WILD enjoy epic road trip, a pro sports day of tears and more!

Marc Elliott

Willie O’Ree, first Black NHL  player, finally gets the Call to the Hall
Willie O’Ree, first Black NHL player, finally gets the Call to the Hall

ST. LOUIS… By the time you read this today the Minnesota Wild will be preparing for their 2nd Home game of the week, having played the Capitals on Tuesday eve, and engaging the Canucks tonight. But man, oh man, this club just put up an outstanding 7 game road trip, going 5-2 during a full 14 day stretch away from the comforts of the Xcel Center in St. Paul. This has elevated the team into the upper level of the league at this juncture of the still young season. We are yet to hit the 20-game mark, but after a so-so start the team is now 11-4-2 for 24 points. So, is the team really good or were they feasting on inferior opposition? The truth is probably a bit of both. The two best teams they faced on the trip, VAN and SJS, beat them. The Canuck game, the Wild were never really in. (a 5-2L) The SJ loss came down to two mistakes and the Sharks made the Wild pay for both of them. (4-3) 

The other games, they beat, make that spanked STL 5-1, they beat up and down EDM in a bit of a squeaker (4-3), then the SJ game before feasting on two struggling clubs, the LAK, (3-1) and the hapless Anaheim Duck. (5-1) They traveled to STL from the coast for the final tilt of this road trip and put up a very respectable 3-2 win on a team motivated to make up for the beatdown earlier in the month who was also 4-1 in their prior five games and was facing a team that was likely quite weary from travel and time zone changes. This was a major accomplishment. Winning on the road in pro sports, especially in the NHL is a tough go. Then there is the parity thing to deal with. This season you can easily make the argument that there are about 5 teams who are not really very good and that subtracts from the parity the league has enjoyed in the recent past. As for the other 25 teams, you had better lace em’ up tight every time out. We will find out soon enough if the Wild’s newfound game is for real as Tuesday night, they will have the defending SC champion Caps in St. Paul. Bettors always say to never bet on the home team their first game back from a long road trip, and while I don’t see the Caps repeating as Champs this year, they still ice a strong roster. The boys are going to have to shake off any fatigue pretty quick. The road trip has got to be a definite confidence builder though, and that is huge… 

WILD DATA; The ATHLETIC; 8th, with an 85% chance at the playoffs, tracking for 98.8 points with a 3% chance for a SC win. The SAGARIN; 4th on an 11-6 record, 2-3 vs T10, 5-3 vs T16, ranking 10th in difficulty of schedule. NHL STATS; T/3rd with 11 wins, 3rd in points with 24, 3rd in pct. of points available @.706 NHL STANDINGS; currently holding the 3rd spot, 2nd in the Western Conference, 2nd in the Central, 11-4-2, 5-0-2 @ H, 6-4 Away. 8-2 in L10…

TARGET FIELD… I got to see the Joe Mauer official retirement announcement today and as is the case for some players that have been good enough to play multiple seasons Mauer had a challenging time containing his emotions at the podium. I can’t blame him, whether it comes from fans or from participants, sports can evoke immense feelings, running the gamut from the lowest low to the highest high. It has never been publicly announced, but Mauer is human. I’m certain this was both a hard and an easy decision for him. On the down side, another concussion situation earlier in this past season forced him to begin to think about life post-baseball. With another child on the way, any day now at that, and two young girls and a wife at home, it was time to consider quality of life issues. On the positive side, he is financially set for life, is still living where he was born and raised, surrounded by family and friends for a great post-career support system and more then likely will stay with the team in some capacity.

After his intention went public last Friday several articles popped up and where commenting was available, the negative ninnies came out in force. After browsing through several, I could only come to the conclusion that there are a lot of people that were jealous of Mauer’s last contract, that there are just as many that do not have a clue about the extent of his concussion issues and what that can do to a person and just as many have no idea of the subtleties of the game of baseball. One poster stated that Mauer was a steroid user. I could only shake my head. I think I can safely say that players that have as high a level of athleticism as Mauer has, excelled at the Catcher position as he did until concussions forced a position change, is one of the most well-known, clean cut young leaders in the community as Mauer is, and has the respect of teammates and opponents alike probably doesn’t have the messages of a few jealous, uninformed people anywhere near his radar. Well done Joe, it was storybook all the way, hometown kid does well…

TORONTO… This evening was the annual Hockey Hall of Fame Induction night and for at least a couple of inductees, there was great emotion involved too. Tears were shed. Players Martin St. Louis, Martin Brodeur, Russian Star Aleksander Yakushev, and Canadian Women’s star player Jayna Hefford were granted their rightful place in the Hall as was color-barrier breaking player Willie O’Ree, known as the Jackie Robinson of Hockey, and finally NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. O’Ree and Bettman went in in the Builders category. Bettman delivered his speech in a smart, business-like fashion with some humor injected, St. Louis was emotional at times, especially when he mentioned the loss of his mother during the 2014 Playoffs, Yakushev was as unemotional as the Red Army team was, giving his speech in Russian while an interpreter did translation. Hefford was straightforward with a couple of tinges of emotion, and O’Ree, who should have been put in the Hall 20 years ago, was as well, effusive in his thanks for the opportunities the game has given to him. Brodeur? Let’s just say that Marty had a tough time getting his speech out. This is the most fabled tender of my time, (and I’ve seen a lot of them) he had many people to thank, but struggled when speaking of his late parents, particularly of his father who was a famous NHL photographer. So, it was a great ceremony, enough tears were shed to flood a rink, and Congrats to all… PEACE