Wild lethargic in 3-0 home shutout loss to Ottawa

Mikael Granlund

Instant replay is something that football fans are very familiar with.  Whether mandated by the booth or from a coach's challenge the goal of such a practice is to make sure the right call is made.  The NFL only allows certain types of things to be challenged.  Some fans have hoped the NHL would adopt some kind of coach's challenge.  I doubt the league would want a coach to throw a flag onto the ice ala the NFL.  But it does bring up an interesting point.  What plays could a coach challenge.  Could they challenge a bogus high sticking call?  Or would they be limited to scoring plays and something like a delay of game called if a player clears a puck up into the stands?  To my readers out there, what sorts of calls would you allow to be challenged?  Or would you leave that to the NFL and keep it out of hockey?  The Wild certainly have some calls I'm sure they wished were reviewed.  Yet until league General Managers feel that is something that is needed all we can do is wait and see.  

Jason Pominville

As the season seems to be rolling along at a grueling pace as it tries to fit as many as they can before the Olympic break the Wild are trying to keep themselves in the Western Conference playoff picture.  Ottawa is still trying to establish some consistency as they hope to get back into the playoff picture.  Will the Wild earn a win to keep pace in the super competitive West or will Senators make Minnesota fans wish their club to take a mulligan?

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Nino Niederreiter

1st Period Thoughts:  The game had a very cautious start.  The Wild spent the first few minutes defending rather than attacking as they retreated quickly to take away passing and shooting lanes.  The Senators were only able to take a few shots from the perimeter that seemed to be no problem for Darcy Kuemper.  While Minnesota's dfensive structure was holding well, the Wild were get absolutely nothing going offensively and you could sense the anxiety level in the crowd slowly starting to rise as time went on.  Minnesota would ironically get the first penalty of the game in the offensive zone as Justin Fontaine tripped up Ottawa's Zack Smith.  It was a bad offensive zone penalty from a team that looked a little groggy and reactive through the first half of the 1st period.  On the power play, the Senators moved the puck fairly well but Minnesota was staying in a fairly tight diamond doing their best to deny the middle of the ice and forcing Ottawa to shoot from the perimeter.  Minnesota did a good job of getting to loose pucks and working the puck out of the zone and the Wild got an important early kill.  Still, the Wild looked a little sleepy at this point coming out of the penalty kill.  Give the Senators' credit, they were standing up Wild forwards as they tried to work pucks towarsd the net and Minnesota just seemed to either lack the strength or the will to force the issue.  Mikael Granlund would get tagged with a double-minor as he tried to track down Senators' wunderkind Erik Karlsson as he lifted the stick right into the grill of the All Star defenseman and Ottawa would go back on the man advantage.  On the power play, the Senators tried to work the puck down low and some good active sticks denied some passes but the Wild failed to clear the zone and Minnesota found themselves scrambling in their own end for nearly the first minute of hte Ottawa power play.  The Senators would strike as Kyle Turris would glide into the offensive zone where he made a perfect saucer pass to a crashing Clarke MacArthur who just got the blade of the stick on the puck to direct it up and just underneath the arm of Kuemper and in to make 1-0.  The Wild bench was insensed, as they felt MacArthur was offsides and the replay was inconclusive, at the very least it was extremely close as MacArther had a full step inside the offensive zone but you can't tell if Turris had the puck over the blueline at that critical moment.  The goal was scored with 35 seconds left on Granlund's first minor so the Senators still had a full two-minutes of power play time.  The Wild would lock things down the next two minutes and escape without anymore damage.  Minnesota seemed to lack focus and poor decisions with the puck was yielding a plethora of quality opportunities for Ottawa shooters.  The Wild tried to get something going offensively late in the period but time and space were hard to come by and all they could manage was one shooting opportunity for Charlie Coyle.  Kuemper would make one other fine save late on a close range bid by Milan Michalek in the closing  seconds of the period, and Minnesota would have to feel a little lucky to only be down 1-0 after being outshot 15-3.  The Wild really needs to pick up the intensity, and they can't allow themselves to be stood up so easily.    

2nd Period Thoughts:  Minnesota finally started to show a few signs of life offensively after a few minutes into the 2nd period.  The first chance came off of some forechecking work by the Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter line as Pominville forced a turnover deep in the Ottawa zone as Robin Lehner had left his neck thinking he'd play the puck.  The puck moved out front where Jonathon Blum stepped into a slap shot that was steered away by Lehner who just managed to get back into his crease.  A minute or two later as Dany Heatley wound up and blistered a slap shot that was absorbed by Lehner.  The Senators would counter a bit with some offensive pressure of their own and Minnesota would have to scramble in its own end as Keumper made some saves to keep his team within one.  It seemed like whenever the Wild wanted to really turn on the jets, it was a mishandle of the puck or an untimely loss of an edge.  Minnesota clearly was a little annoyed as the whistle seemed to be swallowed when Wild players were being hauled down to the ice.  The Wild would finally get a power play as Jonas Brodin had his stick slashed out of his hand by Jason Spezza.  On the power play the Wild had a hard time getting set up in the Senators zone and overhandling of the puck and bad passes combined to make the man advantage a complete waste of time.  As time evaporated quickly on the power play, you could sense the anxiety level of the crowd rising that much higher.  When the Wild were getting shots on goal, it was one and done as the Senators were sweeping away rebounds and preventing Minnesota forwards from pouncing on loose pucks.  The Wild tried one last big flurry late but still were unable to get too many quality shots through to Lehner to even test him.  Minnesota needs to simplify its game and play with the mantra that any shot is a good one to take.  One player who I think has played like a shell of himself the last few games has been Jason Pominville, despite being reunited with Granlund who had great chemistry with earlier in the season he seems to want to be more of a playmaker than a sniper and I think that deprives the Wild of its best goal scorer.  

3rd Period Thoughts:  The one silver lining going into the period was the fact the Wild were still just one shot away from tying the game.  Minnesota had good energy to start the period and they were not being picky, taking any shot that was available.  Most of these shots were over the weak variety being taken from the perimeter.  The Wild were still exhibiting more anticipation and aggressiveness on the puck than they had shown in the previous two periods.  It was during these first few minutes that disaster would strike.  Marco Scandella wanted to step into a slap shot and as he swung the stick would shatter and the puck was swept up by Erik Condra who raced down the ice on a breakaway.  Scandella tried to tackle the former Notre Dame star but he'd move in and beat Kuemper low stick side, 2-0 Ottawa.  The goal killed the crowd and the Wild seemed to relax their pressure a bit after the goal.  The Senators were waiting and pouncing on passes as they entered the neutral zone and this kept Minnesota contained in its own end.  Jonas Brodin would get a holding penalty as he got tangled up with Mika Zibanejad giving Ottawa a power play.  The Senators power play would be short-lived as off the ensuing draw in the Wild zone, Michalek stepped in front of Prosser foor an interference call.  With the ice a bit more open with 4-on-4 hockey, Minnesota tried to regroup and attack, poor passing would continue to thwart potential scoring chances.  A good example of this was a quick transition out of their end resulted in a 2-on-1 for Pominville and Ryan Suter and with Suter wide open Pominville missed the defenseman by 12 feet with his pass which was out of reach and instead of a scoring chance they got nothing at all.  The 'energy line' of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine tried to get something going on the forecheck as Fontaine tried to beat Lehner with a wrap around which he kept chopping at as he hoped to jam it in to no avail.  Minnesota would draw a power play a few mintues later as Kyle Brodziak was tripped up by Kyle Turris.  On the power play, Minnesota's issues continued as they won the intial draw but no one was there to hold the zone.  The Wild would then carry it in, and Erik Karlsson high sticked Suter to no call which drew the ire of Wild players and fans, and the angst against the officials continued as Dany Heatley would appear to hold the zone but the linesman saw it otherwise even though the replay clearly showed the puck never crossed the line.  Minnesota would manage a few long range shots but that was it.  At this point you could tell the fate of the Wild was more or less sealed.  Ottawa would put the final nail in a few minutes later on another power play off a Suter tripping call.  The Senators moved the puck quickly around the points before setting up a back door one-timer by Turris who rang it off the post and in to make it 3-0.  It was a beauty of a slapper taken from just beyond the left faceoff dot.  Minnesota tride to push for a 'Pride" goal, but their best chance on a Jason Zucker backhander was gloved out of the air by Lehner and they'd fall 3-0 tonight.  

Darcy Kuemper kept the Wild in the game long enough for the team to get its act together, making 29 saves in the loss.  He stepped up with a number of good saves when the team wasn't doing anything in front of him.  While I am sure he wants Condra's goal back, he still gave the team a chance to win.  Defensively I did not think it was a banner game for Minnesota's blueliners who were not being strong enough in their own end to seal off Senators' skaters they way Ottawa was able to do at the other end of the ice.  The outlet passes were a problem much of the game making it difficult for the Wild to break out of their zone cleanly.  

Offensively the Wild still seemed to be on the plane from Nashville.  Minnesota was very flat and there was a definite lack of urgency that we hadn't really seen with this current lineup.  The Wild looked like a team that felt it could show up and win, and lacked the focus and the hustle to draw penalties and really put Ottawa under pressure in their own zone.  I thought the Wild forwards were getting stood up and instead of driving their legs to draw a penalty we saw forwards standing and looking to the official for relief and that just isn't going to get it done.  

It was not the way anyone should want to start a 3-game homestand.  The Senators were a team that was struggling, and even though they were well rested the Wild still had a day off before it played this evening.  Minnesota looked like a team waiting for someone to step up.  Poor passing all night long made it nearly impossible for the Wild to get anything going offensively.  Perhaps its recent success where it had a different hero each night plays into that, but players need to want to be that guy instead of just waiting and hoping someone else steps up to the challenge.   The Oilers are coming off a loss to Dallas so hopefully the Wild play with a little dose of vinegar against Edmonton on Thursday.  Minnesota needs cannot afford to let points slip away like this, and hopefully a game like this forces them to redouble their efforts on Thursday and this weekend.  

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild lineup tonight was as follows: Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Dany Heatley, Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Justin Fontaine, Torrey Mitchell, Erik Haula, Stephane Veilleux, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Jonathon Blum, Nate Prosser and Clayton Stoner.  Niklas Backstrom backed up Darcy Kuemper.  Mike Rupp and Keith Ballard were the healthy scratches.  

~ The 3 Stars of the Game according to Wild.com were: 1st Star Robin Lehner, 2nd Star Clarke MacArthur, 3rd Star Darcy Kuemper

~ Attendance was 18,117 at Xcel Energy Center.

Iowa Wild Report:

Record:  (15-15-2-2)  34pts  Last in the Midwest  

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #10 Brian Connelly ~ 1G 18A = 19pts

2. #51 Zack Phillips ~ 6G 9A = 15pts

3. #27 Carson McMillan ~ 6G 8A = 14pts

4. #25 Warren Peters ~ 3G 10A = 13pts

5. #21 Steven Kampfer ~ 3G 9A = 12pts

Top 3 PIM's:

1. #14 Corbin Baldwin ~ 66 PIM's

2. #18 Raphael Bussieres ~ 37 PIM's

3. #21 Steven Kampfer ~ 29 PIM's

Top Goaltenders:

1. #31 Johan Gustafsson (6-6-1)  2.85GAA  .907%SP  1SO

2. #33 John Curry (2-2-1)  2.33GAA  .925%SP

Recent Score:  Iowa 1, Hamilton 3

Injuries with the Minnesota Wild certainly affect who plays with Iowa, but American Hockey League affiliate has had its share of its own injuries to contend with that has forced the club to fill out its lineup with Professional Tryout Contract players.  The Iowa Wild have added Nicholas Rioux, Justin Mercier and Jim McKenzie to PTC's.  These players are doing their best to fill in for injured players like Tyler CumaTyler Graovac and Brett Bulmer as well as NHL call ups Jason Zucker and Erik Haula.  In Iowa's most recent game against Hamilton the Bulldogs would take the lead late in the 1st period on a power play goal by Gabriel Dumont.  Iowa would answer back in the 2nd on a power play of their own as Hamilton, Ontario-native Marc Hagel buried a shot behind Dustin Tokarski to make tie it up at 1-1.  Hamilton would answer back 6 minutes later as Nathan Beaulieu sniped a shot over the shoulder of Johan Gustafsson to make it 2-1 going into the 3rd period.  Iowa tried to work for the equalizer but it just wasn't meant to be as Hamilton buried an empty-net goal to seal a 3-1 victory.  Gustafsson had 31 saves in the loss.  Iowa's next game is tomorrow night in Toronto against the Marlies.

High School (Boys) Hockey Rankings:

These are the High School Hockey rankings as selected by FollowthePuck.com as of January 12th, 2014.

Class A

1. Hermantown

2. Breck

3. East Grand Forks

4. Warroad

5. New Prague

6. Mankato West

7. Orono

8. Duluth Marshall

9. Mahtomedi

10. Totino-Grace

11. St. Cloud Cathedral

12. Alexandria

13. Thief River Falls

14. Lurverne

15. St. Paul Academy

Class AA

1. Hill-Murray

2. Lakeville North

3. Wayzata

4. Burnsville

5. Edina

6. Duluth East

7. Eden Prairie

8. Elk River / Zimmerman

9. Holy Family Catholic

10. Eastview

11. Blaine

12. Benilde-St. Margaret's

13. St. Thomas Academy

14. Grand Rapids

15. Cretin-Derham Hall

Jack Jablonski & Jenna Privette

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!

Zidlicky’s foolish penalty helps squander a 41 save performance by Backstrom in 4-3 shootout road loss to Ottawa

Wild vs. Ottawa

As much as things change, the more they remain the same.  The Wild has struggled the last few years in games where they play inferior opponents.  Case in point, in 2009 the Wild were playing a struggling Ottawa Senators team as they are attempting to crawl back into the playoff picture in a home tilt after a few days break before.  The Wild have one of their worst games in franchise history and then head coach Todd Richards holds an optional practice afterwards earning major criticism from frustrated fans who see a team that lacked a sense of urgency.  The 2009-10 season went into a tailspin and the team missed the playoffs in pathetic fashion.  Yesterday, the Wild played against the New York Islanders after a strong season opener on Saturday.  The Wild get out to a miserable start, find themselves down 2-0 in the 1st period and were unable to rally all the way back in a 2-1 defeat.  The ugly period on the road is something Wild fans have been used to seeing from their club the past few years.  I am not sure what it is, but bad luck and misfortune seems to follow the Wild whenever they play Ottawa.  The season before, on their last trip to Scotiabank place the van carrying the majority of the team’s equipment to the arena caught fire and that left the players literally running to local hockey stores to try to buy the gear they needed for that night’s game.  We’ll see if fate hands them a similar ‘accident’ prior to tonight’s game. 

However, most ‘wounds’ thus far this season have been self inflicted.  Take Pierre-Marc Bouchard‘s two-game suspension for example.  Whether you wish to agree with his agent, Allan Walsh, and his diatribe about the ‘kangaroo court’ that is Brendan Shanahan and the NHL Saftey Commission the fact of the matter is that Bouchard’s own admission was that he was intending on slashing him.  While it was Columbus’ Matt Calvert that inadvertently lifted Bouchard’s stick into his own face and causing damage Bouchard was still intending on slashing him in the hand anyways (at least according to Bouchard’s own statements) but at the very least a completely preventable incident had Bouchard refrained from looking for retaliation at all.  I am not saying I completely agree with the 2-game suspension but since the league is showing a level of seriousness for reckless play (which is precisely what took place here) then a suspension is probably warranted but should also be expected.  The same goes for yesterday’s game, the team started out sluggish and got themselves in a hole early and couldn’t manage to climb out.  As I say to my football team repeatedly, often times games are won or lost far are more about what YOU did than what your opponent did.  If the Wild takes care of what it can control I think they should come away with 2 points.  Then again, it is against the Senators, so who knows.  Can Minnesota break the Ottawa curse? 

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1st Period Thoughts:  I have to admit, I was a bit worried in the first few minutes of the game.  Not that the Wild looked flat, but the Senators were flying all over the ice.  They were causing Minnesota a lot trouble in its own zone and Niklas Backstrom found himself in a shooting gallery.  Minnesota really had their backs to the wall, and it looked like bad was going to turn into worse when Guillaume Latendresse went to the sin bin for hooking.  The Wild’s penalty kill did a good job of wasting little time in gathering up the loose pucks and clearing the zone which never really allowed Ottawa’s potent power play to really get clicking.  The penalty kill also changed the tone of the game and the Senators relaxed a bit and this was the opportunity Minnesota needed to start to applying pressure.  Minnesota would go the attack, led by the top line of Devin Setoguchi, Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu who were finding more space than they had against the Islanders.  Heatley was hearing it every time he touched the puck and the Scotiabank crowd even serenaded him to a fairly solid “Heatley sucks” chant and the former Senators’ sniper looked as though he was feeding off of the hate and he was finding room and looking to unleash his one-timer.  Minnesota was managing to get shots on Craig Anderson who was content to just block shots aside than cover and freeze the biscuit.  The Wild would strike first, as Minnesota would light the lamp as Clayton Stoner fired a shot that was tipped beautifully by Kyle Brodziak who ended up boucing it off the ice that evaded Anderson to give the State of Hockey a 1-0 lead.  Feeling his team needed a boost, Zenon Konopka decided to drop the gloves against the much bigger Matt Kassian, and the Wild’s enforcer didn’t disappoint as he controlled the fight with a few well-placed jabs.  Konopka could only manage a few wild haymakers but failed to connect all that well and the officials would move in to break it up with Kassian clearly the winner.  For the Wild this would give them a power play as Konopka was nailed with a 2-minute instigator and a 10-minute game misconduct to go along with the 5-minute major for fighting.  Minnesota’s power play moved the puck very efficiently, as they tried to set up the big shot; and Marek Zidlicky let loose with his first big slap shot of the 2011-12 season.  Anderson was good enough to keep the Wild at bey and Minnesota would come up empty.  Another player who was again making his presence felt, was Brett Bulmer who took a bit of a run at Jason Spezza.  Spezza was not happy, and he retaliated with a slash to the rookie’s legs but that would prove to be a costly loss of his temper as the Wild would earn a power play as Spezza went to the penalty box for slashing.  Minnesota would take advantage of the power play and Mikko Koivu got the puck near the half wall where he fed Setoguchi in the slot who rifled a one-timer top shelf by a helpless Anderson who really had no chance and the Wild now led 2-0.  It was a great recovery for the Wild after the weathered the Senators’ storm early on.  

2nd Period Thoughts:  One step forward, one step back.  As much as the Wild turned things around in the 1st period to power their way to a 2-0 lead that momentum would completely evaporate in the 2nd.  This evaporation could be tied to a single play, as Clayton Stoner was freight trained by a devastating (and clean) hit by Ottawa’s Chris Neil.  Neil caught Stoner with his head down as he was skating the puck out from behind his goal, and the hit was right to the middle of Stoner’s chest and he fell backwards with his helmeted head bouncing off the ice.  To Stoner’s credit he got right back up and finished out the shift, although he was checked out by the Wild’s Athletic Trainer Don Fuller on the bench.  Yet the hit, seemed to raise the energy level of the Senators and they started to swarm in the Wild end.  Niklas Backstrom quickly found himself under siege as the Senators created a nice variety of chances, including a few dangerous shots from up close and somehow the big Finn managed to make himself big enough to stop the puck.  Colin Greening and Jason Spezza were taking every opportunity to take the puck to the crease where they hoped to jam it by Backstrom.  Minnesota’s Brett Bulmer, Guillaume Latendresse and Cal Clutterbuck tried to answer back with some physicality of their own but to mixed results.  In the case of the youngster Bulmer, his over exuberance to hit Neil for his shot on Stoner earned him a minor for charging.  Thankfully for the Wild, the Senators’ power play (most notably Sergei Gonchar) was inept enough not to threaten much with the man advantage.  In fact, Gonchar received some absolutely scathing boo’s by the home crowd that made anything raspberries they gave Heatley seem mild by comparison.  The Senators were persistent, and they would cut the Wild’s lead in half on a simple play to shovel the puck towards the goal after some good hard work by Nick Foligno, where Chris Neil directed the puck on goal where it was stopped by Backstrom and as Peter Regin chipped a shot off the first rebound he created another and Foligno buried the loose biscuit.  Backstrom protested, but to no avail and in all honesty, he really should have been at his defense who failed to clear away two rebounds instead the Sens players attacking the crease.  Matt Kassian tried in vain to get Chris Neil to drop the gloves but he wanted no part in it as the Sens clearly had momentum on their side.  The Wild were officially outshot 13-2 in the period, but that really doesn’t fully describe how badly Minnesota was dominated this period.  They were quite lucky to escape still leading by one.   

3rd Period Thoughts:  The 3rd period was a bizarre mix of the 1st and 2nd in terms of the Wild’s level of play.  Minnesota would add to its lead on some good battling in front of the net where Nick Johnson got to the crease and the puck would glance off the skate of Senators’ rookie David Rundblad‘s skate and it would slide in.  The play was reviewed but the puck clearly crossed the goal line completely and Minnesota gets the goal, 3-1.  Ottawa would rally back, thanks to the warrior-like performance of Chris Neil who again brought the puck towards the crease before slamming a shot home.  That play was also reviewed but the puck clearly crossed the line and there was no whistle despite the fact it was initially waived off.  NHL referee Don VanMassenhoven would announce its a good goal and Minnesota’s lead was right back to one.  Minnesota was on its heels and Ottawa continued to battle and outwork the Wild; and frustration started to build.  Coincidental minors called on Cal Clutterbuck and Milan Michalek after a scrum on Neil’s goal would make it 4-on-4 for the next two minutes.  It would boil over into a incredibly stupid high sticking call on Marek Zidlicky who hacked Zack Smith in the helmet.  A cold look of disbelief was on Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo‘s face as his team would now be down a man and giving the Sens a 4-on-3 power play.  Minnesota was scrambling on the power play and as it morphed to a 5-on-3 the Wild were really being stretched out by the quick passing of the Senators but Ottawa’s snipers couldn’t manage to solve Niklas Backstrom.  Just as one penalty expired the Wild were unable to clear the puck and former Cornell stand out Colin Greening fired a shot by a deflated Backstrom to tie the game at 3-3.  It was at this point the Wild finally started to show a little desperation and energy.  2nd line winger Guillaume Latendresse and 3rd liner Colton Gillies were really starting to throw their weight around as well as being effective on the forecheck and both players had a few quality chances in the closing minutes of the 3rd period.  Minnesota really was pouring it on late, but it was too little too late and the game would go to overtime. 

Overtime Thoughts:  Minnesota clearly was the team looking to press the attack in the extra time.  Minnesota was taking its chances but Ottawa was content to play rope-a-dope and bide its time for a shootout.  I think the Wild were hurt a bit by a lack of speed from some of its better offensive players; and the top pair of Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley were guilty of over handling the puck and being far too unselfish.  On a few different occasions they passed up chances to fire a shot on goal and its pretty simple.  If you want to score you got to shoot the puck and with a guy like Craig Anderson who has a tendency to sit too far back in his crease you might as well take a chance and let it go because you never know if you’ll get lucky.  Yet they passed up on the chances and the game would go to a shootout.  At this point you could sort of sense where this was going.   

Shootout Thoughts:  The Senators opted to shoot first which was a testament to the confidence they had going into the glorified exhibition event.  Their first shooter was Milan Michalek.  Michalek raced up the ice and he very efficiently pulled off a forehand to backhand deke before sliding a backhand 5-hole on Backstrom who seemed a bit surprised at the speed the play unfolded in front of him.  Minnesota’s first shooter was Mikko Koivu and the team captain took a fairly straight approach by his standards where he attempted his patented forehand to backhand deke (shelf) move only to lift a shot wide of the mark.  Immediately I thought his miss was due in part to not taking his normal wide approach which buys you time to pull off the move and have an optimal angle to put a shot underneath the crossbar.  Ottawa’s next shooter was Jason Spezza and he took a rather relaxed approach to the net before beating Backstrom with a quick wrister 5-hole to give the Sens a commanding 2-0 shootout lead.  Again, another 5-hole goal.  Get the message Backstrom, please.  Minnesota’s next shooter was Matt Cullen.  Cullen would race in and make a quick shoulder deke before firing a shot by Anderson to keep the Wild alive.  Now all of the pressure would be on Backstrom to stop Daniel Alfredsson and give Minnesota a chance to win it.  Alfredsson would take off towards Backstrom and he’d fire a wrister that beat Backstrom 5-hole to win the game 4-3.  (shaking my head)  What in the hell are you thinking Backstrom? 

The paltry performance in the shootout marred what was a terrific game by Backstrom where he made 41 saves in a losing effort.  Admittedly he got lucky a few times as he flopped around his crease far more than you normally see from the positionally sound goalie, but he gave the Wild every chance to win this game (apart from the shootout).  Defensively the Wild were a bit erratic.  Especially near the crease the Wild were not strong enough in my opinion.  Clayton Stoner was the only Wild defenseman that seemed to have any semblance of physicality (even though he got crushed) in this game. 

Offensively the Wild had flashes of brilliance but at key moments the Wild were not taking their shots when the opportunities presented themselves.  Minnesota again got a power play goal, but more hustle would’ve likely drawn additional penalties perhaps giving the Wild a chance to really pull away from the Senators but it didn’t happen and Ottawa was able to hang around.  I’d also give the Senators’ Chris Neil credit as he kept finding ways to spark his club and also bring his team back from the brink of defeat.  The Wild needed someone to step up in that fashion and it didn’t quite happen. 

Mike Yeo, “Does it stink that we lost a pont, yea it does, but I am not trying to take anything away from the guys, because some of them worked hard.  We have to have some push back, we have to build from within.”  He felt the team sat back and went into ‘safety mode’ as the Senators began to apply pressure.  Yeo also asserted that his young players need to know how to play when the team has a lead.  Yet I would argue this game was derailed by a stupid penalty by one of his most veteran players in mercenary defenseman Marek Zidlicky who selfishly hacked Zack Smith and opened the window of opportunity for the Senators.  Give credit to the Senators for pouncing on the chance but Zidlicky should be ashamed of himself for making such a ‘rookie’ mistake. 

This is the type of game where you look back at the end of the season and say, “damn, that was two points we should have had.”  Good teams don’t let games slip away like that and all you can hope disappointing games like this are few and far between. 

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild’s roster tonight was:  Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi, Dany Heatley, Matt Cullen, Guillaume Latendresse, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak, Darroll Powe, Brett Bulmer, Nick Johnson, Matt Kassian, Colton Gillies, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon, Nick Schultz and Marco ScandellaJosh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Pierre-Marc Bouchard (final game of his 2-game suspension) and Brad Staubitz (the final game of his 3-game suspension) were the scratches. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Niklas Backstrom, 2nd Star Chris Neil, 3rd Star Daniel Alfredsson

~ Attendance tonight at Scotiabank Place was 19,455.

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!

Too many men penalty haunts the Wild in 3-1 home loss on a night dedicated to Dino Ciccarelli

Dino Ciccarelli

About three years ago I read the book Minnesota North Stars: History & Memories with Lou Nanne which was written by Bob Showers.  It was and I still consider it to be a must have for any North Stars fan as it truly encapsulates the entire franchise’s history from the guy who was there from Day 1 until the team abandoned the State of Hockey to go to Texas.  I am 32 years old, I went to my first NHL game in 1982, I have fond memories of the North Stars but Lou Nanne‘s book really added a sense of perspective I never really had, it was from behind the scenes.  The North Stars left Minnesota when I was 13 years old, so even though I loved hockey and followed the team closely I did not really fully understand all the issues as to why the team left the state, and all I knew was that “Norm Green Sucks” and not to sound too much like a lemming but I did not hesitate to join in the chant.  However, after reading Nanne’s book it became abundantly clear.  Norm wanted a much better deal than what he felt he was getting from the Metropolitan Sports Commission, which either involved merging the Mall of America with the Met Center or new building altogether or he was going to move the team.  The early 1990’s was the middle of a recession and since the State of Minnesota had just built the Target Center for the NBA expansion team Minnesota Timberwolves it just wasn’t going to build a new arena and the construction of the Mall of America was already over budget so they did not wish to add another $180 million building project.  Toss in a sexual harassment scandal and lagging attendance after years of fielding a bargain basement roster and it made Norm Green’s decision to take the team to Dallas a pretty easy one (in his opinion).   A few years ago, KARE 11 news’ Scott Goldberg had an interview with Norm Green which made me want to puke, where he justified his decision to move the team and said that all he wants Minnesotans to know about him is that “he tried.”  Here’s the interview in case you are curious. 


Yet tonight isn’t about the North Stars leaving Minnesota; it is about a former North Star coming back.  Perhaps the most beloved and admired North Stars player of all time, Dino Ciccarelli coming back to the Twin Cities to be honored by the Wild for his recent induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame.  My earliest memories of the North Stars was watching Dino battle his way near the top of the crease; being knocked down and getting up again and taking yet another hit as he somehow managed to jam home a goal.  He wasn’t the most skilled player but few were as determined nor had they overcome a tremendous level adversity when he broke his femur while playing for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, requiring him to have a metal rod to be inserted into his leg.  With such a severe medical procedure; it isn’t a giant shock that the league passed up on drafting the 5’10”, 180lbs right wing in two drafts.  However, not all of hockey’s establishment had given up completely on Ciccarelli as then Buffalo’s head coach Scotty Bowman who made him a contract offer at the end of his overage season, but Lou Nanne did one better and flew up to Sarnia, Ontario to meet with Dino and his family.  This was perhaps one of my favorite stories from Nanne’s book; where it was Nanne that convinced Dino’s father, Victor to have his son sign with the North Stars.  Dino would start his pro career with the Oklahoma City Stars but earn a call up and was an instant boost of offense scoring 18 goals in just 32 regular season games.  His 14 goals and 21 points in the 1980-81 playoffs where the North Stars qualified for the Stanley Cup Finals is a rookie playoff record that was finally tied when Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux managed to score 10 goals and 21 points last spring.  Dino would become an instant fan favorite who admired his dogged determination and knack for scoring dirty goals.  After playing 21 seasons in the NHL, where he had accumulated 608 goals and 1,200 points many North Stars fans like myself felt his induction was long overdue but now will be the time he finally gets the praise from the city that learned to love him first.  Unfortunately for Dino, his father, the man who he had so admired for all his sacrifices for his hockey career did not live long enough to see his son’s induction, but I have no doubt he’ll hear the roar of the crowd when Ciccarelli gets a long and well-deserved ovation.  So can the Wild take advantage of the good feelings to earn a win tonight against the Ottawa Senators, the team ironically I last saw the North Stars play in person back in 1993?  Or will the Senators manage to sour those feelings?

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The Wild had good energy to start the game, moving their feet well early on.  The Senators had the first quality chance as a nice little pass by Daniel Alfredsson back to Sergei Gonchar who bombed a shot on goal that was kicked aside by Jose Theodore.  Minnesota tried to answer back and it was a hard shot by Mikko Koivu who had Pascal Leclaire juggling the puck a bit.  Minnesota would be a little fortunate as a questionable decision by Patrick O’Sullivan nearly resulted in a bad turnover in the Wild zone.  The Wild finally were able to create a little more pressure as Martin Havlat made a nice move to get by a defender where he tried to work a backhander that was blocked aside by Leclaire.  Minnesota continued to attack, and it was Havlat who pssed hte puck down low to Pierre-Marc Bouchard who threaded a pass parallel to the goal line right to a crashing Kyle Brodziak who tapped it by the Ottawa puckstopper to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.  The Wild were still attacking well, as Antti Miettinen tried to set up Mikko Koivu in the slot but the puck would bounce over his stick before he could pull the trigger on a shot.  Marek Zidlicky would look like a Czech version of Maurice “Rocket” Richard as he scooted into the Sens zone where he tried to help keep the Sens on their heels, but moments later Zidlicky would be put flat on his back as he tried to jump up to knock a puck out of the air.  Patrick O’Sullivan would make a nice play to steal the puck where he set up Kobasew near crease but Leclaire would shut the door, but the Sens were unable to clear the zone as Greg Zanon would hold the line and dump it back deep to the appreciation of the home crowd.  The pressure of the Wild culminated into a hooking call on Gonchar who tried to hold up Martin Havlat as he tried to carry the puck into the slot.  Right from the start of the power play, it was Havlat weaving into the slot area where he tried a backhander that was stymied by Leclaire.  Minnesota’s power play was moving the puck efficiently as they set up blasts from the point by Zidlicky which were missing just wide.  The Wild got some more help as Jarkko Ruutu was tagged with a cross checking penalty giving Minnesota a 5-on-3, and Wild Head Coach Todd Richards would call a timeout to talk things over.  With 40 seconds of 5-on-3 time to work with the Wild did not win the opening draw but were able to hold the zone.  Minnesota’s puck movement which was so good 5-on-4 really was not there in the 5-on-3 as it was painfully static.  Even as they tried to work from down low back out to the point but their shots were missing wide never even forcing Leclaire to make a save and Minnesota would come up empty on the man advantage.  Minnesota would have a tremendous chance about a minute after the failed power play as Cal Clutterbuck would use his stocky frame to power his way to the crease where the puck was kicked out to the slot by Leclaire right to Eric Nystrom who tried to slam a shot on the empty net but he’d push it wide of the goal.  The Senators tried to answer back with a scoring chance of its own and Milan Michalek found some space after taking a pass from Alexei Kovalev but his backhander was steered wide by the leg pad of Theodore.  Moments later Michalek would have another great chance when a wrist shot from the point by Filip Kuba would be deflected up and over Theodore but the puck would hit the crossbar and out.  Neither team was able to create much of anything offensively for the rest of the period, even though Ryan Shannon could’ve had a great opportunity as he found himself alone in the slot but the puck wouldn’t settle for him and the moment of opportunity was gone as quickly as it appeared.  Minnesota’s best chance late came from the 2nd line as Martin Havlat drove into the zone before dropping a pass back to Bouchard who wound up and uncorked a slapper that was stopped by Leclaire.  Brian Lee, the former Moorhead Spud was given a minor for hooking but Minnesota was no longer moving its feet effectively on the man advantage.  With still nearly 30 seconds of power play time left, the period expired with Minnesota holding a 1-0 lead. 

In the 2nd period the Senators started the period off with some good forechecking that had Minnesota on its heels early.  The Wild were chasing a bit in its own end, trying to use the glass to chip the puck out of the zone and out of danger.  Despite all the possession in the Minnesota end they were not creating much offense.  The Wild would counter and Nystrom would dangle around a defender and take the puck to the crease and Pascal Leclaire would make the stop in his crease were he pushed the puck over to Chris Campoli to carry the puck out of the Senators’ zone.  Minnesota had another great scoring chance just a few moments later Chuck Kobasew had a strong power move towards the crease where his forehand was stymied by Leclaire.  Perhaps seeing an idea that they liked, the Senators would try to carry the puck to the crease themselves as Milan Michalek used his frame to protect the biscuit and he lowered his shoulder drawing a hooking penalty on Brent Burns.  On the power play the Wild did a nice job to keep the Senators to the perimeter.  With Minnesota not providing much pressure near the points, it was only a matter of time before the Sens decided to take advantage of the Wild’s lack of defensive dilligence.  So it came as no surprise that youngster Erik Karlsson would wind up and blast a shot from the point that was stopped by Theodore, and then he would stop a point-blank range rebound chance by Mike Fisher and the puck would skitter out to the slot where it was gathered up by Daniel Alfreddson who fired a shot top corner stick side to tie the game at 1-1.  The Wild seemed a little out of it after the Senators’ goal, and they would continue to press the attack while Minnesota was in a haze.  The Senators continued to fire shots on goal, including a blast from Mike Foligno that would trickle off the glove hand of Theodore and strike the right post and out.   Minnesota was really looking dead, but a nice block of a shot by Antti Miettinen turned into an odd-man rush as the Wild had a well-timed line change where it quickly became a 3-on-1 where Mikko Koivu waited and dished the puck to Kyle Brodziak who buried it with ease by Leclaire.  However it wasn’t meant to be as the goal was reviewed and it was deemed that the Wild had too many men on the ice (thanks to a lazy change by Patrick O’Sullivan) and this would put the Senators on the power play.  This would immediately turn out to be a disastrous mistake as Ottawa scored just 7 seconds into the power play as Foligno rifled a wrist shot from the right faceoff dot that beat Theodore to give the Senators a 2-1 lead.  Minnesota clearly was not itself after the no-goal call and then the quick score by the Senators and the Wild were reacting to the puck rather than anticipating its movement and the play got rather sloppy.  The Wild were almost bumping into each other as they attempted to set up the breakout, where they worked the puck to Brodziak who tried to fire a shot high blocker side by Leclaire would shut the door on the attempt.  The Wild were still being careless and weak clearing attempt went on to the stick of Fisher who flung a quick shot on goal that was just barely denied by Theodore who was scrambling a bit in his crease.  Minnesota appeared content to just try to ride out the rest of the period without any more goals given up and their relaxed play nearly resulted in another goal given up as Theodore was nearly surprised by a blast from the point by Karlsson making the Wild almost feel lucky it was only trailing 2-1 going into the 3rd period. 

The Wild were trying topen things up early as they drove in with 3 forwards on the rush but the passes would miss their mark and the Sens would counter attack.  Ottawa would start to assert themselves physicaly as Chris Neil created some havoc with a big hit on Cam Barker that turned into a prolonged possession in the Wild zone as Chris Kelly was robbed by a nice leg pad save by Theodore.  The Wild would finally create some offensive pressure on some nice hustle by Marek Zidlicky who was stepping up to hold the zone but the Sens were able to get sticks into passing and shooting lanes and despite the time in the zone it did not turn into any shots on Leclaire.  The Senators would go back to its grind line of Peter Regin, Jesse Winchester and Chris Neil who were able to cycle the puck and keep Minnesota bottled in its own end eating up valuable seconds off the clock.  Minnesota tried switching up its forward combinations and a line of Mikko Koivu, Cal Clutterbuck and Eric Nystrom was able to start a cycle of their own but all they were able to create was a long range shot by Greg Zanon which was redirected wide of the goal.  With the level of anxiety increasing with each minute disappearing from the clock the Wild were starting to just throw the puck towards the goal and hoping for the best as Kobasew flung a shot towards the crease which caromed off the leg of Brian Lee and on goal which was stopped by a quick leg save by Leclaire before it was swept out of danger by Lee.  The Senators were staying well positioned, keeping their body between the Wild player and the goal forcing Minnesota to always try to shoot around or through them to put it on goal.  The Senators were content to sit back in a 1-2-2 and clogging up the neutral zone and forcing Minnesota to dump it in where their lack of speed is really exposed.  Minnesota’s inability to create any sort of attack would invite the Senators to strike and after Ottawa managed to break through the Wild’s forecheck it was Filip Kuba blasting a shot on goal that Theodore struggled to handle before it was carried out of danger by Brent Burns.  The Wild tried to counter attack with its top line and the team would manage to get Andrew Brunette set up behind the Senators goal and he would attempt to carry it out front and jam a backhander towards the left post that was shut down by Leclaire but he’d keep battling and was tripped up by the stick of Brian Lee to no call that drew the ire of the home crowd.  Minnesota would just try to crash the crease but the puck just didn’t reach Leclaire with any velocity and the puck was easily swept away before it could do any damage on the scoreboard.  The Wild tried to work a play off the rush and turnover in the neutral zone by Havlat would turn into a quick pass to Bouchard who tried to step around Karlsson where he’d let loose with a backhander on the fly that was gloved with ease by Leclaire.  In the closing minutes, you could hear the boo’s serenading down as the Senators killed time while the Wild floated around the ice unable to have any jump in their skates late.  The Wild pulled Theodore with a minute remaining and it was an exercise in futility as the Senators controlled the play and after a gracious miss by Alfredsson, and Ottawa would put the nail in the coffin as Chris Kelly notched the empty netter to seal a 3-1 victory as more boo’s cascaded down from the crowd. 

Jose Theodore played well enough for the Wild to win the game, giving up just 2 goals on 24 shots.  He had some tremendous saves but his defense didn’t always keep their feet moving and this allowed Ottawa to tie the game and then later hurt them for the go ahead goal.  Defensively the Wild were fairly solid except on the power play where Minnesota was way too relaxed giving the Senators plenty of time and space to do as they wished.  Two power play goals really crushed the Wild’s chances, and Minnesota’s penalty kill has been in free fall for this entire month.  Minnesota must figure that out the penalty kill because it simply cannot afford to give up power play goals with such a limited offensive attack as they have.  I am not sure what the Wild are gaining by giving Jared Spurgeon so many games.  For a defenseman who is supposed to be an offensive defenseman his speed is average, he’s small and he retreats so quickly to the red line that the Wild end up being unable to hold the zone and especially down the stretch that can’t happen. 

Offensively it was pretty embarassing.  Especially late the Wild looked tired and worse, uninspired.  No one seemed to have much jump in their skates late in the game and when the team needed an equalizer it sort of sputtered and died right before the 17,000+ in attendance.  A few years ago, the Wild had a horrendous game at home against the Senators and tonight was similar except it wasn’t a blowout it was a game where Minnesota imploded with a mental mistake by Patrick O’Sullivan who thought he was supposed to be out there but wasn’t to get the too many men penalty that erased a goal and then quickly turned into the game winner for the Senators.  It was painful to watch and the Wild showed very little resilency afterwards.  The rest of the 2nd period was embarassing as Minnesota would just sort of go through the motions and play like a team already beaten mentally and emotionally.  If a one goal lead is all anyone needs to get Minnesota to hang its head in shame in the 2nd period then the Wild are going to lose far more games than it will win the rest of the season.  On a night where a team honors a player who was all heart and soul and playing with tenacity the Wild showed the anger of a newborn kitten, far more likely to just cry and go to sleep than to scratch and claw to get back into the game. 

The Wild had another long layoff since its last game and the result was another disappointment where Minnesota looked like a team that had played the night before.  How can this team be so tired after 4 days off?  They looked winded, sore and down the stretch it was pathetic to watch them float around like some 40-and-over league team.  Wild Head Coach Todd Richards, “I like the way we started, obviously the turning point where we didn’t get the goal, especially after a not so great effort to weather the storm and get that and then not have it really hurt.”  I’d agree the Wild looked terrible all game long, and Richards seemed to be at a loss for words over the lack of energy at home.  Richards would also reveal that it was actually Kyle Brodziak that had made the mistake on the too many men penalty; that he should’ve changed when Mikko Koivu hit the ice causing the Wild to have a man too many.  Either way, it was a mistake that could’ve been prevented.  Minnesota used to be very dominant at home and this season the team seems far more likely to put up a paltry effort.  It won’t get any easier as they have two games against the Flames on Saturday (on Hockey Night in Canada) and Monday respectively.  Either way if the Wild feel they can give an effort like tonight they will get burned, and burned bad.   

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Martin Havlat, John Madden, Patrick O’Sullivan, Eric Nystrom, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak, Brad Staubitz, Chuck Kobasew, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cam Barker, Jared Spurgeon, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz and Brent Burns.  Niklas Backstrom backed up Jose Theodore.  Clayton Stoner was the lone healthy scratch.  Matt Cullen is out with an upper body injury, while Guillaume Latendresse is still trying to heal from surgery he received over a month ago. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey were: 1st Star Pascal Leclaire, 2nd Star Erik Karlsson, 3rd Star Martin Havlat

~ Tonight’s attendance was 17,366 at Xcel Energy Center which is sad the team couldn’t sellout on a night meant to honor Dino Ciccarelli. 

~ The Houston Aeros have been a little busy with some mid-week action as they managed to earn a 3-1 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs Tuesday but couldn’t find the same magic the next night in a 5-2 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins.  In Tuesday’s game, the Aeros overcame a 1-0 deficit as they rallied back with 3 unanswered to earn the victory.  Robbie Earl scored his 8th goal of the season and youngster Brandon Buck tallied his first goal as a member of the Aeros in what would prove to be the game winner.  Fresh off his call up from the Wild, Warren Peters added an empty netter for the coup de grace as the Bulldogs tried to press for a tie late in the game.  Matthew Hackett made 24 saves, many of them of the spectacular variety late in the game to earn the big victory.  In Wednesday’s game, the Aeros would find themselves in a hole early as Anton Khudobin gave up 2 goals on just 3 shots to start the game to prompt Aeros Head Coach Mike Yeo to send Hackett out there to save the night but it wasn’t meant to be.  Hackett played very well, giving up just 2 goals on 26 shots but the Aeros could simply not find enough offense to overcome the deficit, despite goals from Cody Almond and Colton Gillies early in the 3rd period before the Griffins’ Brent Raedeke sealed it with an empty netter to shoot down Houston 5-2.   The Aeros are currently 16-12-1-2 which is good for 5th place in the West Division and while that may not sound too bad, if the season was to end today the Aeros would be out of the playoffs.  Houston now travels to Winnipeg to take on the Manitoba Moose Friday night. 

Wild Prospect Report:

LW – Kris Foucault ~ Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

2010-11 Stats:  28GP 12G 11A = 23pts  31 PIM’s -6

Perhaps he’s finally getting it.  Meaning, perhaps Kris Foucault is finally understanding his role on the Calgary Hitmen is to lead the team offensively each night.  In what has been a challenging season for the Hitmen, Foucault is starting to establish a bit more consistency which is something that has eluded him throughout most of his junior career.  The leading scorer for Calgary has been finding his way onto the scoresheet with more frequency and coincidentally the Hitmen have had a bit more success as of late.  However let’s not just say he’s suddenly an offensive force of nature, but he is managing to play a greater role in the outcome of games which is something he’s always had the potential for but never seemed to be able to sustain it for long.  After managing to get on the score sheet the last four games, last night Foucault was scoreless and a -1 with 4 penalty minutes for the types of infractions that are very preventable in a high sticking and slashing minors.  The skills are there, the talent is there and if he can establish some consistency and continue to lead the Hitmen in scoring for the rest of the season then the future can look rather bright for the Calgary-native. 

High School Boys Hockey Report:

Wayzata Trojans (Lake Conference) ~ 7-0 record

Most Recent Game: Wayzata 5, Apple Valley 3

Class 2A’s Top ranked team according to Minnesota Hockey Hub is living up to expectations so far as they are off to a perfect 7-0 start.  That record isn’t from playing slouches either, which includes wins over other class 2A powerhouses such as #3 ranked Edina, #5 Duluth East and #6 Apple Valley.  The Trojans are led by the dynamic forward duo of senior Tony Cameranesi (5 goals, 19 points in 7 games) and junior Mario Lucia (10 goals, 18 points in 7 games), the son of Golden Gophers Men’s Hockey Coach Don Lucia.  With Cameranesi as the playmaker and Lucia as the triggerman the combo may be one of the most lethal duos in the state.  However to say they’re just a two horse team ignores the fact that the Trojans are quite stifling defensively, and senior goaltender Andrew McIntyre is pretty danged good between the pipes sporing a 1.66 goals against average and a .933% save percentage.  Senior defenseman D.J. Jones who already has 11 assists this season is the offensive-minded blueliner that can press the play and put the opposition on their heels.  Wayzata has another tough challenge this evening when Bloomington Jefferson comes to town this evening for what will be another good early season test.  So far the Trojans have aced every test they have had and in their minds are simply building off a 21-3-3 season a year ago. 

Hermantown Hawks (Lake Superior Conference) ~ 4-0 record

Most Recent Game: Hermantown 5, Superior (WI) 3

The Hermantown Hawks have been a Class A powerhouse the last few years and this season looks to be no different as Head Coach Bruce Plante has his team out to a 4-0 start.  The Hawks have been the runner up the last few seasons, but will be looking to change that.  While their schedule has not been the toughest in the State, having only two semi-quality opponents thus far in Hopkins and perennial Wisconsin State tournament contender Superior the Hawks bring a team full of post-season experience to the ice each night.  Led by senior forward Garrett Skrbich (7 goals, 14 points in 4 games) and Jared Thomas (6 goals, 10 points in 4 games) Hermantown is not going to scare you with tremendous scoring depth, but what they lack in offensive punch they make up for it in great skating and solid team defense.  They roll four lines and score by committee in their bottom 3 trios which gives them enough offensive punch to be difficult to shut down.  The Hawks split the duties between the pipes as senior Connor Lucas and Sophomore Chad Illikainen both have very similar goaltending numbers.  Hermantown will get a good test this Saturday when Rogers makes the trip up north, as they too are a perfect 4-0 going into the game. 

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!