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MOUNTAIN IRON…. It’s Monday morning and I am still smiling (mostly) so hard that my cheekbones are sore! In a weekend billed as “Hockey Day across America” and featuring 2 spectacular outdoor games right here in the State of Hockey how could you not be experiencing hockey nirvana? Well, I definitely was, but I had to deal with some sobering thought as well regarding our local NHL guys, the Minnesota Wild. But I’ll get on to them in a bit. Today is a day that should make every American hockey fan beam inside. It was 36 years ago today that Team USA defeated the Soviet hockey machine 4-3 thus earning the game itself the title of “the Miracle on Ice”. That entire Olympic tournament was nothing short of magical, with the win over the Soviets and the Gold Medal winning game against Finland being the highlights. I am out of descriptives for that moment in time. If you are a fan and are from here, I don’t have to say anything else.
On Saturday there was an alumni tilt between Minnesota NorthStar/Wild alumni versus the Chicago Blackhawk’s alumni. These two clubs always had it out for each other, but the highlight of the rivalry were some intense games and playoff series in the eighties that were as fiery as any in the NHL ever. The broadcast itself featured the player introductions with each side getting some nice rounds of applause. The battles are over, the players are older, now missing more hair then teeth and many are friends having resolved their on ice stuff over years of retirement. Friday night the two clubs got together for socializing at Tom Reid’s downtown St. Paul establishment and I am told a great time was had by all.
One of many highlights was right before the game when fans were directed to the video board for an announcement. A somewhat familiar old face came on, and when he spoke there was no mistaking that it was former NorthStars radio voice Al “close” Shaver on hand to lead the crowd in the “Lets Play Hockey” chant before the opening faceoff. I was fighting back tears by then. To see all of these guys that we all cheered for years back and to re-establish and remember how much I pulled for this team and these guys, it was starting to hit me a bit more then I thought it would. The game featured many highlights including Dino Ciccarelli and Denis Savard having a faux dustup, a couple of penalty shots and many video clips from the past. The most touching may have been the video montage in the 1st intermission featuring the recently passed Glen Sonmor.
The Minnesota alumni won that game 6-4. The main course was about to be served. On Sunday the two current rivals and combatants, the Wild and Hawks would hook it up in a Nationally televised game. The Wild were suddenly trending upward after a coaching change, and the Hawks have been mostly static, going 7-6 in their last 13 before the outdoor game. In observing the Hawks prior to the All Star break forward, they look like a team that has hit a wall of sorts. The Wild, from New Years forward until their recent 3 game road swing looked like a pretty lost club, 3-16 in Mike Yeo’s final 19 games.
The Hawks have not fared well in outdoor games. Not only that, but the Wild were all over them from the start. It was 2-0 after the 1st, 4-0 after the 2nd and the game ended with a 6-1 final in favor of the Wild. The team had a game plan to limit Hawks star Patrick Kane’s time and space and at one point his frustration was boiling over. He did end up getting the Hawks lone tally in the 3rd. Other then that there were few highlights for the visitors.
If you are a Minnesota hockey fan, this weekend was stellar. The two games drew almost 90k fans and in a pre-game question, NBC’s Mike Milbury, a MA native, was asked if Minnesota was indeed the “State of Hockey”. To my surprise, in an honest answer, Milbury said that yes, it is. He said that, until someone else can match them in history, accomplishment and in the volume of participants, this is THE place. I was smiling. Even if I am not a Milbury fan, I believe he has always been pretty straightforward in his evaluations of the game, even for a guy who once beat a fan with his own shoe.
My disappointment over the weekend? That came from the sobering thought that this team had just loafed it’s way through Mike Yeo’s final 19 games as coach, earning him a dismissal. This feeling was furthered by hearing quotes from a few players that were questioned about the teams recent turnaround (3-0 western road trip) and how it could happen. The common theme was something about a new found “freedom” to go out and do whatever. What a copout. Especially coming from someone who has had as pathetic a season as Jason Pominville. This is a guy who has not been engaged for sometime now, and he suddenly has a couple of good games and it is because of “freedom”.
Poms, you are a dishonest hockey player. I have been watching you play on the boards and take the majority of your shots from the top of the circles all season long, even extending into last year. There is not supposed to be any excuses in pro sports. You just laid down a big one. Perhaps interim Coach John Torchetti told you it was time to get your ass in gear. I heard the same theme from about 3-4 other players and I was shaking my head. This team quit on Yeo and that is unacceptable. A handful of guys with pretty big contracts assembled their power and decided they didn’t like the way this coach wanted them to play any longer and forced a change.
This is a very troubling psychological message to me about this group. I am now wondering if they have the collective internal fortitude to take their game to it’s highest level, or if there will always be something “not quite right” holding them back from playing their absolute best. Tuesday eve they start a 3 game roadie against some tough competition, not the Western creampuff swing they just had. Elation, disappointment, elation….. PEACE