Perhaps its a sign of my age or my generation but beyond my love of sports, I have always loved (and will continue to do so) video games. Last week, after listening to the best hockey talk radio program in the State of Hockey in KFAN's Beyond the Pond I started to listen to Saturday's with Sauce hosted by KFAN's Meat Sauce (Paul Lambert). Normally they talk about the NFL (yawn, sorry Super Bowl fans I am not all excited about it) or worse the NBA. Yet last week they decided to dedicate a show to video games and the hosts composed their own top 20 lists of the best cartridge-based titles of all time. It was an instant trip down memory lane and I immediately composed a list of my 20 favorite Cartridge based video games of all time. That would be games made for the following systems; Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis and N64. I immediately set to work to thinking of a list; so just for this article I'm going to provide my list. I welcome you to provide your own list in the comment section below. Admittedly original Sega system fans, I never had one so I don't have any games on the list (not even Shinobi).
20. Starfox (SNES)
19. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (N64)
18. Pitfall (Atari 2600)
17. River Raid (Atari 2600)
16. Ice Hockey (NES)
15. Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega Genesis)
14. Street Fighter II Turbo (SNES)
13. Skitchin' (Sega Genesis)
12. Mario Kart 64 (N64)
11. Mike Tyson's Punch Out (NES)
10. Pac-Man (Atari 2600)
9. Paperboy (NES)
8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (SNES)
7. NBA Jam (SNES)
6. Blades of Steel (NES)
5. 007 Goldeneye (N64)
4. The Legend of Zelda (NES)
3. NHL '94 (SNES)
2. Contra (NES)
1. Tecmo Super Bowl (NES)
So what does this have to do with the Wild? I love the Electronic Arts' NHL games, and until the most recent lockout I had purchased every 'NHL' game since '99. The Minnesota Wild, video game-wise have come a long way. If you ever played as the Wild in their first manifestation in 2001, the Wild were an absolutely brutal team to be. Sean O'Donnell brought the physicality, the team had a total pop gun attack with Sergei Krivokrasov as our lone offensive stud (yikes). That alone should take any old school Wild fan back to memory lane. The Wild are coming off a hard-fought loss at the hands of the Avalanche, and they are facing a red-hot Calgary Flames squad. Hopefully the Wild can push the right buttons tonight, whether its up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, select, start in order to earn a victory this evening! Video gamers know exactly what I'm talking about!
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1st Period Thoughts: The game had a good pace at the start with both clubs racing through the neutral zone with speed. Minnesota had a quality scoring chance off the rush as Mikael Granlund fed a pass to Zach Parise that he directed on goal that was steered aside by Kari Ramo. The Flames answered back with a chance off the rush of their own as Sean Monahan dangled and then pushed a shot just wide. The next few minutes had both clubs hustling, but not a lot of shots were reaching either goaltender. Matt Cooke would end up getting a high stick to the face from Matt Stajan that drew blood, but there was no call and so Cooke decided vent his frustration by delivering a mammoth hit to Chris Butler that put him flat on his back. Butler did not appreciate the big hit and he went after Cooke who sort of turned and took the punches before the officials moved in to break it up. Cooke tried to sell his injury but to no avail, so he'd sit in the box as did Butler for going after the fiesty Wild winger. The ice was a bit more open 4-on-4 and the Wild would nearly cash in as Charlie Coyle raced into the Calgary zone where he made a pretty move around Mike Cammelleri that had his head spinning before moving in on Ramo but his backhand bid was stopped and unfortunately Zach Parise was just a step too late to pounce on the rebound. The Wild kept attacking as Nino Niederreiter found a little space and he moved into the slot where he fired a shot just wide of the mark and as Minnesota tried to sustain offensive pressure a turnover by Jason Zucker in the offensive zone turned into a Flames counter attack. The Flames raced up the ice and some weak defensive play allowed T.J. Galiardi to move right down the slot on a give and go between him and Kevin Westgarth where Galiardi beat Darcy Kuemper with a backhander to make it 1-0 Calgary. Zucker looked rather lost on the backcheck; not taking any Flames player on the backcheck to help out Jonas Brodin who gave up the middle of the ice rather easily. Ouch. The Flames' goal seemed to stun the Wild who would get lucky by earning a power play off a slash by T.J. Brodie. On the power play the Wild just seemed to lack the jump to create time and space and their passes didn't have the zip they needed to open up shooting lanes. The first power play unit would leave the ice and I felt the Wild got more dangerous with the 2nd group on the ice. Keith Ballard used some good puck movement at the point to open up some shooting lanes and the Wild managed to create a few scoring chances on the man advantage but they'd come up empty. In kind of a bizarre situation, Kari Ramo would leave the game for some sort of injury or equipment issue. The ice at the Saddledome was horrendous, players falling down all over the place and had the quality of what you'd normally expect from Anaheim or Dallas. Reto Berra would go between the pipes for the Flames and he was not immune to the bad ice as he tried to play a puck behind his goal and he fell awkwardly but he'd get up no worse for the wear. The Wild would take a late penalty, as Charlie Coyle was given an interference penalty for checking Mark Giordano in the offensive zone. The Wild would keep Calgary at bey for the rest of the period but it was not a good start for the Wild. I think the Wild have allowed the Flames' want to make it physical stop focusing on what they need to do to win the game.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild would start the period on the penalty kill and Minnesota did a great job at preventing the Flames from having any sort of clean entry into the offensive zone and they'd get the early kill without too much trouble. Minnesota would go back on the power play after some pushing and shoving after the whistle where Lee Stempniak would knock down Clayton Stoner. Stempniak would get sent to the box and the Wild would try to get the equalizer. On the power play, the Wild were too static with slow and predictabe puck movement that allowed the Flames to deny the shooting lanes with relative ease. The Wild were only able to manage a few shots from the perimeter and they found themselves with nothing on the man advantage. A few minutes later, the Flames would get a power play of their own on a lame retalation by Mike Rupp after he took a small shove from Calgary's Brian McGrattan that prompted the Wild enforcer to use his stick to trip him up. It was a stupid decision on Rupp's part. On the power play the Wild did a pretty good job at forcing the Flames to settle for shots from the perimeter although they had a little drama as a Denis Wideman shot was deflected in the slot that Kuemper had to fight off. Zach Parise had a great penalty kill shift, as he helped keep the Flames coralled in their own end allowing Minnesota to get another important kill. The next few minutes was kind of sloppy hockey as the chances were few and the frustration continued to build for the Wild. Nino Niederreiter was looking focused and he nearly cashed in on a nice pass by Kyle Brodziak that he pushed just wide of the mark; and moments after that he stepped into a slap shot that was held onto by Berra. The Flames were content to play this sloppy style of game; especially since they held the lead. The Wild would find themselves in the box again as Charlie Coyle swung a clearing attempt into the stands for a delay of game penalty. On the penalty kill, the Wild did a good job of challening the puck carrier that did a fine job of disrupting the Flames attempts to set up. The puck pressure resulted in a turnover and the Wild would strike shorthanded as Cooke intercepted a pass from the point and he'd race up the ice into the Calgary zone and he'd wind up and blast a slap shot by Berra to tie the game at 1-1. The Flames were not happy after Cooke's goal and they tried to re-take the lead and they had a golden opportunity as they got the Wild defense to over-commit which left T.J. Brodie wide open with a lot of net to shoot at and he'd fire the puck right back into Kuemper who made the glove save. It was a fortunate 'miss' for the Wild. The Wild would get the big kill, and Minnesota would go back on the attack and it was Zach Parise's hustle would end up putting them back on the kill as he was given a slashing call for chopping Wideman's stick in half. On the penalty kill, the Wild got great work from Erik Haula who did a fantastic job at pressuring the puck carrier and creating turnovers that led to easy clears of the zone. Unfortuantely just as the Wild killed off the power play the Flames as Stoner would trip up Kuemper in his crease and Wideman managed to score on a wrist shot to make it 2-1 Calgary. It was an unfortunate end to a slightly improved period for the Wild. Minnesota is still very much in this game but they need to simplify their attack as Berra looks vulnerable out there. The Wild are beating themselves right now. Too few shots, not nearly enough offensive pressure.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild would get what it thought was dose of good luck early as they drew an early penalty as Lance Bouma was sent to the box for holding. On the power play it would boomerang right away for the Wild as they'd try to enter the zone but Ryan Suter would lose an edge and the Flames went on the counter attack. Lee Stempniak would find a little space where he directed a weak shot on goal that was caught up on the stick of Jason Pominville who tried to slide it back towards Kuemper who was way out of his crease and Kuemper looked to sweep it away but instead put it right on the stick of Mikael Backlund for an easy shorthanded goal, 3-1. With most of their power play time remaining the Wild were disorganized and sloppy as they struggled to enter the offensive zone. The Wild got absolutely nothing accomplished with the man advantage. As it ended the Wild finally were able to create a little offensive pressure as a big check by Parise set up Mikael Granlund for a slap shot from the high slot that was held onto by Berra. The Wild realized they needed to press the issue and Niederreiter would turn on the jets and fly into the Flames zone where he'd let go a heavy wrist shot that Berra stopped but he'd give up a rebound that was chipped up and over the net by Zucker. The Flames were content to just chip and defend their 2-goal lead. Minnesota would get a late-game power play as Joel Corborne as he held up Keith Ballard. The Wild would take full advantage of the power play this time as they moved the puck quickly where Zach Parise took a pass from Suter and he directed a pass to Granlund who was waiting on the back door and Berra stopped his chance but Heatley was there to lift the rebound over the sprawling goalie to cut the Flames' lead to one, 3-2. The Flames did their best to just work the puck deep and force the Wild to come up the full length of the ice. Minnesota would try to counter attack with speed through the neutral zone as Parise set up Granlund off the rush for a tap in that was stonewalled by Berra. The Wild kept persisting as Ballard helped start the rush into the Flames' zone and he'd work it to Dany Heatley as he directed it on goal that was nearly banged home by Ballard but Brodziak tracked down the loose puck and then passed it out front where it was jammed home by Ballard to tie the game at 3-3. The game would go to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: Overtime was a bit disorganized for the Wild who clearly did not want the game go to a shootout. Minnesota tried to pinch and catch the Flames by surprise but couldn't connect when they needed to. The Flames would win a battle for the puck along the wall where Mark Giordano managed to work a puck away from Ballard and he'd slide a pass by a diving Marco Scandella that made it to Sean Monahan that got off a shot that Kuemper stopped and as the rebound fluttered up in the air it was batted home by Mikael Backlund to give Calgary a 4-3 win. The Wild wanted a review, but there was no need for one as Backlund's stick was clearly underneath the crossbar.
Darcy Kuemper was just ok, making 28 saves in the loss. His game has slipped a bit and has not been able to make the crucial timely saves to help make up for some of the Wild's defensive mistakes. That isn't an indictment of Kuemper, but rather just an observation. Defensively I thought the Wild gave up the middlfe of the ice far too easily for the Flames who cashed in twice as they crashed the net. Forwards apparently didn't feel the need to cover Flames' forwards as they looked for rebounds and Mikael Backlund's goals were both resulting from a lack of proper backchecking by Wild forwards. The penalty kill was good though, which continues to show signs of improvement.
Offensively the Wild really had too little, too late once again. The team really only provided pressure in the 3rd period as they had just a scant 10 shots through the first two periods of the game. That's unacceptable. I thought Nino Niederreiter had a great game; and was one of the few consistent offensive threats for the Wild in this game even though he was not rewarded with a point. Matt Cooke had an active game; physically and his shorthanded goal was the result of just taking a chance to shoot the puck. The fact the Wild had just 4 shots in the 2nd is ridiculous. The top line of Granlund, Parise and Pominville looked a bit winded at times out there. Luckily some of the other lines stepped up to get the team just enough goals to scratch out a point in the standings. I thought Keith Ballard was one of Minnesota's best defenseman and he has looked far more dangerous and comfortable in the offensive zone. The Wild need more of that. This was not a great night for Jason Zucker; who I thought was not that good at either end of the ice. However, with a player who has been told that he basically has to play mistake-free how do you expect him to relax and be the player he can be. Dany Heatley had a nice 3rd period, and the Wild need to get him more involved too.
This loss is a tough one to take. Sure it was on Hockey Night in Canada, but it really was a sloppy, awful game overall. The Wild played down to the Flames' level and I think they got far too consumed with trying to match the Flames physically when they should've just focused on beating them on the scoreboard. This was the kind of poor effort where you wished you could just hit the reset button because far too many players were just going through the motions tonight. Hopefully they can relax a bit and refocus for Tuesday night against a tough Tampa Bay Lightning squad.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville, Charlie Coyle, Dany Heatley, Jason Zucker, Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak, Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula, Mike Rupp, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner. Niklas Backstrom backed up Darcy Kuemper. Torrey Mitchell and Stephane Veilleux were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Peter Looubardias of 960 the Fan were: 1st Star Mark Giordano, 2nd Star Mikael Backlund, 3rd Star T.J. Galiardi
~ Attendance was 19,289 at Scotiabank Saddledome.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Score: Iowa 2, Milwaukee 3 OT
If any team within its division has had the Wild's number its been the Milwaukee Admirals. The Admirals would strike first as Austin Watson ripped a shot over the shoulder of Johan Gustafsson to make to give Milwaukee a 1-0 lead. Both clubs would play very well defensively, limiting scoring chances to a bare minimum and it seemed to be a matter of which team will be the first to make a mistake. Milwaukee would add to its lead early in the 3rd period as Vinny Saponari buried his 8th goal of the season to give the Admirals an 2-0 lead. With anxiety growing with the Wild; who had been shutout twice already by the Admirals on home ice Iowa would light the lamp behind Marek Mazanec as Carson McMillan blasted a shot from the point that found the twine to cut the Milwaukee lead to one, 2-1. The Wild pressed for the equilizer and their persistence would be rewarded as Brian Connelly flung a wrist shot that drew a rebound from Mazanec and Jim McKenzie would pick up the puck and jam it by the sprawling Admirals goalie to make it 2-2. It was McKenzie's first goal as a member of the Iowa Wild. Unfortunately, the Wild couldn't manage to get the go ahead goal and the game would go to overtime. In overtime, the Wild would strike late as defenseman Bryan Rodney pinched down the slot and hammered a one-timer by Gustafsson on a nice pass from beneath the goal line by Miikka Salomaki. Gustafsson had 27 saves in the loss. The Wild play the Chicago Wolves tonight.
Wild Prospect Report:
F - Raphael Bussieres (Iowa, AHL) ~ It has been an interesting first professional season for the former Baie-Comeau Drakkar stud. The rugged forward has been providing both grit as well as some offensive flash from time to time. Bussieres hasn't scored a lot of goals so far (4), but when he has scored he's had a knack for doing so in the clutch, but has consistently provided both hustle and grit. I thought I'd include this somewhat funny video where he goes to a local Cherry Berry restaurant to show you one of his favorite treats. While I am sure team nutritionists cringed at his self-constructed dessert, but I am sure this is something he only does once in a great while.
D - Mathew Dumba (Portland, WHL) ~ I am not sure there is any team in the WHL that can stop the Winterhawks winning machine. Explosive offensively, stifling defensively the Winterhawks have more talent, skill and grit to beat just about anyone in Canadian major junior hockey. Dumba is now a part of this machine and he's fitting in quite well. The Calgary native chipped in an assist and was a +2 in the Winterhawks 6-0 win over Spokane on Friday. Dumba has 2 goals, 8 points and a +16 in 7 games.
LW - Mario Lucia (Notre Dame, H-East) ~ The Fighting Irish have discovered Hockey East is a very tough conference from top to bottom and so far series sweeps have been hard to come by. The former Penticton Vees scoring ace would add a goal in the Fighting Irish's 4-2 loss to New Hampshire. Lucia has 14 goals and 23 points in 26 games played this season.