near the blueline where Mikko Koivu raced down the slot where he'd lift a shot up that was held onto by Hiller. Minnesota looks like a tired team after having rested for the last 3 days.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota needed a spark and they got that from some good effort by its youngster line of Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, and Nino Niederreiter. Their hard work would put the Ducks on their heels a bit and when the top line followed up the youngsters and Ben Lovejoy would hit Jason Pominville from behing giving the Wild its first power play of the game. On the power play the Wild would finally light the lamp as Koivu fed a pass out to Suter who threaded a shot fom the point that Hiller stopped but yielded a rebound that was pounced on Pominville who patiently lifted a backhand home to cut the Ducks' lead in half, 2-1. Minnesota continued to get good energy from its 'youngster line' as Coyle sort of pushed the puck forward by the Ducks defense for a breakaway where he made a sneaky forehand to backhand to forehand move that was denied by Hiller who did the splits to make the save on what looked to be a sure goal. The vicious war between Anaheim's Sami Vatanen and Matt Cooke continued as they exchanged big hits. Minnesota kept working for the equalizer but it was too little, too late. Even when Anaheim sat back the Wild were reduced to one shot and being forced to regroup. The Wild had outshot a defensive-minded Ducks club by a slim 7-6 margin.
I kind of feel bad for Josh Harding who is probably disgusted with himself for giving up a goal to Alex Grant, but to his credit he gave the Wild a chance to win by making a number of high quality saves. His 29 saves were made the hard way with a number of scoring chances near his crease. Defensively the Wild were overpowered by the strength of the Ducks top line. Beyond that they were ok, but as a whole the Wild were conceding the neutral zone far too easily. The penalty kill got a little help from the posts but they again were perfect which is a good sign for the road trip.
Offensively I think it comes down to shots on goal. 24 isn't enough. The Wild did not create enough scoring chances, and the one line I felt that had that creative spark was the 'Youngster line'. Coyle and Niederreiter both had a great game, exhibiting strength, creativity, speed and assertiveness. I thought Dany Heatley looked slow and was a non-factor. Matt Cooke had a nice game; was being physical and being a pest. I thought Mikko Koivu played ok, but he needs to win those key draws down the stretch and that wasn't happening.
The Wild now will board the red-eye flight for San Jose. The Sharks are going to be very angry and motivated after having dropped their last 4 games, most recently a shootout loss to the lowly New York Islanders on Tuesday. Minnesota escaped with a win against them on Sunday so that will just be additional motivation for the Sharks to want to even up their season series. So the Wild cannot feel sorry for themselves. Minnesota must expect an early storm from the Sharks and if they can weather that then its anyone's game.
~ Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, Jason Zucker, Dany Heatley, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding. Nate Prosser and Mike Rupp were healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Corey Perry, 2nd Star Alex Grant, 3rd Star Josh Harding
~ Attendance was 15,252 at Honda Center.
~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate Kyle Brodziak on playing his 500th NHL game this evening.
Iowa Wild Report:
Record: (8-13-1) Last in MIdwest Division
Recent score: Iowa 2, Abbotsford 6
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #24 Jonathon Blum ~ 3G 11A = 14pts
2. #10 Brian Connolly ~ 1G 13A = 14pts
3. #17 Brett Bulmer ~ 9G 3A = 12pts
4. #9 Erik Haula ~ 5G 6A = 11pts
5. #51 Zack Phillips ~ 3G 6A = 9pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #16 Jason Zucker ~ 49 PIM's
2. #14 Corbin Baldwin ~ 46 PIM's
3. #18 Raphael Bussieres ~ 31 PIM's
1. #35 Darcy Kuemper (5-9-0) 2.80GAA .919%SP
2. #31 Johan Gustafsson (3-4-0) 3.08GAA .893%SP 1SO
The biggest challenge for the Iowa Wild continues to be scoring. With the possible exception of Jason Zucker, the team has lacked a true go-to scoring threat a good portion of the 2013-14 season. While some of that is to be expected when you have a team anchored primarily by prospects, many of whom who have never played together until this season it still makes it tough to make a great impression to a new market when your club struggles to score. However, this is what the Wild wants. The Wild wants its prospects to be the ones that carry the offensive load and get the prime ice time so they can develop their game as opposed to bringing in a few AHL ringers. In the past, the Wild had opted to have a few AHL veteran scorers (Corey Locke, Jeff Taffe, Jon DiSalvatore just to name a few) to sort of buoy the team while prospects were sprinkled throughout the lineup and often used more in a supporting role.
On a positive front, the Wild have gotten more production from Brett Bulmer than they ever have had before. His 9 goals lead the team. The team has also gotten not bad production from defenseman Jonathon Blum who has been an important part of the Wild's power play; especially in the games when it did not have one of its leading scorers in defenseman Brian Connelly in the lineup. Iowa certainly could use more production from 28th Overall pick (2011) Zack Phillips as well as youngsters Tyler Graovac and Kris Foucault. Defensively and between the pipes, the Iowa Wild have been fairly solid so this team does not need a lot of goals to win games but certainly more than it has so far this season.