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In any event, we attended last night's Wild game and sat between two maestros in the press box -- Russo with his kinetic hockey energy and Reusse with his one-line pearls of observational wisdom. Having only casually kept up with the team for the first handful of games, here are our three big thoughts from what we saw against Chicago:
1) The Wild finally got some production from its second and third lines (goals in regulation by second-liner Matt Cullen, pictured during his shootout clincher, and third-liner Cal Clutterbuck). That said, we still aren't crazy about the way the lines shape up -- particularly the second line. Cullen, Devin Setoguchi and Mikael Granlund just aren't the right mix. The problem is the first line can't be touched -- those guys are playing at such a high level, even if last night wasn't their best game -- and the third line seems to be developing some nice chemistry. Clutterbuck and Pierre-Marc Bouchard play well together, and Kyle Brodziak is a nice third component. So what do you do? Well, Mike Yeo can be patient and hope the second-liners click on a more consistent basis. He can juggle lines, but again we like the dynamic of the first and third lines. Or the Wild can dip into Houston and see if a forward there can provide a spark. We would be intrigued to see what Charlie Coyle -- a big, power forward -- could bring to the mix. But who would be the odd man out? It's a tough call with no perfect answer.
2) Give Yeo tons of credit for the quick hook on Josh Harding last night. It was clear from the start that he was fighting the puck, giving up a bad-angle goal and getting off the hook when another similar shot rang the crossbar. Yeo pulled him after just two goals allowed -- and the Wild down 2-1, since Minnesota had scored first. The game was still very well in hand at that point. In an 82-game season, we're guessing Harding gets another goal before getting hooked. And maybe the Wild doesn't win that game. But Yeo demonstrated the proper sense of urgency, and Niklas Backstrom rewarded him with a stellar performance that led to two big points.
3) It was not an especially aesthetically pleasing game to watch. The Wild looked gassed about halfway through, playing the second leg of a back-to-back. But there is this: Minnesota overcame a rough start from its goalie, tired legs and a shootout against Chicago's ultra-talented shooters to claim two very important points in a short season. And let's not forget: that was the Blackhawks' first loss of the year after starting 6-0. Very good win.
Let's Play Hockey just tweeted this! Rocjards is back!
G Alec Richards (Robbinsdale, MN/Yale) has been reassigned from Rockford (AHL) to Dresden (Germany).
This "Rocjards" portion of the e-mail would have seemed like pure gibberish to pretty much anyone else. But to us, it was a reminder of an unfortunate mistake (by Judd) and a laugh we have had many times since it happened. With Judd's approval, we are now letting you in on the joke.
So: On Feb. 21, 2004, Judd was back in the Twin Cities after spending a year covering the Green Bay Packers for our newspaper (remember that?). He was filling in on various other subjects, and he was a huge hockey fan. So he drew some assignments covering high school hockey, which we were also covering a lot of at the time. Judd was sent out to cover a game between Breck and Blake, two of the top teams in Class 1A. These were the first few paragraphs of his account:
The Breck boys' hockey team clinched the Tri-Metro title outright Saturday in its regular-season finale, but there weren't many smiles as the players skated off the ice That was because Blake freshman Mike Louwerse gave the Bears a
2-2 tie by scoring with 2 minutes, 53 seconds left in the third period before a standing room only crowd of 1,014 that included at least 40 NHL scouts and Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough.
"Blake played a great game and in a lot of ways deserved to win," said Breck coach Wally Chapman, whose team is ranked second in Class A, one spot ahead of Blake. "We didn't play our best, but got great goaltending from Alec [Rocjards]. He was awesome all game."
Rocjards, a 6-3 junior, made 34 saves, including 13 in the third period when the Mustangs were outshot 14-4. Despite being outplayed in the first period, Breck (22-1-2, 7-0-1 Tri-Metro) took a 2-0 lead on goals by Alex Simcox and Jordan
Fulton. Rocjards stopped all 11 shots he faced. Blake forward Will Engasser - who is joined by teammates J.T. Wyman and Rob Page as Mr. Hockey finalists - cut the lead to one late in the second period. Breck, though, looked as if it might hold on in the third as Rocjards frustrated the Bears (22-2-1, 6-1-1) several times.
That's four mentions of the goalie, "Rocjards." Unfortunately, his last name is Richards (pictured, right). On the game program that night, however, it was spelled just the way Judd reported it. We can only imagine that whomever was typing in the rosters had their right hand one space too far to the right on the ol' home row when they typed his name (try it). Judd, knowing plenty about the Packers' increasingly lost seasons (they would lose to the Vikings in the playoffs the very next year) but very little specifically about that year's high school hockey landscape, made the same assumption most of us would make: that the spelling in the program was correct.
The Richards family, however, was not as impressed. We can't remember if the call came to us or Judd, but it was not an easy one to explain (we did run a correction, of course). Nine years later, though, Richards is still playing. And we continue to laugh about the mishap with Judd.
In quite a few markets that have both NBA and NHL franchises, the teams play home games in the same arena. This, of course, makes for some schedule juggling on both accounts, since both cannot occupy the building on the same night (if they did, it would be super-weird, with guys skating around shooting baskets or tall dudes heaving a modified puck-ball at a net). But it also ensures there will not be home games for both on the same night, giving the savvy overall sports fan -- one who likes both the NBA and NHL, which admittedly might be fewer people than we think -- an obvious attendance option.
The Wild and Timberwolves, however, play in different buildings in the respective downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Of the Wild's 48 games in this condensed season, 17 of them fall on the same night as Wolves games. And in several cases -- tonight being the latest example, with the Wolves hosting the Clippers and the Wild facing the Blackhawks -- both are at home on the same night.
Now, this is hardly a crisis. But it does force a choice -- particularly when both opponents are so appealing (the Clippers are tearing up the West and Chicago is undefeated so far this season in six games).
So here is the question, dear reader: If you and a friend had the night free and we handed you $150 (this is in theory; we are not really going to do this) and gave you these options, which would you choose:
1) Go to the Wild game.
2) Go to the Wolves game.
3) Go to a bar, spend some (or, um, all) of the money on food and drinks, and watch the game or games of your choosing at the bar.
4) Pick up a frozen pizza and some beers, pocket the rest of the money, and watch the game or games of your choosing at your house.
*Gophers men's basketball: The squad has dropped four consecutive games after a 15-1 start, and many folks are thinking "here we go again." But let's stop for a minute and evaluate. Minnesota is 3-4 in conference play. Three of those four losses were on the road. Three of those losses were to quality teams. Four of Minnesota's next five games are at home, including the next two against Nebraska and Iowa. The Gophers could just as easily get back on a roll as they could slide into oblivion. And even with all their struggles, they are still No. 11 in the RPI. If they can at least get to double-digit wins in this very tough Big Ten, they will have a good seed in the NCAA tournament.
*Wild: Yes, the team has lost three consecutive games (one in OT) and given up 13 goals in the process. But don't forget this is a team with plenty of new faces coming off an extremely truncated training camp. If Minnesota is still having lapses and not getting scoring from more than one line after 20 games, then push the panic button. For now, wait it out because there is talent on this squad.
*Wolves: There are very likely too many injuries to overcome to make the playoffs this season. That said, Rick Adelman is back, Ricky Rubio is at least starting to look at little better, Pek and Shved will provide a lift when they return from their short-term injuries and, well, if this team can ever stay healthy for a long enough stretch it will be dangerous. That might not be until 2013-14, but the foundation is there.
*Twins: We are on record in print saying this team will win at least 76 games. Squint a little harder, and we see a plus-.500 team. Functional starting pitching will go a long way, as will a healthy Justin Morneau, who looks as good as strong as any time we've seen him since his concussion.
As such, question: Are you panicking about the Wild right now, after three consecutive losses (one of them in OT), during which Minnesota has given up 13 total goals?
Or are you trying to keep the focus on the big picture -- namely that the season is only five games old, Minnesota did win its first two games, and the top line has been productive (even if the other lines and the defense have not always been up to par)?
This will come as a shock to Rocket and Clarence, but we haven't seen a ton of Wild hockey yet this season. We are planning on making our Xcel Energy Center debut on Wednesday for the Chicago game and can (hopefully) formulate some more opinions on what we are seeing then.
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