The Wild lost 3-1 at Calgary on Feb. 23, dropping the team’s record to 8-7-2 through 17 games. The Wild had 18 points and was tied for 10th place in the NHL’s Western Conference.
Since that date, the Wild is 12-3, including a current seven-game winning streak, and has moved into third place in the West and first place in the Northwest Division with 42 points.
The difference has been seen on both sides of the ice. Through the first 17 games, the Wild had scored 37 goals while giving up 42, since then it has scored 53 while allowing only 36 in 15 games. That’s a swing from a minus-5 scoring differential to plus-17.
Of course the additions of Zach Parise, whose 28 points are the second most on the team, and Ryan Suter, who has played great defense and is second in the NHL among defensemen in scoring with 27 points, have contributed to the recent success of the team, but Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said that two young kids in Jonas Brodin and Charlie Coyle have had the biggest impact.
“Brodin is playing the second-most minutes of anyone on our team right now, which is remarkable for a 19-year-old,” Fletcher said. “Coyle has played on that first line with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, so both of them are not just playing in the league, they’re playing big roles in the league.”
Fletcher mentioned others who have made great contributions, both with the Wild and at Houston of the American Hockey League, including Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson, Marco Scandella and Darcy Kuemper, among others.
He also gave a lot of credit to goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who is 14th in the league with a 2.32 goals-against average and playing pretty much every game.
“Nik has been great. He has been a rock for us,” Fletcher said. “Let’s not kid ourselves, every good team has a good goaltender, and if Nik can continue playing the way he’s playing, we’re going to be a competitive team.”
Fletcher also sang the praises of resurgent right winger Devin Setoguchi.
“I think there’s two things with Devin: when he’s physically involved and bumping people on the forecheck and competing and winning puck battles, he’s a much better hockey player than when he tries to play a pure skill game,” Fletcher said.
Another positive for the Wild has been the play of veteran Matt Cullen, Fletcher said.
“Matt has played terrific for us all season and Devin has been fortunate enough to be his winger,” Fletcher said. “The way Matt is playing right now, he’s going to make all of his wingers look good, and he’s got Pierre Marc-Bouchard on the other side and that line has played well for us. I think Devin has been the beneficiary of some good linemates, and again his mindset at playing physical has really helped him.”
All the success has resulted in more people in the stands.
“Our fans have been coming back in droves this year,” Fletcher said. “It’s been nice to see.” So where does the GM believes his team stands as to making the playoffs?
“We put ourselves in a good position now where teams are chasing us instead of us chasing them,” he said. “But we still have 18 games to go and we have to avoid big losing streaks right now and we have to stay healthy.
“So as a general manager, you’re always worried. I don’t think we’re in any sort of comfort zone right now. But I do like the fact that teams are chasing us and not vice versa. The last three years we have been chasing, and that really takes a toll on you. I like the fact we are where we are, but we have a lot of work to do.”
Hoiberg staying put
Former Timberwolves player and executive Fred Hoiberg was a hot candidate for the Gophers men’s basketball coaching position, according to news reports out of Ames.
But Thursday night, it was announced Hoiberg agreed to a 10-year, $20 million contract extension at his alma mater.
My top two candidates would have been Flip Saunders and Hoiberg, because they are so connected locally, Saunders as a former Gophers player and ex-Wolves coach.
I know Hoiberg’s big dream was to become the Iowa State coach, because he grew up in Ames, was a ballboy for the team, a high school standout and then starred for the Cyclones.
Hoiberg had signed a contract extension with the Cyclones through 2021 following last year’s NCAA tournament, one that paid him an average of $1.5 million over the next eight seasons.
In three seasons with the Cyclones, Hoiberg has a 62-39 record with a 26-26 record in Big 12 play, but that includes finishes of 12-6 and 11-7 in the past two years.
Hoiberg also has taken the team to back-to-back NCAA tournaments, the first time that has happened in Ames since 2000-01, and he won games in back-to-back tournaments, beating Connecticut in 2012 and Notre Dame this year. That’s the first time that had happened since 1997.
• The Gophers football team has a new locker room for its practice facility in the Bierman Building thanks to coach Jerry Kill, who personally raised some $500,000 from boosters to install new modern lockers with a picture of the player using it; a new ventilation system; a new sound system; and a 90-inch television. This locker room is another recruiting tool that Kill has been responsible for getting done since becoming coach.
• Now that basketball season is over, Gophers freshman Wally Ellenson, who high jumped 7 feet, 1½ inches in high school at Rice Lake, Wis., is joining coach Steve Plasencia’s track and field squad.
• Former Gophers standout Kris Humphries has started to get some more playing time for Brooklyn after going eight games without seeing the floor earlier this month. He scored 17 points and had eight rebounds in a 102-100 victory over Phoenix on Sunday.
• Speaking of the Suns, former Wolves swingman Wes Johnson is averaging 16.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 34.4 minutes per contest over the past six games for them. … Jonny Flynn, another recent Wolves lottery pick, is playing for the Melbourne Tigers of the Australian National Basketball League, leading the team with 17.4 points, 5.9 assists and 32.7 minutes per game.