If I had to pick an NHL team I knew the least about back in 2005 when I moved to the Twin Cities, it would have been the Wild. I scoured the roster and had interviewed Rolston many times in the past. So I decided since he was new and I was new, it made sense to develop a relationship. Sensational guy and go-to quote.
I got to cover his first two years in the NHL (50 goals) when he was just a young pup in Florida. The coolest part of that was seeing Dino Ciccarelli, the guy Parrish idolized growing up, take Parrish under his wing. Hilarious guy and golden quote. My favorite article was still his parents letting me into their home for a profile after their son signed with the Wild.
“Nicest person ever” is overused in today’s vernacular, but Cullen might be that guy. My favorite Cullen stories are the ones I did in Florida where Cullen and Parrish discussed their high school rivalry (Cullen went to Moorhead) and in Minnesota where Cullen let me tag along with him in Fargo/Moorhead for a feature. He gave me a tour of his childhood home and rink
By far the craziest player I’ve ever covered, and I mean that with endearment. I love writing personality profiles, and he’s one giant character. It’s still an honor that he let me into his home—twice—to write about what I dubbed the Burnzie Zoo. He had snakes, birds, fish (a shark!) and huskies. Impossible not to like him.
In January 2012, coincidentally after Cullen’s party to celebrate his 1,000th game at the Downtowner in St. Paul, I had gone to Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub after a game. An hour later, backing out of my parking space, I smacked into the front of a car. It was a black Porsche.
I’m inspecting the scratched hood, I look up and see Jared Spurgeon. I sheepishly go, “Whose car did I just hit?” He goes, “I think … Schultzy. I’ll go get him.” As Spurgeon ran across West 7th, I yelled, “Spurge, … uh, uh, don’t make a scene.” About a minute later, I could hear Schultz laughing as he crossed the street once he realized Spurgeon wasn’t playing a joke on him. Before he even looked at his car, Schultz told me to go home. As I profusely apologized, he just laughed and said not to worry.
For the next three weeks, I offered to pay for the damages. For the next three weeks, he told me, “Stop worrying about it. It’s no big deal.” I’m not just saying this because he let me off scot-free, Schultz is one of the most decent human beings I have covered.
I just love talking the game with him, and every time I walk away, I feel I learned something else. There’s a lot of mutual trust and respect, which is why I was able to write about his relationship with his dad during J.P.’s illness and ultimate death. Incredible and infectious work ethic.
Just a great dude. He’ll probably go down as one of the most respected Wild teammates I’ve covered. Huge heart with a deafening laugh.
The most horrifying incident I’ve covered in the NHL is his crash into the end boards in San Jose that left him with a broken femur. One of the most incredible stories I’ve written in the NHL was sitting in his hospital room at Methodist and telling his story. Such a nice guy.
There are so many others—Mikko Koivu, Niklas Backstrom, Derek Boogaard, Kyle Brodziak, Keith Carney, Keith Ballard, Ryan Carter, Nate Prosser. Too many to name.
I’ve been lucky to cover Jacques Lemaire, who taught me so much about the sport, and Mike Yeo, who may be the most accessible coach I’ve ever covered.
In Florida, I was lucky, too. I got to cover the best player I’ve ever covered, Pavel Bure. I covered Hall of Famers like Ciccarelli, great characters like Brian Skrudland, Scott Mellanby, Rob Niedermayer, Billy Lindsay, Tom Fitzgerald, Paul Laus, Valeri Bure, Trevor Kidd, Roberto Luongo and so many more. And coaches like Doug MacLean, Terry Murray and my favorite player as a kid, Duane Sutter.
Maybe the best learning experience was getting to know Bryan Murray, one of Wild GM Chuck Fletcher’s mentors. Murray was the first GM I covered in the NHL and he was instrumental to the start of my career.
Murray, now the Ottawa Senators GM who is courageously battling cancer, embodies what I love about hockey people: decent, hilarious, fiery, great character and passionate about the sport they love.
Honestly, the quality of the people in hockey is one of the biggest joys for me, and it keeps me coming back to the rink every day. That along with a steady paycheck and an enormous amount of frequent flyer miles.