Game One for Your Minnesota Wild

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And so it begins. The 2011-2012 NHL season is full on starting this weekend and the Wild opened their campaign with a bang, defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2. The story was the new-look offense. Now keep in mind Columbus was on the second night of a back-to-back and the Wild had the home opener adrenaline working for them, but you gotta be excited as a Wild fan after this game. The Wild were actually outshot by the Blue Jackets 31-26, but that’s because they went into a shell in the third period, managing only three shots. Through two, they dominated.

New Guys Impact
It didn’t take long to get a glimpse of what could possibly be an exciting year. The Koivu Heatley Setoguchi line started with some jump on the first shift of the game. Later in the first Koivu and Heatley were in on a shorthanded 2-on-1. Koivu to Heatley, Heatley slap shot, fat rebound with Jacket G Steve Mason out of the play, but the puck hopped Koivu’s stick. Early glimpse folks.

Midway through the second and on the PP, Bouchard fed Heatley for a pretty redirection goal from between the circles. Heatley’s first goal in a Wild sweater gave the Wild a 3-0 lead.

Late in the second, Heatley set the table for a Setoguchi one-timer that got through Mason. Wild up 4-1 after two and the offseason moves paying big-time dividends.

Depth
It’s the scoring depth that’s the difference. Heater and Seto give the Wild two good scoring lines, instead of just one as has been the norm the last three years.

When everyone keys on the first line, the Bouchard Lattendresse Cullen line will get more opportunities, and that’s exactly what happened on the second shift of the game. Lattendresse sent one from the defensive zone to Bouchard at the opposite blue line, who saucered a pretty one to Cullen behind the D. Cullen roofed a wrister over Mason’s shoulder for a quick 1-0 lead.

If everyone stays healthy and has years you’d expect, this will be a playoff year for our favorite NHL squad.

Jots

  • The Wild are now 10-0-1 in season openers in franchise history.
  • Nick Backstrom was good in goal giving up two goals on 31 shots. Not flashy or spectacular, but reliable, just the way the Wild need him to be.
  • Did you see the open on FS North with the player graphics built in to landmarks around the state? Very cool.
  • All due respect to Cal Clutterbuck, but isn’t it nice to not have to depend on him as a major cog in the offense?
  • I liked the kids tonight. Powe, Johnson, and Gilles were quick and spent some good time in the offensive zone, and Scandella and Spurgeon looked good on D. Scandella also scored a PP goal in the first on a mad rush with Spurgeon into the Jackets zone. Scandella’s first NHL goal put the Wild up 2-0. Hopefully that will continue throughout the year.

Next
Wild @ NY Islanders – Monday Oct. 10 12:00 p.m. CST

Touch Em All John Gordon

John Gordon started doing play by play for the Twins in 1987, when I was a wee lad. These were times when people actually listened to sports on the radio, before every game was on TV. I remember listening to Herb Carneal and Gordo on any one of the high-tech Walkmans, boomboxes, and car stereos of my younger days. Twins baseball would pass the time cutting the grass (we had a big yard) and keep us company out on the lake. I was so emotionally involved back then. I’d wear headphones around the house just to listen to a random game and I didn’t care how the season was going. Sometimes I’d keep a scorebook just to practice. Those guys painted all the picture I needed. I guess I’m just as emotionally-vested now, but I listen on my way to or from Target Field or on my iPhone. That’s how I listened to Gordo’s final call last night.

I always preferred Herb growing up, but now I realize that I will miss Gordo’s voice, his ultimately positive outlook on the state of Twins baseball, and his stories that sometimes would take precedence over a ball 2 call. He’s another one of those connections to my younger days that keep slowly fading into memories.

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This is a photo I found from the pregame tribute. Dan Gladden gave Gordo a ride around Target Field in a Harley sidecar. Here’s a link to the ceremony if you didn’t get to see it. And here is his final call.

“Touch Em All Kirby Puckett!! Touch Em All Kirby Puckett!!” That call of Kirby’s Game 6 winner in ’91 will forever forever be ingrained in my gourd. So I salute you Gordo. Thanks for the memories.

Another Offseason of Change for the Wild

We’re inching closer and closer to the start of the hockey year, for the second time in three years, the Wild are in a major rebuilding mode.

Mike Yeo takes over the head coaching duties from ousted Todd Richards. Yeo wasn’t exactly the sexy choice for GM Chuck Fletcher; he apparently had Craig McTavish and Ken Hitchcock on his list. It’s a gutsy move brining in a first-time coach for a second time, especially when the first one didn’t work out so great. But one thing is for sure…Mike Yeo is a completely different coach from Todd Richards. Yeo preaches structure and puck control; I’m still not sure what Richards stood for. Yeo is fiery and gets after his players; Richards always had that I don’t know what to do look. And while Yeo sure seems to know his stuff it will be interesting to see if his age (he’s 37) plays into his ability to get his players to buy in. I’m optimistic…I think he’s smart and players will get that, and eventually the Wild will become a tough team to play against.

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And then there’s the players. Oh my goodness were things shaken up this offseason. Gone is the uber popular but sometimes enigmatic D Brent Burns, the unhappy F Martin Havlat (and his agent), the potential never-realized F James Sheppard, the terrible D Cam Barker, the grandpa F Owen Nolan, and the revitalized G Jose Theodore. But coming in is potential for something of which the Wild are in desperate need – scoring. F Dany Heatley and F Devin Setoguchi should provide a good portion of that scoring, another important thing it does is gives the Wild two scoring lines. Opposing defenses will need to focus on a Koivu – Heatley – Setoguchi line, which should open up opportunities for a Cullen – Latendresse – Bouchard line. So if they score more goals, then the key is how they make up for the hole Burns leaves on the blueline. They’ll need one of the young kids to step up consistently and surprise us. If that happens, we’ll be ok.

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The Wild are again a playoff bubble team this season. It’s generally a bad place to be, because you go into a stretch run trying to make the playoffs, but if you don’t make it, you’re not getting a good draft pick. But there’s a buzz for this squad again, and I’m cool with that. Playoff hockey is the most exciting time of all sports, so whatever it takes to get there in April baby.

An Ode to Mike Modano

The most prolific scorer in American hockey history announced his retirement on Wednesday. Mike Modano made it official via his Facebook page, with a press conference scheduled for Friday.

After the North Stars left in 1993 (and a period of denial), I found myself a Dallas Stars fan. We had no team yet in Minny, so I had to follow someone. We had NHL Center Ice for a few years, and I watched most of their games…including their Stanley Cup run in 1999. I was emotionally involved.

I am a Mike Modano fan, even though most Minnesota hockey fans have or had a strong dislike for him due to his anti-Minnesota statements when the Stars left. My wife is was a big fan as well, although for other reasons. He has pretty white teeth and nice scruffy.

Chances are good this misspelling at the X was done purposefully.

Modo is a polarizing kind of guy. He always has a bit of a cockiness to him and some people don’t like that. He’s the kind of guy you need to take with a grain of salt. But you can’t deny the success he had in his career and what he meant to the NHL. He retires with the most goals ever for an American-born player, won one Stanley Cup and was runner up twice. He is single-handedly responsible for turning Dallas into a pretty successful hockey market. I would have liked to see him finish his career in Dallas, to play his whole career with one team. I also said I would have liked to see him in a Wild sweater last year, but I guess I can’t have it both ways…so he signed with Detroit. His stint as a Red Wing was injury-filled and I’m sure not what he wanted when he decided to play last year, but when you think about his career you’re probably not going to even think of last year, almost like it didn’t happen. I’ll think of him as a Dallas Star or a teeny tiny North Star.

I salute you Mike Modano. I’ll miss the hair in full glory during warmups and the jersey flowing in the wind as you flew by everyone on the ice.

Full Glory

Modo's Hair in Full Glory

Good luck with your golf. We’ll all be following on the Twitter.

Modano's Sendoff at the X

Sendoff at the X

TCF Bank Stadium Offers Real College Football Potential

I’m a relatively casual college football fan. I get into it at the beginning of the year but there’s so much of it that I tend to get burned out by midseason. The fact that there isn’t a competent team in the vicinity to follow probably plays into it too.

I’m talking DI here specifically. Naturally I pay attention to the two-time NCAA DII champion UMD Bulldogs, but that’s tough to do from the Twin Cities.Contrary to what many of my friends think, I want the U of M to be good, in everything except hockey. My allegiance for UMD trumps where I live. But in all the other sports, I consider myself a Gopher fan.

So on Saturday I finally got to my first game at TCF Bank stadium for Gophers v. Miami (Ohio) Redhawks. I don’t own any Gopher fare, so I sported a maroon UMD t-shirt and hat. Hey, at least the color matches. I was excited to experience big-school college football, but wasn’t expecting the kind of atmosphere we saw last weekend for Notre Dame v. Michigan (obviously).

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What I found was very comfortable stadium, even without the fancy cushioned seat backs everyone else around us had. We were in the upper level, section 236. The metal bench seating was a bit tough on the back, but there is plenty of legroom between rows. The Bank is aesthetically pretty. We had a nice view of downtown Minneapolis, Williams Arena, and Mariucci (Engelstadt East as my wife calls it). Gopher pride is represented well, with M logos everywhere and acknowledgement of Minnesota’s aging football glory days.

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So what of the atmosphere? Best way I can describe it is potential. Again, I’m a guy who hasn’t been to Madison, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, or even Iowa State. But I got a piece of the college football vibe yesterday. You had a good student section. You had the band. You had a handful of “regular people” in the rest of the crowd that got into the game. There was a guy and a gal in their early 30s who would do the band moves along with them, including the run in place bit – so clearly they were in the band at the U. There was an older couple next to us that got into some of the traditional student cheers, including the “First Down” hand coordination. Luckily, the guy was willing to share the insight from the radio broadcast he was listening to…with everyone.

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The missing link was the entire stadium getting into it. Besides the students, there would only be a handful of people getting up for third down plays or getting loud when the Gophers really needed it. So it got loud, but not deafening. I’ll give Gopher fans a bit of a pass given how bad the team has been for so long. But there’s a good vibe around the program with Coach Kill. He appears dedicated to building a program that the people of Minnesota will be proud of. If that happens, I think the Bank could rival a place like Madison. And I have a feeling that’s all it would take for me to become a real college football fan.

Can We Just Put the Twins Down?

Seriously. This season, already ugly, has become a complete embarrassment.

The Twins are 1-9 in their last 10 and are firmly planted in last place in the AL Central.

Defense is terrible, and offense is nonexistent.

Span and Morneau are out probably for the rest of the season, and we just found out that Joe Mauer is shut down for the rest of the year with pneumonia.

The team is apparently mailing in the rest of the season, and I can’t think of a good reason to pay attention. I haven’t watched a game in probably 3 weeks.

Bring on hockey season.

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Lazy Sunday at Target Field

Spending a few hours with my Dad at Target Field today for Twins v. Tigers. The Twins are finally playing a decent game, currently leading 7-4 in the 7th inning. Still early for our favorite squad though.

We have Legends Club tickets today, but we never actually made it to our seats. We got here in the middle of the 1st inning and decided watch the first few innings inside at an open drink rail instead of fight through to the middle of the row where our seats were. That was sorta cool – good view of the game through the cleanest windows I’ve ever seen and you can hear the radio play-by-play. (Speaking of radio, consider this my endorsement for Bob Kurtz getting the full time gig next year.) It was pretty dead over on the first base side and pretty quiet inside. Dad and I had some nice conversation while we watched the game.

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We decided to walk around a bit, and wound up moseying to some open seats in the Home Run Porch View. Back with me people out here. Out here, you’re in the sun, you get listen to drunk guys converse, and you get the full ballpark experience. (Apparently, out here you also get to see Luke Hughes hit two homeruns…make it 11-4 Twins.)

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It’s an interesting vibe in here today. Sort of a “lazy Sunday” I think. No one is going to get out of control giddy about this big lead with the Twins out of it, so The crowd is content in enjoying a beautiful day at the ballpark. (Luke Hughes is killing it today…great diving play at 2B.) Twins fans will likely get through through the last month of the season in this way.

It’s different not being in a playoff run in the month of September, but we can handle it. All our other pro teams have taught us how.

And at least we won’t lose to the Yankees in the first round again.