Richards, Wild try to shake pervasive mood of dejection

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 27, 2011 - 11:43 PM

As the season-killing skid continues, the team is trying to salvage something.

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Wild coach Todd Richards

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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After another long night Saturday, after the Wild lost another one-sided game, coach Todd Richards went home, got into bed. The 6-3 loss to St. Louis was running through his head, over and over. So you're thinking, no sleep, right? Tossing, turning, fretting, worrying.

"You know what? I actually fell asleep right away," Richards said after Sunday's practice at St. Thomas Academy. "I woke up at 3 in the morning, that was the only problem. Up the rest of the night."

Yes, the Wild practiced Sunday. And no, Richards didn't skate his players into oblivion, yell or rant or scream. The time for that is past, he said.

"At this stage of the season there are expectations and guys know," he said. "I've done a lot of talking over the last four or five days, really since the Montreal game. I've done enough talking. ... It's not about beating the guy completely into the ground. They feel bad enough the way it is."

So, the night after the Wild's winless streak reached eight games, the team bused to practice and hit the ice for an up-tempo, businesslike workout. On a day some expected to hear yelling, the volume was surprisingly subdued. On the night after a 30-minute postgame meeting between coaches and players, there were few smiles. In the dressing room, as the players ditched their skates for sneakers, there wasn't a lot of banter. Veteran Matt Cullen talked about being professional, working hard, trying to keep your head up. "Everyone feels sick about it," he said of the streak. "There are really no excuses."

But does everybody? Really? The difficult question after another one-sided loss is whether everybody is still bought in.

After the game Andrew Brunette treated the word "quit" as if it was a live hand grenade, a four-letter word as big as an elephant in the team's dressing room.

Will that meeting put the team back at reset, ready to salvage something from the final seven games?

"I hope so," Cullen said. "We all hope it will, we all expect it to.''

Said veteran center John Madden: "We won't know until we get on the ice [Tuesday] and play. We'll find out who is buying in and who is not."

Center Kyle Brodziak put it well: "We're in a brutal situation right now. ... I am [still bought-in]. That's all I know. I really hope [the whole team] is. We have to battle for each other. There is nothing else, really. We can't lose that. Because no matter how bad it is now, it can get worse. It can definitely get worse."

That's what it comes down to. In Richards' view, skating the players senseless just didn't make sense to him -- even with his seat growing hotter by the game, even with the specter of changes potentially coming. During Saturday's game he tried to switch things around. Veteran winger Martin Havlat was limited to less than 11 minutes of ice time, for example. Asked if he had benched Havlat, Richards said, "The way the game was going, I thought there were other guys I needed to use."

Said Havlat: "No reaction to that. It's the coach's decision."

Havlat said he shared his teammates' disappointment. "Everybody is disappointed," he said. "It's going to be another year without the playoffs. We have to finish hard, play our best to the last game of the season. ... We were right there two weeks ago, and now everything is gone."

Richards deflected talk of his job security, noting with some muted sarcasm that he always can tell how things are going by the questions he's asked by the media. He admitted how tempted he was to run a more taxing practice. "The guys, if you talk to them, to a man they're all embarrassed with the way the game went," he said. "They're disappointed with the way the end of the season is winding down, and they're hard on themselves. And, to be honest with you, I've been hard on 'em this year in certain instances. I didn't feel it was the time where I had to knock 'em down any lower."

But know this: Richards was able to find sleep after a bad game Saturday. No matter what happens going forward, he will have peace of mind. He'll find sleep again.

"I have two kids, so you always want to be a role model to your kids," Richards said. "And I'm not perfect by any means. ... I made mistakes along the way. That's how you learn. But when I put my head on the pillow every night, knowing you can sleep and rest and relax? I have that. Obviously I want our team to do better. But, as far as the daily things I've done, I'm comfortable. I'm fine with that."

  • WILD Up next: 7 p.m. Tuesday at St. Louis • TV: FSN (830-AM)

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