Wild Win Streak Over, USA Hockey Taking Heat Over World Junior Roster Decisions, Then Beat Canada

Marc Elliott

ST. PAUL…. The Minnesota Wild 12 game win streak came to an end Saturday evening here at the hands of another streaking club, the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 4-2 decision. This win extended the CBJ streak to a team record 15 straight victories. The excitement surrounding this game was palpable as some secondary market tickets were going for up to $600. The Xcel Energy Center was sold out and then some. In this epic tilt I would say prior to the game that these teams were almost as evenly matched stats wise as two teams could be. The CBJ are 1st in Goals For Average per game, the Wild 4th, they rank 2nd (Wild) versus 3rd (CBJ) in Goals Against Average, it is virtually a 1-2 tie in Save Percentage per team, and Columbus is 1st in the overall league standing with the Wild close behind at 5th. It is astounding what a streak can do for you when it is on the positive side of the ledger.

The game had to be slightly disappointing for the home team fans though, in my book the Wild seemed to have a little more juice in the first 25-30 minutes of the game but were only able to beat CBJ net minder Sergei Bobrovsky once at 5:58 of the 2nd on a Mikael Granlund PP goal. Before that the Jackets were up 3-0. I am willing to bet Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk would want a couple of those back, but The Bob was the story of the game as the Wild would outshoot Columbus 16-7 in the 3rd but only had Jason Zucker’s tally very early in the frame to show for it. The Bob pretty much shut the door after that and it was goodbye streak. I have to admit I did not see anything of this nature occurring in the Wild’s campaign this time around so the team has been a pleasant surprise.

I am hoping the team can sustain this level of play and make a solid push for a playoff spot, also one that would include some home ice advantage. As I said recently, it appears that some of the younger roster members that fans have been waiting for to break loose are finally elevating their level of play. I see some improved and even dominating play at times from the likes of Coyle, Neiderreiter, Granlund, Zucker and even recent Iowa callup, Jordan Schroeder, has appeared to be playing with more purpose. I am glad GM Chuck Fletcher aggressively went after Coach Bruce Boudreau when he became available. I think he coaches in a relaxed, comfortable manner, but has no problem being totally honest with the players when they are not on their game and responsibility to the team and themselves. He has been a breath of fresh air and I think he is enjoying life in the Twin Cities Metro…

THE WILD HAVE signed off on a deal to convert the old Dayton’s/Macys building in downtown St. Paul into their own practice facility and it should be ready for them by next September. This brings a smile to my face as when I was a young kid growing up in St. Paul my Mother was a long time Dayton’s Women’s fashion consultant and started out at the St. Paul location. Many a time I would take the 15 cent bus ride down West 7th to meet her for lunch and then spend time at the Science Museum as a student member. Sometimes we would go to the famous lunch counter at the old Woolworths store or to the classy Tea Room at The Emporium. Great memories…

USA HOCKEY RECENTLY took a lot of heat for some pre-World Junior tourney roster cuts, mainly those of Alex DeBrincat and Logan Brown and the critics began their teardown of USA Hockey immediately. As I pretty much have NHL Network TV or radio on for most of each day during the season, I heard a variety of former players, analysts and high level hockey media placing the USA Hockey brass in shackles and chains and questioning their level of sanity. I listened to all of it patiently and did my best to think it through. As is always the case in matters like these, personal preferences and egos can shape a lot of the “I know better then them” commentary you hear from the sideline observers. My first thought was that there must be a good reason for these decisions.

Some of the things I was hearing though were head shakers. From Canadian and American observers both I heard; USA Hockey has always had a strong bias to NCAA players. USA Hockey doesn’t like Junior players, USA Hockey prefers players that have went through their NTDP format. I heard things like “this is why the US never does well consistently at the Worlds” and even “the problem with a guy like DeBrincat not making the roster was due to coaching style”. Insert quizzical, grunting Tim Allen sound effect…here. St. Cloud State Head Coach Bob Motzko is the Juniors coach for this go round and his teams usually play a pretty high paced tilt. What I have heard was that not only did DeBrincat not look good at the summer camp and now the pre-tourney camp, but that he wasn’t that well suited for a high paced contest. Well. Good luck in the NHL then kid. Because guess-what-they-play-there-now DB!

Anyway, I have marveled at the Canada-USA debates over the years and frankly, there isn’t much new there to report. They believe their system to be better because they play as many as a third more games and I don’t buy into that. I have sat in on many a debate about the number of games played per season in years past relative to amateur hockey. The theory I developed was that more games played didn’t necessarily produce superior players. The Scandinavian model doesn’t have Johnny and Jimmy traipsing all over Sweden and Finland amassing 60-70 games per year and they seem to be producing some pretty high test players. I’ll have to revisit this topic down the road, it is of interest to many fans. As of now, the US beat the Canadians 3-1 on Saturday, survived a tough game versus the Swiss this afternoon and are poised to get another medal, critics be damned! GO USA! PEACE