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CARLTON PEAK… The Minnesota Wild have concluded their 11th season of competition, posting a record of 35-36-1—or if you are like me and just want the W-L record in black and white, they went 35-47. They put on a surge of sorts going 5-5 in their last 10 tilts. However, I am saddened to report that they missed the playoffs once again. In fact, to be honest, after 11 seasons, the highlight list for the club is kind of a short read. Out of expansion teams that have come into the NHL over the past 15 years, the Wild and Columbus are the two that still seem to be finding their way.
The Nashville Predators appear to be the ones that have had a formula of sorts and stuck with it, and they have also had stability at the GM and head coach positions, which has allowed for some competitive consistency for them. I will say, though, that in spite of their shortcomings with their on-ice product, the club, under GM Doug Risebrough, and now under Chuck Fletcher, has been one of the better-run clubs from a business standpoint. As a brand new expansion club in 2000-2001, the Wild were frequently cited by others in the league as an excellent business model. This is important because it can affect all else that you are trying to accomplish.
Personally, the last two to three years have been frustrating for me, and have left me as a fan wondering when I can throw myself into this team full bore. Since I have been watching the show since the early sixties, I already have two clubs that I pull for furiously in the Montreal Canadiens and the Dallas NorthStars. These are the two teams that meant everything to me as a kid growing up. And since I’m a fervent follower of Minnesota-based sports, the Wild have made it onto that list, too. But I’m still waiting, trying to be patient, trying to be supportive—still, argh, hoping, ugh, and waiting for this club to, double argh, turn the corner. Man!
Certainly one of the easiest things to do as a fan, writer, or media person can be to verbally let loose when your local club is struggling or putting up less than stellar performances. And I have done that on occasion, I’m not proud to say. And that is why I gave it a couple of weeks before taking a look at the season past. I have reminded myself to be objective, and considering the short existence of the team, I am reminded of the words of my late friend, the former pro wrestler Lou Sjoberg (Karl von Shober).
In a deep talk one night about life, recalling some medical battles I had earlier in life, I looked at him and said that I hoped that I still might be fortunate enough to live to 80 or 85 years of age. The Big Guy looked at me and said in his simple monotone, “85 years is just a speck of sand in the lifetime of the Lord.” Well, welcome to Perspective City. I guess 11 seasons just might not be quite enough time to construct the foundation and history of, uh, let’s say, the Montreal Canadiens.
One of the worst days of my life was when the NorthStars played their last game in Minny. One of the best days of my life was when the show made its triumphant return to the one state in the union that should never be without a professional hockey franchise ever again. I can recall going to my first Wild game with the Mfan Jr. and one of his teammates. They were all of seven years old. When the anthem was played before the game, suddenly flooding back to me came all that I had seen on this one special piece of real estate in my Minnesota hometown.
The CHL St. Paul Rangers, championship high school hockey games, the Minnesota Fighting Saints, and now, in arguably the finest sports arena ever built upon this site, the NHL Minnesota Wild. As I stood there, straight up, hand over heart, looking back and forth between the flag and the two teams on the ice, I was waging one of the worst battles of fighting back tears in my life, and I was losing. I could sense the Fan Jr. looking up at me and wondering what was going on, the little guy not quite understanding why I was going through such emotion. NEXT WEEK: Part Two: Let’s look at the hard data…
THE STANLEY CUP TOURNEY has begun and so far has been totally action packed! At this writing, there are only two series whereby one club is holding a 2-0 series lead. LA went to VAN and took two games from the Canucks, and PHIL went into PITT and took both games from the Pengwah in wild, shootout style, with game 3 coming up in an hour. In other series, WASH went into BOS and got a split in two OT games. NJ DEVS are up on FLA 1-0, CHI got a split in PHX in two OT games, NASH just beat DET in their rink and now have a 2-1 lead, and OTT went into the Big Apple and got a split with the NYR. SJ got a split with STL in the Gateway City.
In an early indicator of how fierce these series have started out, there are no less than three disciplinary hearings scheduled for today, and there probably should have been four more. Additionally, out of 15 games thus far, seven have gone to OT. The favored clubs to make the finals are both down 2-0 (VAN and PITT). If and when these get eliminated, who are the new favorites? PEACE
THE MFAN STANLEY CUP POWER RANK, THE M5:
1. PHILLY FLYERS, beat Pengwah twice in Pitt, scoring like crazy, any doubt?
2. LA KINGS, beat Canuck twice in VAN, defending like crazy, any doubt?
3. NASHVILLE PREDATORS, up 2-1 on the stout Red Wing, game 4 must for DET.
4. NY RANGERS, game 3 critical for Range, need to re-establish game over OTT.
5. ST. LOUIS BLUES, drop game 1 in OT, dominated game 2 over Shark.
OVER & OUT!
Marc Elliott is a freelance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott recently wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for the past ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.