Wild, Wilderness follow tough UMD playoff act

John Gilbert

 

While UMD’s fantastic run to the NCAA hockey title commands all our attention, there is more hockey on the immediate horizon. And look outside...if not today, then tomorrow, or on the weekend, when the words “winter weather advisory” come into play again.
The Minnesota Wild opened their Stanlery Cup chase Wednesday night in Winnipeg, in the first of a best-of-seven battle that could be really tough. Winnipeg came from out of nowhere this season and enters the playoffs as a primary threat, right there with Nashville and Vegas.
The Jets are big, strong, physical, and can score goals in bunches. Meanwhile, the Wild, who have beaten Winnipeg only once all season, have their work cut out for them, particularly with anchoring defenseman Ryan Suter out with a broken ankle.
The return of Jared Spurgeon will be a huge help, but when Spurgeon is at his best is when he’s rushing the puck aggressively while paired with Spurgeon.  It will be a test of coach Bruce Boudreau’s coaching skills to convince the Wild that great team defense can succeed against the Jets. Boudreau has done a great job with this team, overcoming injuries all through the season and getting them in position to make a highlight video of their own in the playoffs.

Eric Staal has become an elite-level goal scorer, in addition to his great two-way skills, while Jason Zucker is a streak scorer who is over 30 goals, and Zach Parise gets closer to his old self every game. The Wild balance, and great goaltending from Devan Dubnyk, can take the Wild a long way. Now is the time, also, for Mikko Koivu to play his best and finally get some rewards for his labor.

First though, they need to get a split at Winnipeg to get a jump against the Jets, then come home to what should be a fantastic crowd Sunday night at Xcel Center.

Minnesota Wilderness forward Isaac Kobienia had a clear shot...  Photo credit: John Gilbert
Minnesota Wilderness forward Isaac Kobienia had a clear shot... Photo credit: John Gilbert
..As Kobiernia shot, the Brookings goalie dived in desperation... Photo credit: John Gilbert
..As Kobiernia shot, the Brookings goalie dived in desperation... Photo credit: John Gilbert
..The puck ended up against the goalie's glove, right on the goal line, and the officials ruled no goal. Photo credit: John Gilbert
..The puck ended up against the goalie's glove, right on the goal line, and the officials ruled no goal. Photo credit: John Gilbert

 

Wilderness Playoff

The Minnesota Wilderness ended their season on a high note and go into their Junior playoffs with some momentum. The Cloquet-based team has an extra attraction for fans, and that is excellent concession food. I like the chicken wild rice soup, and while I’ve been a big fan of the hot dogs and bratwursts, the hamburgers are exceptional. So don’t eat dinner — unless you plan to hit Gordy’s for fish and chips and a blackberry shake — and eat at the rink when the Wilderness come home.

I do have a major quibble about the over-zealous public address announcing job at Cloquet’s arena. The program sheets were all gone, so I didn’t know the Brookings players at the final Wilderness regular season game last Friday.
A kid scored for Brookings, and the announcer said: “Scoring for Brookings, No. 17...” and that was it!
C’mon. It was a low-class show of non-sportsmanship, and I don’t care if the visitors didn’t supply the names of their players. Those names were on their backs!

Twins, April Bad Mix

It is remarkable that the Minnesota Twins got in any games during their 10-game home opening stretch, which runs through this weekend at Target Field. I joked last week that the Twins should have engaged Ace Hardware in a promotion that involved a shovel giveaway, with the fans then allowed to shovel out their own seat.

That wasn’t too far-fetched. They played Seattle, and then Houston, in temperature that ranged down to the high 20s.
Despite the bone-chilling cold, which was accompanied by a ferocious wind, the Twins pitchers looked remarkably good. I think Kyle Gibson is ready to have his best season ever, and the new guys brought in all can throw the ball.
It also gave me a great chance to spend some time text-messagin my good friend in Washington, D.C., who is a huge Max Scherzer fan, while my favorite pitcher to watch is Justin Verlander. Both, of course, used to star for the Detroit Tigers. Now with Washington, Scherzer was awesome Monday night, against Atlanta, while Verlander was just as chilled pitching to the Twins.

Scherzer went all the way, beatng Atlanta 2-0, by striking out 10 and walking none with a 2-hitter. I kept responding, because Verlander had a 1-hitter against the Twins, striking out 9 and walking one. He gave up one hit until a couiple late hits by the Twins and he came out after seven with a 3-hit shutout. The Astros won 2-0.

The ability to fire fastballs at 96-plus and to maintain that velocity until the ninth makes those two my favorite pitchers in the majors. When you think about it, David Price also was with the Tigers. Does anybody think the Tigers mikght be a contender if they had Scherzer, Verlander and Price in their rotation?

At any rate, the Twins play this weekend, and the forecast is for 6-12 inches of snow Saturday and Sunday. Much likelier hockey weather, for the Wild.