The Wild's marketing geniuses missed out on a guaranteed sellout of Xcel Energy Center this morning. After the first non-sellout in Wild regular-season history, fans would have flocked to the X and probably spent some big bucks if they knew what coach Todd Richards had in store for the boys this morning after last night's disappointing effort against Columbus.
I'm in my 16th year covering the NHL. I've covered, in a row, coaches Doug MacLean, Bryan Murray, Terry Murray, Duane Sutter, Mike Keenan, Rick Dudley, John Torchetti, Jacques Martin, Jacques Lemaire and Todd Richards.
Ten coaches. You know what?
Scratch all that. I covered Mike Keenan. Enough said.
If somebody didn't give Keenan the nickname "Iron Mike" first, Keenan's nickname could very well have been Mike "Bag Skate" Keenan.
I've seen some bag skates (no pucks, just skating and skating and skating) in my day, but as I wrote on Twitter, I've never covered anything like I did this morning, and certainly not four games into a brand new season.
To confirm my thoughts, I went to John Madden after practice, and without me even putting words in his mouth, he said he's never been in a bag skate that lasted as long and was as exhausting as Richards' skate-a-thon today.
"Message sent, message received," Madden said.
I definitely suggest you give my story a read in Monday's paper because there's some good scene-setting and quotes from players and Richards.
After last night's effort and the Wild's 1-2-1 start, Richards, who is clearly fighting to keep his job right now, showed he's not fooling around anymore. He's going to fight to try to get this team going while he still can.
It wasn't even the skating. Richards opened up the practice by gathering the troops and laying into them for last night, in particular the lack of winning battles. And in a profanity-laced screamfest, he told the team that they'd battle in today's practice until they "get it."
I immediately wrote on Twitter to get ready for a nasty practice, and boy, did I swing for the fences and connect with that hanging curveball.
Players nearly came to blows a half-dozen times. Cal Clutterbuck and Justin Falk. Cal Clutterbuck and Guillaume Latendresse. Cam Barker and Kyle Brodziak, who nearly got into it during Wednesday's practice. The one today, Richards had to break up himself. Greg Zanon and Brad Staubitz, and the loudest of them all, Nick Schultz just lit into Staubitz verbally and for a very long time after one nasty exchange.
"We had some emotion in practice. and that’s the type of battle we need in the games," Richards said afterward.
It was unbelievably physical, so much so, that I joked on Twitter that Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who watched with his mouth probably ajar, likely got a setback simply by watching the battles. It was that unbelievably intense.
After the battling for 20 minutes, the coaches took the nets off the moorings, which is always the signal for players that their legs are about to burn.
Richards skated these guys for 20 minutes without pucks -- intense, endless skating. At one point, all four groups of skaters were bent over with their hands on their knees trying to catch their breath in the four corners of the rink. Richards stood stationary at center ice. The arena was eerily silent for about a minute.
We were all wondering what would happen next.
One of four players in one corner finally gave a hoot, and Richards looked in that corner and barked, "Three laps." And with that, the four players -- Madden, Cam Barker, Marek Zidlicky and Bouchard began another set of laps, which was followed by the other three sets of players.
Finally, Richards called the team into the middle of the ice and went into one final profanity-laced instruction, telling them to buy in, to compete and to be a "team." Essentially, that's what he said. Point made, and with that the coaches skated right to the bench and exited with the players still on the ice.
It was a scene, man.
Lots of quotes in the paper, especially from Andrew Brunette, who said it's not a good time right now for this team. And remember, we're four games in, not 50.
By the way, during the entire practice, GM Chuck Fletcher sat alone high atop the lower bowl with his hands on his chin watching.
Matt Cullen was lucky enough to be ill today. He missed all this fun, although he's such a fitness freak, the sicko probably would have enjoyed it.
And Brent Burns was lucky enough to injure himself yesterday. He missed practice, but he's expected to be ready by Tuesday. Richards called it a "lower body injury," but I already reported in Sunday's paper what's wrong with him and I hear it's broken. But the fact Richards is calling it a "lower body" is actually a great thing. It means Burns actually has got a good shot of playing Tuesday against Vancouver.
Richards put it at "80 percent," and boy do the Wild need Burnzie.
Burns has had a good start to the season, especially the last three games, and is the only defenseman to score a goal so far is Burns (two to be exact, including Saturday night's highlight-reel one, which can be found on the below blog post).
That's it! Did Richards' message really get received? We'll find out Tuesday, and as Richards said, beyond because it's not about one game. The level of effort and battle can be controlled, and it must be in every game, Richards said.
Enjoy your Sunday Wild fans.