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THE METRO…. As I am attempting to string together something coherent to say about the Minnesota Wild season just ended, and as I am still gathering some thoughts about it, that saying by an old Blues dude came to mind and I smiled. I believe I heard it back in the seventies. And, it perfectly describes my post season thoughts about the club of my hockey affection. Last week Reader contributor John Gilbert opined that, “Wild deserve appreciation, not insults”. I couldn’t agree more with John’s statement.
Being an old fart hockey fan, and having been in or around the game for a time, I still get a lot of my hockey fix and info from reading newspapers and from listening to the radio. I am a sports talk junkie, and for the better part of 9 to 10 months a year I am an NHL Network radio devotee. When that is not gracing my ear drums I probably have on the NHL Network TV channel. I can get perspective from the league, from all 30 teams, and from any and all experts, pro analysts, blog fans and the like about all things hockey. Even with all of that data input, my post season thoughts about the Wild have yet to crystallize.
There exists the low hanging fruit, stat analysis and comparison and the like. There is the chronological order of season highs and lows. Which players are returning, which are UFA’s or RFA’s? There is the wont to place one’s finger upon the teams tangibles, and the mind-bending search to figure out what the intangibles are that aren’t readily apparent to any fans or scribes. When I read hockey articles, on pulp or online, the accompanying reader comment sections are mostly predictable but an occasional thought provoking tidbit will keep me coming back. Great perspective can come out of nowhere sometimes.
But John’s headline was correct. This club does deserve our thanks not our scorn. In my 5 decades of John Gilbert observation I can safely say that he has never been a slash and burn journalist. And I know him to be of a high degree of integrity, I could point toward one example of that where he rightfully stood his ground and proved that, but I won’t. It was a long time back and is not a current topic. I have heard though, of which John speaks. There are some posters that after every Wild loss, they are calling for Coach Mike Yeo to be fired. I just shake my head. There is the player name calling, there are the insulting nicknames. And some of it does come from media types of every persuasion.
I don’t smile or recoil. I simply understand that these folks don’t have a clear picture of what it takes to excel at the Junior, College or Pro games these days. Heck, you can even throw Minnesota High School puck into that picture, it gets enough people in these parts riled up for a good part of the year doesn’t it? The overall level of coaching ability has never been higher, the teaching and understanding of all basic systems, ditto. For the most part, upper level players are utilizing the same off season training methods and some will throw in some minor tweaks here and there. It can’t be a surprise that at any level the difference between winning and losing is razor thin. When you get to a team like the Chicago Blackhawk’s versus the Wild, it might be two razors. But make no mistake, it is mostly microscopic.
I would hope that whatever I would offer on the Wild would be truthful, constructive perspective. And that can be hard. For instance, I could say that in the SD era (Since Duby, as in Devan Dubnyk the goalie) the Wild were one of the top two NHL teams up until the end of the regular season. I could maybe say that that run left the team with enough physical and mental fuel to best the STL Blues, but not the Blackhawk’s. But jeez, I heard that already. I could maybe say that there were about 6 veteran players that the club needed more from in the playoffs, but didn’t get it. But man, perhaps they were the targets of more intense checking and gap control then the regular season presents and maybe they didn’t react with that extra gear. Others have written that already.
I could wonder if we saw Duby’s best stuff in the tourney, and if he used up a little too much game in just getting the team there. And that might not be far off the reality. But there are no excuses in this game, in this league or in this grandest tournament of all. There is NO crying in hockey. But we know there is. I’ve seen it. I’ve probably done it. Tears of joy, tears of sorrow. I have simply been left to my own devices, my own thoughts. Man, are the Wild the new San Jose Sharks? Good enough to make a run for a few years, not good enough to get hockey’s holy grail? Is that the new reality?
The team is the sum of it’s parts. I watched the 2 series quite intently, and I didn’t spot any passengers out there. Still, we didn’t seem to have enough juice to overcome ourselves and make the Hawks chase us. Coach Ken Hitchcock said it himself after the Wild bested his boys, “you can’t win when you are chasing games”. So true. After we were down 3 to zip 9 ½ minutes into the series I kind of already knew the outcome. It pains me to say that. The Hawks are that good of a team though. There have been times when I saw the Wild bring some 3rd period gas and rescue games they wouldn’t have 3 or 4 seasons ago. That is the good news. The team has come that far.
The doldrums that were the last 2 to 3 years of the Risebrough-Lemaire era have been chased away, the malaise that was the 1st couple of years of Chuck Fletchers rebuilding are a thing of the past too. The new look Wild are the best this franchise has ever seen. But there is this one team that has all of the parts, or at least most of them, and they have them right now, that will stand in our way until ours are superior to theirs. And that is what is twisting my hockey brain into a contorted mess right now. Yikes. PEACE