An Education In The Minnesota Wild

Posted: December 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

By John Buccigross

ESPN.com

The following are facts (or my view as facts).

There are many passionate pockets of hockey, but Minnesota is the heart of hockey in the United States.

Not only does the state of Minnesota have the No. 1-ranked college hockey team in the country in Minnesota-Duluth, it also has the No. 2-ranked team in the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

The fact that Minnesota, of all places, has not hosted a Winter Classic game is beyond comprehension. Outdoor hockey (pond hockey) in Minnesota is as pure as basketball at Rucker Park, baseball in Williamsport and football in Green Bay.

When the sun came up on Dec. 6, 2011, the NHL team with the most points was the Minnesota Wild.

I took my two boys to Minnesota this past summer for a four-day June vacation. Minnesota is a big state, 12th-biggest by size. It borders Canada to the north, the Dakotas to the west, Iowa to the south and Wisconsin to the east.

Former Minnesota-born NHL player and nine-term mayor of awesome Shjon Podein has an emotional golf tournament/charity event in the idyllic big-small town of Rochester, Minn., and that was the impetus to go. The mission of Shjon Podein’s Children’s Foundation is to improve the quality of life and create an environment of caring and community support for children facing extraordinary difficulties in their lives. And like his NHL career, Podes is all in.

My goal as a parent is to give my kids a jump start on life’s little checklist, so when I die they can look in the box and say, “That sock puppet was OK.”

I’m not Clark Griswold and plan every minute of a vacation. “This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun. I’m gonna have fun and you’re gonna have fun!!” My style is to make arrangements for one thing a day, then read and react to the energy level of the group for the rest of the day. It’s like building a top-shelf NHL team; build slowly with solid pieces and be patient.

So the four-day “Feeling Minnesota” lineup card read: 1. Jet ski on Lake Minnetonka. (“You have to purify yourself in Lake Minnetonka.”) 2. Play golf in Minnesota (27th state I’ve played in). 3. Go to a Twins game at Target Field. 4. Play street hockey in front of Shjon Podein’s house.

The highlight of jet skiing was tipping over the three-man unit with my cellphone and digital camera in my pocket. I tried the ol’ cellphone-in-a-bag-of-rice trick in attempt to dry it out, but while we were out of the hotel room later that day for dinner, the hotel staff saw the bag on the table, thought it was garbage and threw it away. “Can you hear me now?” No, I’m waterlogged and in a hotel Dumpster.

The golf was blue-skied and emerald-green-grassed. (We just missed the late-June Minnesota heat wave.) The quality of street hockey at Podes’ block party was legit, and Target Field is stunning. Counting the cathedrals of Wrigley and Fenway, Target Field is in my top three ballparks. It’s an all-around beauty.

If you are looking for a three-to-four-day minivacation, I recommend the jet ski/golf/Target Field/Podes street hockey travel package. Anglers probably could add a day of fishing. Prince, Apollonia and Morris Day & The Time sold separately.

The NHL draft was being held in St. Paul while we were there on holiday, which added unintentional texture for us hockey dudes. A few of the players who were drafted and NHL front-office people were staying at the hotel I randomly chose in Minneapolis. On our way to Lake Minnetonka, I ran into Panthers rookie coach Kevin Dineen. Competent people want competent bosses, people they respect. That’s one reason the Panthers are off to a good start. Dineen is the real deal.

In all, it was one of those four-day trips that felt like two weeks, and I left Minnesota with a good feeling. I also remember having a good feeling about the Wild at the time. I liked both trades they made with San Jose and felt they made the team better. But no one predicted that the Wild would have the most points in the NHL at the one-third pole.

I’m guessing you probably don’t know much about this season’s Minnesota Wild or probably Minnesota Wild history in general. So with the help of me, Bucci Mane and then 10 tweets from Wild fans I asked for Monday night on the Twitter, this should help your knowledge of the NHL’s best team right now.

•  The head coach of the Minnesota Wild is Mike Yeo. As in Mike Yeo, MTV Raps. As in Mike Ne-Yeo. As in Yeo-Yeo Ma. As in Yeo, Ding-Dong, Man. Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong Yeo. He is 38 years old and from North Bay, Ontario. He was a Penguins assistant coach when Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Coach of the year, Yeo.

• The Wild’s leading scorer is Mikko Koivu with 21 points. At the beginning of the week, the Wild had five guys tied for the team lead with eight goals.

• Minnesota’s starting goalie is Niklas Backstrom. He is not related to the Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom. In fact, they are from two different countries. Niklas the Wild goalie is from Finland. Nicklas the Capitals center is from Sweden.

• The Wild haven’t made the postseason in four years. In fact, the only year they won a playoff series was 2003, when they won two series to reach the Western Conference finals. (They were swept by the Ducks after back-to-back Game 7 wins.)

• They are doing it with defense — fourth-lowest goals-per-game average. Their power play is 23rd in the NHL. Their penalty kill is 11th.

• The Wild average the fewest shots on goal per game in the NHL this season. They are 20th in shots against. They have the best record when giving up the first goal of the game. In fact, the Wild have a better record after giving up the first goal than when they score the first goal.

• They are a good faceoff team, fourth in the NHL behind Boston, San Jose and Vancouver. They are tied with Boston for fewest goals allowed in the third period.

So, there we go. Your NHL-leading Minnesota Wild. The state of hockey has a lot going for it, which is nice.

Peace out, Yeo.

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