Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hockey Orphan: Elise from 18,568 Reasons Why on the Minnesota Wild

(Click on the logo above for the master post)

(Elise from 18,568 Reasons Why provided this great Hockey Orphan entry. Make sure to follow her Wild coverage and Microsoft Paint wizardry for all your Wild needs. Thanks, Elise!)

So you want to be a Wild fan, eh? Oh, you just happened to be reading this blog and were informed that you had amnesia and are a hockey orphan for the next five minutes? Ok then, we can work with that too.

The Wild is based out of Minnesota, lovingly dubbed The State of Hockey, and is, to put it bluntly, a second try for pro hockey in the state. We used to have the North Stars until they ditched in 1993 for better weather down south in Texas. The team changed Minnesota to Dallas and dropped the “North” and *poof* you have the current Dallas Stars.

Minnesota hockey fans spent the next 7 years mourning, lamenting, and soaking up as much hockey as possible at the junior, high school, and college levels. Until 2000, when the Wild were born…

Why to avoid the Wild – let’s start with the bad

The Trap
Let’s just get this out of the way first, shall we? It’s the first thing that comes to mind when non-Wild fans think of this team. Many times, these thoughts are accompanied with unpleasant ones, usually along the theme of sleep, boredom, or numbness. But it’s really not that bad. Yes, the Wild play the trap system and yes, that can be boring. They do know how to play real hockey though, too. Sometimes.

The Wild has had basically the same management since their inception in 2000. Jacques Lemaire is the coach, Doug Risebrough is the GM. The ownership recently changed, but new owner Craig Leipold (yes, the ex-Preds owner) has said he has no intention of shaking up anything managerial-wise. Which could be bad for the team’s future. Lemaire will most likely retire this summer, but Risebrough hasn’t said anything about going anywhere anytime soon. And the Wild are stuck in a rut. They never get the big free agents, they never make big trade deadline moves, and they’ve failed again and again to re-sign key players and fill obvious needs. The team has seemed to be stagnant the past seasons, stuck in a state of constant mediocrity. Because of this, the Wild either miss the playoffs or are bumped in the first round, and then get alright but not super prospects instead of top tier draft picks.

Marian Gaborik
Gaborik is a great talent, there’s no denying that, but he brings tons of baggage along with him. There are the days he doesn’t want to try. The seemingly never ending contract disputes. The groin explosions. The complaints about not being given enough offensive freedom. Not thinking before opening his mouth and making comments to the media. It can quickly turn into a massive headache for fans, especially when he’s not playing well or injured.

Team Appearance
The official names of the Wild’s colors just sound Minnesotan: Iron Range Red, Forest Green, Minnesota Wheat, and Harvest Gold. But basically the main two colors are red and green and the Wild end up looking like Christmas sometimes. There’s also the mascot…what type of animal is the logo? what does it represent? what does the name “Wild” even really mean? what sort of animal is Nordy the mascot? why does Nordy the mascot have a mullet and weird forehead markings?

Why to love the Wild – I recommend this route

Marian Gaborik
He can be a pain, but he’s super speedy, has a lethal wrist shot, and is a superb talent as an elite NHL sniper. Just watching him (when he’s trying) is fun and he can change the game if he feels like it.

The Developing Core

The Wild have some great young players who are the face of the franchise – captain and center Mikko Koivu, forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard and James Sheppard, and defensemen Brent Burns and Nick Schultz. All are young, all are talented, and all are still developing. Koivu is the can-do-anything forward and MVP of the team. He’s emerged recently and this team is now his. Bouchard and Sheppard are still developing their games, especially Shep, but both have shown flashes of their skills and just need to become more consistent. Burns could have been named to the All-Star team last year and is one of the nicest guys off the ice, always interacting with fans and kids. Schultz is the stay-at-home, always there, always dependable defenseman. This core should be there for the Wild for years to come and will hopefully lead the team to future successes.

The Old Guys
There are the young guys, there is the core, there’s the superstar, but the old guys on the Wild who add character and grit to the team. Owen Nolan and Andrew Brunette both give so much heart to this team that fans never want to see them retire. Brunette was a Wild favorite until the team screwed up and didn’t re-sign him, quickly learning their mistake when he played for the Colorado Avalanche. Brunette, the NHL’s reigning Iron Man for most of this season, returned to the Wild this summer and is currently playing with either a partially or fully torn ACL requiring surgery. Nolan has played through many injuries, including a knee injury, a broken toe, the flu, and sometimes multiple at once. The Wild were going through a terrible, terrible month in December when Nolan was out with an injury and the trainers and coaches didn’t want to let him play. But he walked into Lemaire’s office and demanded to be put back in the lineup; the Wild were instantly better. These two have set examples for younger players and contributed more than expected, taking the responsibility of being the heart and soul of the team.

The Fans and Atmosphere
The Greatest Hockey Fans in the World and the Team of 18,000 are just two of the nicknames given to Wild fans. The Xcel Energy Center (one of the nicest hockey facilities) has sold out every single pre-season, regular season, and post-season game in team history, packing 18,568 people in for every game and upwards of 19,000 for playoff games. The team knows the fans are some of the best and appreciates them – the team will give away 19 signed sticks, a couple signed jerseys, all the jerseys off of players backs, mugs, magnets, and more in Fan Celebration Week alone. The X and downtown St. Paul during playoff time is one of my favorite places to be.

I hope you enjoyed that little journey through the Minnesota Wild. I certainly did. If you’re ever in Minnesota during hockey season, I recommend that you take in a hockey game – pro, college, high school, squirts, whatever – and see what it’s like. It always makes for a fun time and a great experience.


AmyB said...

There is just one entity that makes the Wild amazing, besides the Christmas tree unis. That force of nature is known as Cal Clutterbuck.

But seriously. Those unis suck. Ruslan Fedotenko agrees.

jamestobrien said...

Mikko Koivu is pretty cool, too, although he kind of looks like the evil Aryan villain in 80's high school comedies. Can't win 'em all, I guess.

dj4aces said...

Perhaps if Gaborik would be given offensive freedom, there wouldn't have been any contract disputes? Just a thought.

The Wild have a pretty good roster, and need to make just a few changes (coaching definitely being one of them) going into next year.

elise said...

Amy - Clutterbuck is absolutely fantastic.

james - Mikko is also absolutely fantastic. He doesn't look so villian-like off the ice (although he has a penchant for sweaters.) There's also talk that the Wild might go after Saku this summer and try to get double Koivus...

dj4aces - Gaborik is given much more offensive freedom than anyone else on the Wild. The team has also done a lot to try and make him happy - trading a top prospect (O'Sullivan) to get Gaby's bff (Demitra), getting other Slovakians and Gaborik friends (Radivojevic, tried to get Hossa), giving him a defensive centerman so he can focus more on offense. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out this summer though.

Lemaire most likely will be gone after this year. He almost retired last summer but Risebrough convinced him to come back. He has one more year on his contract but there's a lot of speculation that this was his last season behind the bench.

jamestobrien said...

I agree with Elise - Gaborik has nothing to complain about. I've heard that Saku was going to come too Minny too, so it sounds like a pretty likely scenario. That would provide a nice, if subtle, boost to the Wild.

CT said...

Jacques Lemaire must be destroyed.