Going into this game one could say that Wild fans feel a little bit more cynical with each game. A great example of this is a Wild fan I follow via Twitter @SpaethCo where he states, "It's going to be extremely hard to find the motivation to fight traffic in St Paul to go to the game today." In all honesty, this is one of his milder comments about the team as of late. Most games, you could say he and many other Wild fans are actually hoping this team continues to lose. To give you an example, when a Wild player scores a goal (a rare occasion these days) he questions whether that player gets the 'big picture.' If you want to join in on this cynical discussion via Twitter, just use the hash tag #divefortop5. These fans love the team, but realize this season is a lost cause and they hope the team's failure will be rewarded with a prime pick in the 2012 Entry Draft. With the team about to extend its playoff drought to 4 seasons it clearly is a reflection that the team's impressive core of young talent is where its real future lies. The Hockey News' latest Future Watch issue would seem to agree that Minnesota's long-term future looks very promising. Even the Hockey News' whiner-in-chief Ken Campbell gives Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher and Assistant GM Brent Flahr a ton of credit for making savvy selections that give Minnesota a lot of options in the next few years at virtually all positions. All I can say is we (wild fans and the organization) hope the hype comes true. It may not mean the Wild will have their own Stanley Cup parade in the next few seasons, but considering the team's impressive pool hasn't been stocked quite in the same manner as Pittsburgh or Chicago (more recently I'd throw Edmonton into this group) where they were so bad for so long they got to make the pick of the draft each year which ultimately gave them a big core of blue chip prospects to reconstruct their team around its been an impressive turn around. If anything, it tells us just how aloof and horrible our previous drafting regime of Tommy Thompson was, where the team spent 5 drafts in a row missing in the first round from 2004-2008. Tommy's regime not only missed in the 1st round but failed to do much in any of the other rounds as well and the result was a weak and hollowed out prospect pool that gave the team almost no push for players developed internally which really are the fuel of any quality franchise.
Can we just skip ahead to the 2012 NHL Entry draft already? Please?!?!
The Carolina Hurricanes find themselves in a similar situation. They've struggled terribly the last few seasons and are hoping its young players can eventually restore the club to even a playoff contender status. The Hurricanes' prospect pool isn't quite as loaded as Minnesota's but they do have some promising youngsters in offensive defenseman Ryan Murphy, skilled forward Zac Dalpe, mobile two-way college-trained blueliners Brian Dumoulin and Golden Gopher Mark Alt. So which team would really want to win this game today? Points earned by either club will only serve to give themselves a worse position in the draft, so do you really want to pull a Minnesota Vikings and earn a worthless victory and find yourself out of the Top 5? If the season ended today, the Wild would have the #4 pick in the draft providing that the draft lottery wouldn't find a way to submarine that effort (and we all know Minnesota pro sports history of the 'lottery' has gone). So instead of my normal question of whether the Wild will win today, perhaps the bigger question is, do we want the Wild to win today or are we focusing our eyes on the 'big picture'?
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It had such a promising start, but such a tumultuous and pathetic ending. The game really personified the 2011-12 season for the Wild. Teasing fans with some goals that were the result of hard work as well as one which was simply a well-executed play. With Erik Christensen's power play goal putting the Wild up 3-1, it looked as though the Wild were well on their way to earning a victory in front of a home crowd that has been starving for a win in the Xcel Energy Center. Yet, it was simply a tease. Carolina would cut the Wild lead to one on a play that in itself could only have been scored on the team with the worst record since the All Star break as lost battle along the boards resulted in the puck bouncing and sliding towards Matt Hackett who dropped to make the save and the puck caromed off the skate of Devin Setoguchi and slid over the goal line before Nate Prosser could get there. The speed of the puck was about as fast as your average shot in curling, as the puck moved just fast enough to elude the defense and goalie. The flukey goal obliterated the confidence the Wild had built up and you could sense a change in momentum. The 3rd period started out with the Wild looking flat and tired; much the same way the Golden Gophers looked in the 3rd period against North Dakota Friday night and an errily similar outcome was about to unfold. With the Wild looking awfully tired for a team that hadn't played since Tuesday, the Hurricanes would get things rolling on a long pass by Drayson Bowman who found Brandon Sutter flying through the neutral zone and he raced by a flat footed Jared Spurgeon for a break away and then beat Hackett with ease on a backhander to tie the game at 3-3. The goal only drew a mild chorus of boo's from the home crowd who has come to expect failure from this Wild team the last month or so. Carolina would take the lead less than a minute later as Tim Brent ripped a slap shot that threaded through about 3 different pairs of legs to beat Hackett cleanly and again another paltry response from the home crowd. Did the fact Carolina just scored to take the lead light a fire underneath the Wild to answer back with a goal of their own? Nope.
The Wild calmly went about the next few minutes as if they were simply hoping to defend a one-goal deficit. No urgency, without any kind of "nothing to lose" care free attitude but rather one of acceptance over its fate. The acceptance that this is the 2011-12 Wild and they're not going anywhere so why bother to try to change that now type of indifferent response. Minnesota would try to keep up appearances, a few weak shots taken from long range as well as a late-game time out to try to plan how they were going to make one last push for the equalizer. With about 1:30 left to go, the team pulled Hackett and it didn't get any better as Carolina cleared the zone and as Tom Gilbert retreated to retrieve the puck he tried to kick the puck to his stick but instead got too much on it and the puck made its way into the empty net before a frantic Gilbert could sweep it away, 5-3 Hurricanes. The Hurricanes' were sitting on their bench, smiling and enjoying a rare victory in what has been a season of misery for themselves. I am sure many of them wish they normally played an opponent so adept at self-destructing as the Wild have been as of late.
Do you have a youngster that hasn't registered his first NHL goal yet? We can help. Do you have a guy who has been on a bit of a scoring drought? No problem, we won't let you down. Goaltender struggling with his confidence? He'll feel like a Vezina trophy winner after he plays us. Perhaps that's being a little too harsh, but the basic point is the Wild have been wonderful for providing good feelings for our opponents, but they've been horrible to its own fans. At home, the Wild have strung together a series of lousy efforts that has more or less left Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo little to say beyond "we can't accept this" at his post-game press conference beyond "disappointing." Why? He's said it all, already. Poor effort, lack of urgency, a need for players to step up their game; its all been said before multiple times.
You're right, we can't accept this if your goal is to win. Yet should that be their goal? The season is lost. With some of the other action of the day the Wild are now 27th in the league in the standings. Its in prime position to possibly get a chance at winning the draft lottery. The team certainly heard some boo's as the game ended in a 5-3 loss Saturday (as they should) but privately there are quite a few fans who are cheering every Wild loss. There are quite a few Wild fans that are relishing the failure and even looking for other colossal failures in pro sports to compare it to. As of right now, the Wild will be the first team in NHL history to have been in 1st place in the league in early December and fail to qualify for the post-season. That sure is something you want to tag to your list of accomplishments huh?
One thing is for sure, I'm glad I'm not selling Wild season tickets right now. No matter what you can take from the Hockey News' Future Watch issue, do you really think most of those fans who have been there for this train wreck of a finish are going to want to shell out a big chunk of their hard-earned money? I would think it would be a very tough sell. I have many friends who are season ticket holders and many of them really struggled to decide whether they wanted to buy tickets last year, but after yet another failed season and pathetic efforts at home you really think that will make that decision any easier? Fans are not going to accept any more excuses from this franchise, and by all rights they shouldn't. They've put with enough. The end of the season cannot arrive soon enough.
~ The Wild roster this afternoon are as follows: Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Stephane Veilleux, Warren Peters, Jed Ortmeyer, Erik Christensen, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Darroll Powe, Nick Palmieri, Clayton Stoner, Tom Gilbert, Steven Kampfer, Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon. Josh Harding backed up Matt Hackett. Justin Falk, Niklas Backstrom, Kurtis Foster and Matt Kassian were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Drayson Bowman, 2nd Star Kyle Brodziak, 3rd Star Brandon Sutter
~ Attendance was 18,394 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate the Golden Gophers women's hockey team on being crowned 2012 National Champions after defeating the Wisconsin Badgers 4-2 on Sunday in Duluth.
~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate the North Dakota Fighting Sioux on winning the Broadmoor Trophy as WCHA champions this weekend.
Wild Prospect Report:
Denver Pioneers' Jason Zucker
LW - Jason Zucker (Denver, WCHA) ~ The WCHA Frozen Five is full effect this weekend in St. Paul and that means some dramatic finishes especially as NCAA is likely to reduce the amount of WCHA clubs that make the big tournament. Denver is in a fight for its life and on Thursday they brought the first major thrill as super sophomore Jason Zucker delivered in overtime to lift the Pioneers to a 3-2 victory over Michigan Tech. The former captain of Team USA added another goal on Friday afternoon in a dramatic 4-3 double-overtime win over Minnesota-Duluth. The Las Vegas-native has 22 goals, 46 points and 36 penalty minutes in 36 games.
D - Nick Seeler (Des Moines, USHL) ~ The former Eden Prairie star has already learned a new nuance that is normally felt in the pro's as he was traded from Muskegon to Des Moines. Seeler has enjoyed an increase in ice time and he has had a solid first season in the USHL. In just 15 games with the Buccaneers, Seeler has 2 goals and 9 points. This brings Seeler's totals to 4 goals, 24 points and 59 penalty minutes in 47 games.
LW - Brett Bulmer (Kelowna, WHL) ~ Bulmer has thrived as the offensive workhorse for the Rockets, and on Wednesday he continued his dominance for Kelowna. The Prince George-native had a goal and an assist against Everett. The 6'3" 193lbs power forward has 33 goals, 59 points and 93 penalty minutes in 51 games.
C / RW - Charlie Coyle (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ Saint John just made QMJHL history by being the first club to win 3-straight regular season league titles after they were victorious 6-1 over Halifax. Weymouth, Massachusetts-native chipped in a goal and an assist in the victory. The 6'2", 207lbs power forward has 13 goals, 33 points and 6 PIM's in 21 games for the Sea Dogs this season.