Greetings from Chicago, where we met with Wild coach Mike Yeo and the players at the team hotel before they met to game-plan for the Blackhawks series.
Wrote my column for the Friday paper on the unlikelihood of a line of Kyle Brodziak, Nino Niederreiter and Dany Heatley dominating Game 7 of the playoffs, and while speaking with Heatley, he went out of his way to spread some of the credit around.
Heatley was scratched in Games 1 and 2. Instead of griping, he, according to Yeo and his teammates, kept his chin up and encouraged his teammates. He said he actually benefitted from the rest, and from working on skating and skills with two Wild coaches who also played for the team, Darby Hendrickson and Andrew Brunette.
Hendrickson is an assistant coach. Brunette is an advisor to hockey operations and a power-play consultant. So, a coach.
``It was tough,’’ Heatley said of being scratched. ``You kind of knew that if you get scratched and the team goes on a good run it’s going to be tough to get back in. I kind of took it as a positive, to get some rest. You’ve got to give Darby and Bruno a lot of credit. They really helped me, skating, working on different stuff that you don’t get to do if you’re in the lineup.
``I did feel like when I was in the lineup I was able to help this team.’’
I've been impressed with this group's maturity. So often when a team pulls an upset, you hear coaches and athletes taunting anyone who could have possibly doubted them, overlooking the fact that their own performances in the past made them underdogs.
This team hasn't whined about bad calls, hasn't made excuses. Kyle Brodziak and Heatley were benched and they didn't complain, and they were big factors in the series win. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are cool heads, and the combination of their leadership and that of the coaching staff has helped the young players develop and handle the pressure of the playoffs.
Even when I spoke with a prominent player in private at the team hotel, and noted that he must be exhausted, that the Wild has been put in a terrible position by having to play two days after an overtime night game in Game 7, the player said, ``This is great. This is what you live for.''
To me, Yeo has proved himself as a leader down the playoff stretch and through one round of the playoffs.
What Wild fans might want to remember is that this team wasn't supposed to make it to the second round of the playoffs. So if the expected happens, and the Blackhawks win this series, that shouldn't discredit what the Wild has done the last two months. For me, this season is already a success.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 and 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities at around 12:15 on Friday. I'll be in Chicago for Sunday Morning Sports Talk, 10-noon on Sunday.