As of now, there’s no further update on defenseman Keith Ballard beyond the team’s original report that Ballard was conscious when he left the arena via ambulance tonight and that he was taken to a local hospital for evaluation and observation.
Scary scene on the ice here tonight when Ballard’s head was driven into the red dasher on top of the boards at the visiting bench in the second period. Ballard was bleeding from the face (Nate Prosser said there was blood on the dasher) and players said Ballard initially looked unconscious and was convulsing.
Athletic therapist quickly turned Ballard on his side to open up his airway and doctors surrounded him and called quickly for paramedics. After a few minutes, Ballard was assisted to his feet and helped slowly off the ice.
The Wild responded, storming back from a 3-0 deficit en route to a 5-4 win. Ironically, the Islanders did the exact same thing by the exact score to the Wild in this very arena last December. Remember, that was the loss most everybody thought could result in a housecleaning the next day. It never happened and the Wild soon would turn around its season.
Tonight, the Wild rallied from three goals down to win in regulation for the first time in franchise history. It was the first time the Wild rallied from three goals down to win at home since (overtime) since Oct. 6, 2009, vs. Anaheim.
First, the hit. I’ve watched it a dozen times and every time I watch it, I think it was more and more needless by Matt Martin. Whether Ballard was dodging the check or not, it was an absolutely needless hit, plain and simple, and came well after Ballard dumped the puck into the corner. Just look at the replay. There is nobody else in the screen but Ballard and Martin because the puck was long gone.
Yes, Ballard turned to avoid the check, but it was Martin that drove Ballard recklessly into the red dasher in my opinion.
“It was really scary,” Erik Haula said. “I saw [Martin] had a lot of speed going into that hit. Keith’s just trying to get the puck in deep. Their bench was yelling that he’s dodging, but I don’t think it matters. If you come in with that much speed, he can’t protect himself when he’s probably on one leg trying to get the puck in. I just don’t understand. I don’t think that’s necessary.”
Thomas Vanek, a former Islander and teammate of Martin said, “We’ve showed before that we don’t give up and we’re resilient, and then obviously with what happened to Keith, it was all pretty sickening to us. We took it in a positive way and took the emotion in a good way and started playing real hard and it was a great comeback win for us.
“I was actually on the forecheck and the next thing I know he was in a lot of pain obviously. It’s something I don’t wish upon anyone. Obviously I played for those guys and I don’t think Martin’s a dirty player and [he] wasn’t penalized, but from what I heard of it, to me, it’s a dumb decision. Again, I didn’t see it. I just heard about it. The puck’s in the corner and you finish your hit. I heard it wasn’t dirty, but still, we’re all playing this game because we love it and we shouldn’t hurt each other, but I’m sure it wasn’t his intentions. It was sickening, but we took the emotions the right way and deserved to win and we played hard for him.”
I’m sure I’ll get more into this as we go along, but as the Wild opens a three-game road trip at San Jose on Thursday, the Wild will obviously be without Ballard. We’ll see if it’s also without Marco Scandella. Late in tonight’s game, he was given a minor for illegal check to Brock Nelson’s head. On Nov. 29, he also got an illegal check to T.J. Oshie’s head and was fined, so we’ll see what the league says about two in 10 days.
The Wild scratched Christian Folin, so he’ll play Thursday. If Scandella is in trouble, the Wild would either have to play Stu Bickel on the blue line or call up a defenseman like Justin Falk, Jon Blum or Matt Dumba.
The Wild, for a third time in five home games, came out of the gate awful. For the third time in five home games and second in a row, it fell behind at least 3-0 (I say at least because it was 4-0 vs. L.A.).
“We were able to collect ourselves after the first period,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I thought we came out with much better focus, much better mindset. It’s hard to pinpoint why we’ve started two games like this but the feeling is, I don’t know if we’re apprehensive or waiting for the next bad thing to happen instead of going and getting it.
“What I appreciate is when you mention that to the group and use the words pride and character, we know we have too much pride and character to allow that to continue, and I thought we showed that the rest of the game.”
After the Ballard incident, Mikael Granlund stepped up on Kyle Okposo and drew a retaliatory slash. Jason Pominville deflected Ryan Suter’s shot (three assists for Suter in his first game back from the mumps) to make it 3-1.
Then Kyle Brodziak fought Martin in response to the Ballard hit. Brodziak took a beating but got points from everybody in the locker room.
“When it’s right in front of your bench (the Ballard injury) and you see what’s out there and then you also see what Kyle did after, backing up his teammates, I think that was the turning point for our hockey club tonight and that’s something that’s great to see when you’re defending one another.”
Yeo said, “There were a number of guys that were engaged physically and emotionally after that point. I thought that we came out really well to start out the second period, but I thought that took us to a different level. I’m really hoping this is something we can build off as a team. When you see guys band together like that, that’s what we need going forward.”
The Wild controlled the rest of the period but couldn’t buy another goal. Then on the Islanders only shot of the period, Josh Bailey scored on a breakaway. That should have been the dagger, but Erik Haula said everybody went back to the locker room, collected themselves and internally (not out loud) all got a “win one for Bally attitude.”
Koivu took Jason Zucker’s pass, stepped in front of the net, fired and scored. Then, Haula deflected a pass off Thomas Hickey’s skate and in. Then, 45 seconds later, Zach Parise shot and Thomas Vanek crashed the net and tied the game. Finally, with 4:33 left, Nino Niederreiter jammed away at a Vanek rebound and scored the eventual winner and his team-leading 12th goal on his third stab at the puck and from his belly.
Niederreiter said, “Obviously you never want to see something like that happen to your teammates or in general in the league and it obviously was a scary moment at the time, but I felt like we carried it in a positive way and made sure we don’t focus about what’s going on with Ballard, which obviously was scary, but at the same time we gave everything to try to get better.
“Such a great comeback. When Haulzy got the tying goal, we were just buzzing and trying to get the next one before regulation ends, and that’s what happened and obviously we’re very happy about it.”
Yeo said he will provide a Ballard update Wednesday. The team leaves in the morning and practices in San Jose. I’ll come to you afterward. Apparently there’s some crazy storm coming to the Bay Area on Thursday, so wish us all luck.
I’ve been tweeted by several people and haven’t caught up on what this thing will entail.
Obviously, the Wild shouldn’t need a Ballard injury to make them angry and wake them up.
“You can draw up x’s and o’s, skill is no question a big part of the game, but passion and emotion has to be there for us, no question,” Yeo said. “We have to make sure that we find a way to bring that. We shouldn’t have to have something like that to bring it out of us. That’s whe we’re at our best, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s part of our identity. We need to bring that every game.”
On Suter, who was great, “Nice to ease him into it. 29 minutes,” Yeo said sarcastically. “I mean, I thought that as the game wore on he was starting to find his game more and more. We knew it was going to be tough for him to get it going 100 percent right from the start…from penalty kills to power play to every aspect of his game, he just kept getting stronger and showed you how important he is to us.”
On Vanek’s goal and assist and Niederreiter responding after a few poor games, Yeo said, “Yeah, I’m very happy for those guys whether it’s against a former team or not. We want to get to a point where everybody is feeling good about their game and that’s been difficult to make happen. I think everybody contributed to this win tonight ,and that’s what I think makes us a great team. We have good players, but we want to be a great team. In order for that to happen we need different guys stepping up, but every guy going out and playing the same way. For the last two periods we had that.
“You want to win, and you get wrapped up in the score, but we have to make sure that our game is going. If our game is going and everybody is firing on all cylinders then the score will take care of itself. The biggest thing to me more than anything…and obviously I’m ecstatic that we won – but we needed to respond. We needed to respond after that first period, and I was very pleased with the way we were responding, and it’s good for the players to get rewarded for it.”
Koivu was great. Won 22 of 30 faceoffs to go with his goal and assist. He has won 20-plus draws three times this year and in two games in a row. In fact, he has done this six times in his career and is the only Wild player in history to win 20-plus draws in a game.
On the comeback, Koivu said, “Well, you don’t want to be in that situation, but you never know what’s going to happen or what to expect. I think we have to learn from that, as well. For us, it was a very emotional night. At the end a great feeling, but still you don’t want to see one of your teammates going down like that. So, hopefully Keith is well and we’ll move on and have him back as soon as possible.”
Lastly, because of what happened to Ballard, I had to rewrite my notebook on the fly and this obviously couldn’t see the light of day. But I thought you would find this interesting. The quotes were obviously from before the game. I will talk to you from San Jose on Wednesday and will report from the plane if Martin or Scandella face hearings.
By MICHAEL RUSSO
If you’re a Wild fan or somebody who has watched Keith Ballard play throughout his University of Minnesota and 10-year NHL career, the second Corey Perry tried to squeeze between Ballard and the boards last Friday, you knew what was coming.
Ballard lowered his left hip and sandwiched the Anaheim Ducks star. The difference between this hip check and so many of Ballard’s others is Perry sustained a sprained knee and will miss up to a month.
Ballard said that’s “very rare” and he’s not trying to hurt anybody with the hip check, which is nearly extinct in today’s NHL.
“I could have easily went in and put my hand up and not even hit him and let him dump it in, but what if he beats me back to the net and gets a goal?” Ballard said. “He’s a 50-goal scorer.”
On Ballard’s next shift, the defenseman fought Nate Thompson, uncomfortable because he knows Thompson. Thompson, who lives in Minnesota because he’s married to Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart’s sister, and Ballard work out and skate together in the offseason.
“He just looked at me and said, ‘Bally, we’ve got to do it,’ and I said, ‘Of course, I understand.’ It’s either him or Tim Jackman,” Ballard said, laughing, regarding the Ducks’ other tough guy who is coincidentally another friend and Minnesota resident. “That’s part of it, although squaring off was a little awkward because I don’t generally fight my friends.
“I’ve done the hip check lots of times and I end up getting into lots of fights about it.”
Even though the maneuver is legal, no player likes to be nailed by one. The perception is you’re going after an opponent’s knees. Perry felt Ballard got him low, which arguably could have been penalized as clipping.
Ballard doesn’t remember learning the hip check, only that he did it a lot in Phoenix to stand out. Gophers assistant coach Mike Guentzel recalls Ballard deploying the hip check a lot in college.
“Curt Giles was a great hip checker, so maybe Bally remembers him doing it with the North Stars,” Guentzel said. “Bally was always good at that and always had a knack for it. What makes Bally so good is how he goes from upright to low so quick, so it just surprises people and they get mad. But you’ve got to do what you’re good at.”