It was July 4, 2012, a sunny and humid summer holiday in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, when a sudden shockwave ripped through the hockey world. Moments later, it happened again. This wasn’t Fourth of July fireworks. No. This was the sound of a franchise in transition preparing to make a legitimate run at the Stanley Cup – not only this year, but perhaps for the next decade.
The signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, coupled with the No. 1-ranked farm system in the NHL and a developing core of current players, has Wild fans downright giddy. Not even a lockout could temper the mood.
The Minnesota Hockey Journal helps usher the Wild into a new era.
1. Playoff hockey. The four-year drought will come to an end. While there’s always a logjam in the middle of the Western Conference, the Minnesota Wild will lock in a spot with their new weapons, leadership and consistent goaltending. Look forward to hockey at Xcel Energy Center in mid-April.
2. Scoring boost. The infusion of offensive talent and improved puck-moving blue line will show up on the scoreboard. Intriguing combinations of Parise-Koivu-Heatley and Cullen-Granlund-Setoguchi will showcase a balance of skill, grit and offensive flair that will be tough for any defense to shut down. Kyle Brodziak had a career-high 22 goals last year, and he’ll start this season as the third-line center. Not bad.
3. Stronger defense. The addition of Ryan Suter will immediately stabilize the Wild blue line. He ranked third in the NHL, averaging 26:30 minutes of ice time per game last year. He’s proven time and again he can shut down opposing teams’ top threats. Let’s not forget about the addition of Bloomington native Tom Gilbert to the blue line last year. He, along with Jared Spurgeon and blossoming Marco Scandella, help fill out an improving back end in front of the always-steady Niklas Backstrom.
4. Potent power-play. The Minnesota man advantage just got scarier. With proven power-play quarterback Ryan Suter straddling the point, take a look at all the options and combinations this team has to work with: A healthy Pierre-Marc Bouchard circling around the zone; Mikael Granlund dazzling and saucing his way through traffic; Zach Parise hounding defensemen and goaltenders while jumping on rebounds; Dany Heatley clapping in a one-timer off the crossbar. And that’s just one unit.
5. Northwest Division championship. That’s right, we’re not just going to predict a playoff berth. The Minnesota Wild will capture their second-ever Northwest Division title, earning themselves a top-three seed in the Western Conference and a first-round playoff matchup at Xcel Energy Center.
1. Zach Parise. The local boy knows what it takes to succeed. Parise is a natural leader and role model for all youth hockey players to watch. Whether he’s scrapping in the corners with some of the world’s best defensemen or back-checking his tail off to help break up the other team’s offensive opportunity, this is one hard-working player. Watch his game rub off on
2. Ryan Suter. No. 1 defensemen don’t grow on trees. That’s why so many other teams were chasing Ryan Suter this past off-season. While some people balk at the contract terms, Suter will be worth every penny. His presence and consistency will not only strengthen the defensive zone but spearhead the Wild’s transition game into attack mode. Suter tallied a career-high 46 points (7g, 39a) last season with the Predators.
3. Mikael Granlund. We know you’ve been watching Granlund’s lacrosse-style viral goal video at least once a week. Come down to the rink and see what he does next. This kid knows the game. Watch his hockey instincts take over. The kids will be trying to emulate his moves in no time.
4. Electric Xcel. There’s no better place to watch
a hockey game than in downtown St. Paul at Xcel Energy Center. You can guarantee the noise and attendance level will return – and even surpass – any previous decibel levels ever recorded in the arena.
5. Fun night with the family. Head in to downtown St. Paul early and grab some food and drinks. The capital city buzzes on game nights with a passion and energy like none other. Make it a full night out with your family and friends. Just make sure you make it to the arena in time for warm-ups!
Wild head coach Mike Yeo might be from Canada, but it didn’t take long for him to figure out that hockey is as much a lifestyle here than anywhere else. Here are three takeaways with the bench boss.
On the hockey culture in Minnesota …
“It’s been unbelievable. I’m at the rink all the time between my two kids. To be at the rink and see the passion that people have for the game, it’s incredible. Being from Canada, I know how they feel about the game up there. This easily rivals that.”
On coaching youth hockey …
“With kids, you have to take a step back a little bit and just remember how important the fundamentals are. You can draw up the prettiest drills or get into some real complicated stuff, but if they’re not real strong with their fundamentals – their skating, passing, stickhandling, shooting – then it’s really pointless.
“You have to be out there giving them an opportunity to improve. There’s nothing wrong with challenging them and pushing them, but at the same time, you have to do it in a manner that’s positive and in a matter that’s going to make them feel good and confident in the way they play.”
On the most important part of the game …
“I think the biggest thing is to make sure that it’s fun for them. That one thing to me is absolutely critical for any young player. The reason they should be playing the game is because they love it – because it’s fun, because they enjoy coming to the rink, they enjoy practicing. That’s what it’s all about.”