On May 14th, 2011 the State of Hockey was shocked to hear of the passing of its much-loved former enforcer Derek Boogaard. It was later concluded he died due to consuming both prescription pain killers (which he had an addiction for) and alcohol. While the circumstances of his death may have tarnished his reputation to some people, virtually anyone who knew him considered him a kind and (yes) a gentle soul. Sure, his job in hockey was the role of the enforcer which meant he was the one teams looked to send their toughest player to square off against him. This was a task not for the feint of heart, and everytime he dropped the gloves his opponents knew just how devastating he could be. His complete annihilation of his opponents is what quickly made Derek Boogaard the most feared fighter in the NHL when he broke into the league in 2005-06 after being drafted by the Wild in the 7th round in (202nd Overall) in 2001. Even though he was a fighter, his path to the NHL was never a certain one; after all when your best attribute is your ability to fight you will have more than enough challenges as you work your way up the minors and Boogaard did just that. The lesser told story about Boogaard was how despite understanding that his primary role was as a fighter he understood that even though he was 6'7" 260lbs (a weight that seemed to fluctuate from 240lbs-270lbs depending on how much he destroyed an opposing fighter) he needed to improve his skating if he ever wished to make it to the NHL. So while he was starting his professional career with the now-defunct Louisiana Ice Gators (ECHL) he worked tirelessly to be a better skater. So there he was working on being a better hockey player while taking on anyone who dared challenge him, and the lower the level of the minors the more the fights (and thus more fighters) he had to engage in. Each time he dropped the gloves he knew if he got totally destroyed his NHL dreams may end right then and there. I doubt many people that are reading this have jobs where you may literally have to fight to keep it, yet that's what Boogaard had to do, amassing over 600 penalty minutes the next 3 years in one season in Louisiana and two more in Houston before earning that big call up to the Wild. After some absolutely devastating fights in his first two seasons "the Boogeyman" rarely was challenged and in some ways you could say he was almost too good at his job. Being so feared that he diminished his role with the team, but he was and still is a huge fan favorite in the State of Hockey. Before tonight's game, the Wild will recognize the life of Derek Boogaard and perhaps its only fitting that we all share our own favorite memory of "the Boogeyman" to those we know who appreciated what he did with the team and his life in general.
A team Boogaard used to terrorize was the Calgary Flames. Early on, before Boogaard's arrival the Flames often relished the opportunity to take physical liberties with the Wild players. Not to offer any sort of slight of Boogaard's predecessor as the Wild's primary policeman in Matt Johnson who himself was very effective in that role, but he did not seem to carry that same aura of instant retribution as #24. Boogaard loved to dish out big body checks as much as he liked to throw hay-makers and his obliterating checks on Stephane Yelle, Brandon Prust and Rene Bourque prompted the Flames to try to dress a few heavyweights of their own to answer the call. First there was Brian McGrattan, who had some outstanding slug fests with Boogaard both with Calgary and Ottawa but each time Boogaard came away with a clear victory. Next was Andre Roy who tried his best, only to become a big ugly punching bag for Boogaard. Calgary had more success with Eric Godard, who got the best of Boogaard in their first fight but Boogaard would clash again with Godard and it was the Wild enforcer with a decisive advantage. It certainly was a huge sign of respect to Boogaard that clubs like Calgary (McGrattan, Roy, Godard), Edmonton (Steve MacIntyre), Colorado (Scott Parker, David Koci) intentionally made roster moves to try to address the "Boogaard problem" but none of these clubs found the answer they were looking for until Minnesota decided to let him go in the summer of 2010 where he played a single season with the New York Rangers. The Wild replaced Boogaard's role with Brad Staubitz, a cruiser weight enforcer. While Staubitz has not hesitated to be a player to drop the gloves, he doesn't hold a candle to Boogaard in terms of sheer intimidation. The last time the Wild played the Flames, it was a non-fighter in Calgary-native Nick Johnson that got into a fight with Wild killer and Flames' captain Jarome Iginla that drew controversy when Johnson was given a match penalty for an alleged head butt. The league did not levy any suspension against Johnson which more or less was vindication for him but I have little doubt tonight's game could be a bit chippy. After all, its against divisional opponents who both feel they have a lot to prove. So will the Wild answer the bell the way Boogaard did for so many years or will they turtle like an alleged tough guy in current Edmonton forward Darcy Hordichuk?
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1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota was moving its feet well to start the 1st period, as the top line worked efficiently to set up a blast from the point by Jared Spurgeon that was redirected by Dany Heatley but it never made it on goal however it did bring about the first penalty of the game. Calgary's Mark Giordano was tagged with a high sticking call as he got his lumber into the face of Devin Setoguchi. Minnesota's power play struggled to get set up in the Flames' zone, but they'd turn it around after a minute of futility. A subtle play near the point where Pierre-Marc Bouchard tried to dump the puck deep into the zone was blocked just inside the Calgary zone but a smart little play by Dany Heatley to shovel the puck to Mikko Koivu who wasted little time before threading a diagonal pass to Cal Clutterbuck who made a nice patient move to deke around a sprawling Miikka Kiprusoff for an easy backhander to give the Wild a 1-0 lead. A few minutes later, the Flames would tied the game as Mark Giordano would pick up a puck along the boards and he'd take a shot that was about parallel with the goal line that struck the back of Niklas Backstrom's leg and in. It was a smart play by Giordano to take the only shot that was available to him and there was a little chirping after the play between Matt Cullen, Clayton Stoner and the Flames' Curtis Glencross. The Flames would have a chance to take the lead a few moments later when a turnover in the neutral zone turned into a 2-on-1 for Blake Comeau and Matt Stajan, and it was Backstrom coming up with a huge save on Stajan to keep the game tied at one goal apiece. Yet the stalemate would not remain for long as a few moments later, it was Lee Stempniak racing around Marco Scandella for a quick wrist shot that beat Backstrom to give Calgary a 2-1 lead. Minnesota would answer back fairly quickly as the energy line of Darroll Powe, Nick Johnson and Kyle Brodziak had an outstanding shift as Johnson was crushed along the boards by Derek Smith but as Calgary tried to clear the zone Brodziak would hold the line and then dish it over to Johnson who wound up and hammered a slapper that beat Kiprusoff to tie the game at 2-2. Again, the stalemate was extremely short-lived as just 40 seconds later rookie T.J. Brodie found a little space along the right side and he unleashed a backhander that beat Backstrom 5-hole to Calgary a 3-2 lead. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo had seen enough, and he pulled Backstrom and sent out Josh Harding. Minnesota did not help its cause by taking a penalty just a few seconds after the center ice faceoff as Clutterbuck was sent to the box for high sticking. On the Calgary power play, the Wild's penalty killers pressured the puck carrier effectively to keep the Flames power play from sustaining any sort of momentum on the man advantage. The tensions were starting to rise and after a slow shot by Olli Jokinen that was stopped by Harding, Glencross and Stoner would exchange words and a few shoves and both players ended up sitting for 2 minutes. With the ice a bit more open 4-on-4 the Flames nearly added to its lead as Alex Tanguay set up Jay Bouwmeester for a wicked one-timer that was stopped on a beauty of a save by Harding. The Wild were downright careless at times as Harding was caught up behind the Wild goal by Mikael Backlund, and with the Wild goaltender not between the pipes the puck was picked up by Justin Falk who attempted an ill-advised pass that nearly was intercepted cleanly by Backlund but fortunately he wasn't ready to pounce on what should've been an easy giveaway goal. Minnesota's defense was making some very sloppy plays with the puck, preferring to just chip the puck out of the zone but not with a lot of force and thus the Flames were able to keep the Wild bottled up in their zone. The Wild had one last quality scoring chance late in the period as Marco Scandella stepped into a slap shot that Kiprusoff just got a piece off to deflect it up and over the goal. Overall it was not a good period for the Wild. Too many poor decisions with the puck, and some poor goaltending dug themselves a hole in this game. While 3-2 is certainly salvageable, Minnesota is not the kind of team you want to see try to see compete in a high scoring game. Especially if you're being out shot 15-7 as the Wild were.
2nd Period Thoughts: The period would start with a scoring chance for each club as Minnesota raced into the Wild zone as Nick Schultz uncorked a slapper that missed wide and as the puck caromed off the boards it turned into a 3-on-2 for the Flames. Olli Jokinen would feed a pass over to Alex Tanguay who hammered a shot that was steered wide by Harding. The pace of play was fast, end to end that may make those fans wishing for a return to the 1980's happy but as Brad Staubitz outlegged T.J. Brodie for a puck he fired a quick shot that was stopped by Kiprusoff and the Flames would counter attack as Rene Bourque ripped a shot from the slot that was absorbed by Harding. Minnesota would give the Flames their 2nd power play of the game as Warren Peters was tagged with a phantom slashing call. The Flames worked the puck down low to a wide open Jarome Iginla but he was unable to lift a shot over Harding and Minnesota's penalty killers kept the Wild within one. After the failed Flames power play, the pace resumed to its furious tempo. The Wild and Flames would trade rushes with one another, and at times Minnesota's defense was again guilty of making foolish plays with the puck as a blind backhand attempt to clear the zone by Clayton Stoner was stolen by Backlund which eventually turned into a shot on goal for Calgary. The Flames were making some miscues of their own as a blown defensive coverage gave Kyle Brodziak some space and he wired a slap shot by Kiprusoff but his shot would strike the crossbar and out. In a battle of 4th lines, the Flames were able to keep Minnesota bottled up in its own zone but despite winning the battle of territory they were unable to muster much in the way of shots on goal. The 1st line also found itself being out hustled to the loose pucks and you could sense the anxiety in the crowd beginning to build as they struggled to finally relieve the pressure in the Minnesota zone. The Wild would get a bit of a break as Rene Bourque tripped up Justin Falk deep in the Minnesota end. Minnesota's power play was a bit scrambling but with some good puck support they were able to recover from their mistakes to generate some good offensive pressure. A great example was early in the man advantage as Nate Prosser lost an edge and fell but Matt Cullen was there to cover up his mistake and Minnesota would re-establish itself in the Calgary zone and Prosser would fan on a shot and then flutter an attempt wide of the mark. But the puck would be gathered up by Cullen who threaded a quick pass to Devin Setoguchi who snapped a shot off that missed high. The next minute of the power play was ugly and disconnected as they couldn't even get set up in the offensive zone and the home crowd would chime in with some boo's over its ineffectiveness. Just after the failed power play, Minnesota's 2nd line would show some life as Pierre-Marc Bouchard made some pretty moves to enter the zone and Cal Clutterbuck would pick up the biscuit and deliver a great cross-ice pass that was redirected towards the goal by Cullen who missed wide right. A few moments later, the Wild had another great opportunity as Cullen set up Dany Heatley who was skating down the slot but his backhander was stonewalled by Kiprusoff. Minnesota started to use the stretch pass to catch the Flames in transition and a great long range pass by Marco Scandella to Brodziak who tried to power his way to the crease but he was held up by Smith for an obvious penalty. On the power play the Wild were a bit disorganized at times as they had a difficult time of getting set up in the offensive zone but they still managed a few shots on goal but nothing that was real threatening. Minnesota would get real lucky when Dany Heatley was not called for a slash and in the same sequence Lee Stempniak was given a holding the stick penalty. Again, it was another ugly period where Minnesota had lots of lapses defensively. However despite now being outshot 26-17 the Wild still only trailed by a goal, 3-2.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota's challenge would get that much worse as a bad decision by Harding to wander from his crease and Alex Tanguay picked up a loose puck for an easy goal to extend the Flames' lead to two, 4-2. The Wild woudl try to answer back and the 2nd line had a great shift where they won the races to the loose biscuit time after time but all they could manage was a few frantic shots on goal that never really made it on goal. Minnesota's struggles continued as Glencross gathered up the puck down low and he made a nice pass to the top of the crease where Iginla banged it home to give Calgary a 5-2 lead. After Iginla's goal a member of the Wild bench would foolishly would squirt a watter bottle at the Flames' captain earning Minnesota an unsportsmanlike penalty. You could sense the frustration continuing to grow with the Wild as each play seemed to create a shoving match as Minnesota's lack of discipline was a problem for the 2nd game in a row. The Wild looked pretty sloppy and lacking in focus over the next few minutes of the period. Mental mistakes continued to pile up, even a simple entry into the offensive zone was thwarted by a lack of focus and that little extra move that yields an offsides call. The Wild appeared to be sleepwalking and despite trailing they couldn't manage to even register a shot on goal to save their lives as the time continued to evaporate off the clock. Lee Stempniak would ring a shot off the pipe in the closing minutes and the Flames nearly added to their lead as Matt Stajan would back into Harding as Tim Jackman jammed a puck home but it was immediately waived off. It wasn't a good call as Harding was actually knocked over by his own player and Minnesota would earn a power play as Stajan was sent to the sin bin for goaltender interference. On the power play, the Wild struggled to create even a few token chances in the closing seconds and the look of disgust from Mike Yeo said it all as the Wild fell 5-2 to the Flames.
Goaltending stung the Wild early as Backstrom seemed to be in a different place right from the start as he gave up 3 goals on 8 shots. I am not sure his personal issues has anything to do with it; but you can bet a quick outing like that will only ramp up that speculation in the next few days. Josh Harding was relatively solid in relief (making 25 saves) but he killed any chance Minnesota had to come back in this game with his ill-advised sojourn from his goal in the 3rd period. Defensively it was another ugly night. Not only were Minnesota's defenseman again not physical enough, they made a number of terrible decisions with the puck that turned into scoring chances for the Flames. Justin Falk and Nate Prosser are probably feeling pretty nervous right now as they know the team wants to get Mike Lundin into the lineup which would mean one of them will be the scratch and possibly be sent down to the minors or put on waivers. The poise that was such a trademark of Minnesota's young defense has completely faded away into confusion and worse yet, hesitant play.
Offensively, the Wild still aren't getting nearly enough out of its top line. 6 shots from Setoguchi, Heatley and Koivu isn't nearly enough. Minnesota as a whole wasn't putting nearly enough shots on goal, and thus making Kiprusoff's job fairly easy as he stopped 19 shots for the win. Only the 2nd line seemed to be able to create chances offensively and while its good to see them still have jump and creativity they can't be the only line being dangerous on a consistent basis. The energy line still had some great hustle but they shouldn't have to score each night for the Wild to have a chance. Its time for the 1st line to step up their game and start lighting the lamp. Its pretty tough to win if you can only manage about 2 goals per game.
Minnesota took a big step backwards tonight. They looked unfocused, were extremely sloppy in their execution of simple plays and the Flames managed to prompt the Wild to take some undisciplined penalties. Wild captain Mikko Koivu, who normally avoids tough questions told reporters, "This can't happen again." Head Coach Mike Yeo didn't mince words, "I am not sure we can play worse than that, but I guess its something to fall back on. We need to prepared to play this game and mentally we were unable to deal with our mistakes and it unraveled after that." He stressed that Minnesota's failure was "between the ears" not about what happened on the ice. The 2nd straight loss has Minnesota asking a lot of questions, and its clear that he feels some of the players got complacent due to the team's recent success. As they say adversity reveals character and we'll see what kind of character this team has tomorrow night against the Lightning.
~ Wild roster this early evening is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck, Warren Peters, Brad Staubitz, Colton Gillies, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Darroll Powe, Nick Schultz, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk, Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella. Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom shared duties between the pipes. Mike Lundin was the lone healthy scratch for the Wild.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Jarome Iginla, 2nd Star Lee Stempniak, 3rd Star Cal Clutterbuck
~ Attendance was 16,864 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Kudos to the Wild organization for what was a very heart-felt pre-game ceremony for Derek Boogaard and attempting to turn his tragedy into a positive by supporting the hockey-focused charity of Defending the Blueline. If you want to learn more about this charity, click on this link here.
Wild Prospect Report:
D - Sean Lorenz (Notre Dame, CCHA) ~ The Littleton, Colorado-native is having a strong senior season thus far playing on the Fighting Irish's 2nd defensive pairing along with junior blueliner Sam Calabrese. Lorenz chipped in 2 assists in the series split against the Lake Superior State Lakers this weekend. So far the former U.S. National Development Team product has 2 goals and 8 points in 15 games.
C - Erik Haula (Minnesota, WCHA) ~ The Pori, Finland-native's scoring pace has slowed over the last few weeks, but he is still 2nd on the Golden Gophers in scoring with 8 goals and 21 points in 16 games. Haula chipped in a goal in Saturday night's 4-4 tie against the Michigan State Spartans.
LW - Jason Zucker (Denver, WCHA) ~ The Las Vegas, Nevada-native doesn't seem to be providing the high drama he did as a freshman, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been consistent at getting his name on the score sheet. Currently, Zucker is 2nd on the Pioneers in scoring with 6 goals and 17 points in 13 games. While playing in this holiday weekend's Denver Cup, Zucker contributed two assists in two games against the Princeton Tigers and Miami (OH) Redhawks respectively.
LW - Brett Bulmer (Kelowna, WHL) ~ Bulmer has had some heavy lifting to do since being returned to the Rockets after an 8-game stint with the Wild. That being trying to buoy the Rockets' lagging season, and even if hasn't been able to make Kelowna into an instant winner it isn't for a lack of trying. On Saturday evening in a 6-5 win over the Victoria Royals, Bulmer netted a hat trick, giving him 6 goals and 15 points in 10 games this season and a solid +6 rating on a team that does not possess a ton of firepower.
C - Zack Phillips (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ I remember hearing a sports broadcaster (sorry, I can't remember which one) utter the phrase, "you can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him" which really is an apt way to describe Zack Phillips while playing in the QMJHL so far this 2011-12 season. The Fredericton, New Brunswick-native extended his scoring streak to an incredible 19 games after scoring an empty netter and adding an assist in a 4-1 Sea Dogs victory over Cape Breton. The Sea Dogs captain currently has 16 goals, 46 points, 17 PIM's and is a +28 in 26 games this season.
F - Mario Lucia (Penticton, BCHL) ~ Not to be forgotten, Wild 2nd round pick from 2011 Mario Lucia continues to have a strong season in the BCHL as he prepares to sharpen his game before joining Notre Dame next fall. Lucia had a goal and two helpers in the Penticton Vees' 9-0 demolition of the Chilliwack Chiefs on Saturday night. The former Wayzata star is 2nd on the Vees in scoring with 17 goals and 45 points in 22 games.
Wild Prospect Camp Tryout Report:
Often times we forget about these young players to whom we give a tryout to, but I think many actually might be worth an additional look or consideration for a contract.
C - Kyle Thomas (Norwich, ECAC Div. III) ~ The speedster from Division III's Norwich Cadets continues his blazing pace for 2011-12 as he records a goal and two helpers in their victory over Elmira College. The Waltham, Massachusetts-native has 6 goals and 15 points in just 6 games for the undefeated Cadets this season.
RW - Dylan Willick (Kamloops, WHL) ~ The hard working winger's tryout experience with the Wild garnered headlines back at home in Kamloops and he has returned to the WHL to play a dominant role with the Blazers this season. Willick has mainly embraced goal scoring as he has 14 goals and just 4 helpers in 24 games this season. The Prince George, British Columbia-native tallied a goal in the Blazers' 8-2 thrashing of the Seattle Thunderbirds Saturday night.
Minnesota Boys High School Hockey Report:
Elk River 2, Champlin Park 1
The Elk River Elks defeated the Champlin Park Rebels in their 2011-12 season opener at Elk River Arena on Saturday night. The Elks were dominant right from the drop of the puck, controlling the play with a strong forecheck and a willingness to take every opportunity to shoot the puck. Champlin Park's Tyler Nelson found himself under siege quickly but it was penalties by both sides that had set the tone of the 1st period. Being on the man advantage, the Rebels were able to finally get out of their zone and put some shots on goal. Elk River would strike first on the man advantage as Blake Hillman threaded a cross-ice pass to a waiting Andrew Zerban who wasted little time before firing a wrist shot that beat Nelson cleanly to give the Elks a 1-0 lead. In the 2nd period, a lapse in judgement by the Elks defense turned into an odd-man rush for the Rebels as they bore down on Anders Franke in a 2-on-1, and Franke managed to stop the first shot but senior Matt Blaeser pounced on the rebound to tie the game at 1-1. In the 3rd period, Elk River's puck possession and stifling forecheck steadily wore down the Rebels. The Elks would score the game winner in the final stanza as senior Ryan Heid buried a rebound after a wicked slap shot from the point by Nick McCormack. The score was not indicative of the overall game as Elk River dominated most of the game, out shooting the defensive minded Rebels 45 shots to 26.