Wild's Setoguchi replants roots in new icy home

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2011 - 8:43 PM

Newcomer Devin Setoguchi, the NHL's only half-Japanese player, found a farm accident steered him toward a promising future.

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Devin Setoguchi, right, joined the Wild in a draft-night trade that sent Brent Burns to San Jose. The Wild is hopeful Setoguchi will help provide the scoring punch it has lacked.

Photo: Andy King, Associated Press

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Dany Heatley sat in the next stall, eavesdropping on Devin Setoguchi's story.

As his former San Jose Sharks and current Wild teammate showed off the scar, Heatley grimaced.

"That's when he figured it was waaaaaay easier to score goals," Heatley said.

He chuckled, but he wasn't kidding.

Setoguchi easily could have become a potato farmer in Taber, Alberta, like his father. But when Devin was 10, he sliced off the top of his left index finger on a conveyer.

"That kind of turned him off a bit," said Dale Setoguchi, more than a decade after his son's freak accident. "He kind of got gun-shy being around the farm after that. He was always thinking in his mind he didn't want to be a farmer.

"It worked out pretty good for him because I don't think I wanted to see him back here either," Dale said and laughed. "He probably wasn't cut out for it."

All turned out well for Devin Setoguchi.

He is 24 and making millions as one of the NHL's rising young goal-scorers. After beginning his career in San Jose, where he gained immediate success by scoring 31 goals during his first full season, Setoguchi has arrived in Minnesota, where a larger role and greater ice time seem certain.

None of this shocks proud father Dale, who was the Alberta Junior Hockey League's MVP in 1979.

"Devin was always a hockey player," Dale said by phone, taking a break from the thick of the potato harvest. "Hockey's his love. Even after he smashed his finger -- and it was quite an incident -- a week later he put a cap over it, taped it up and away he went.

"He didn't want to miss any games. He's lucky to be doing what he's doing, and he realizes it."

That's why anybody who talks about Devin Setoguchi says he's a guy who never has a bad day at the hockey rink.

"Always in a good mood," Heatley said.

A family's journey

Setoguchi knows things always could be worse. It's a lesson learned from his grandparents, Ken and Nancy, who still live in Taber, a town of 7,000 filled with farms and oil patches an hour north of the Montana border.

Setoguchi is a fourth generation Japanese-Canadian. His grandparents, born in British Columbia, were removed from their homes during World War II and placed in an internment camp.

"The theory behind it was anybody who was Japanese, even if they were American or Canadian, would be loyal to Japan and be spies," Setoguchi said.

His grandparents, who weren't together yet, spent four years imprisoned behind barbed wire. When the war was over, they returned to their homes in British Columbia only to find other families had moved in "with all their stuff in it."

"My grandma still gets fired up. She lost a lot of valuable stuff," Setoguchi said.

Ken and Nancy, along with about 15 other families, relocated to Taber to work the sugar beet fields. Ken began Setoguchi Farms in an area where today, Setoguchi says, there are roughly 10 farms run by Japanese families.

Setoguchi is proud that "I'm the only half-Japanese player in the NHL."

His favorite player growing up was Paul Kariya, whose father was a Japanese-Canadian born in an internment camp.

"My grandma, she has possibly every piece of memorabilia of the San Jose Sharks and now will get every piece of Minnesota Wild memorabilia," Setoguchi said. "She's got a 12-foot-sized poster shrine of me on the inside of their garage. She has a wall with probably 150 pictures of me."

Says Dale Setoguchi: "My parents were Devin's biggest fans from the day I put a pair of skates on him. They never missed a game, and still don't."

Change in plans

Setoguchi was blindsided the night of the NHL draft this June.

With the event in St. Paul and not knowing how the hometown fans would respond, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher executed a gutsy blockbuster by trading fan favorite Brent Burns and a draft pick to the Sharks for Setoguchi, top prospect Charlie Coyle and a first-round pick that became Zack Phillips.

"When he got traded, he was very disappointed," Heatley said of Setoguchi. "He was a good friend and a good teammate, so I called him that night and told him, 'It's going to be good there. You're going to like it. They traded for you because they want you.'"

Heatley added with a loud snicker, "Ten days later, he called me: 'It's going to be good there. You're going to like it. They traded for you because they want you.'"

Setoguchi admits it took time to get over the trade, which came one day after he signed a three-year, $9 million contract so he could continue to grow with the Sharks' core.

"It just kind of stunk the way it happened," Setoguchi said. "I respect [the Sharks] so much, and I grew as a player there a lot. I was traded for a guy who could be one of the best defensemen of the league.

"But I was just upset because you go so far in the playoffs, you go to the conference final two years in a row, and there's this anger when you lose. So there was this motivation to get a new deal done and, 'OK, Let's win a Cup now.' You want to be a part of that, and then a day later, you're not."

But Setoguchi is long past the disappointment.

After living in a peaceful suburb of San Jose near the mountains, Setoguchi's living in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, fighting the traffic and discovering favorite sushi restaurants.

"I've got to stick to my roots," he joked.

Called "Techno Gooch" in San Jose because of his love for techno, Setoguchi might even start playing the guitar again after frustration drove him to smash his two others into pieces.

His jam partner in San Jose was Rick Bronwell, but Setoguchi quit playing when Bronwell became a Wild assistant equipment manager. Now they're reunited.

"Our biggest attempt was Stone Temple Pilots' 'Interstate Love Song,'" said Bronwell, who has conversations with Setoguchi in fake Japanese. "He'd play one part. I'd play the other part. Didn't sound that good. Then he started throwing his guitars. I'm like, 'Dude, come on, just give them to me.'"

With the Wild

Most of all, Setoguchi is looking forward to a bigger role in Minnesota. After years of battling for ice time behind wingers such as Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, he will move from right wing to left on the most legitimate first line in Wild history.

Skating in the preseason with center Mikko Koivu and Heatley, Setoguchi scored a goal and had four assists as the trio combined for five goals and 11 assists in three games. He has shown to be a super-fast, super-aggressive, offensively gifted player with a knack for the net. His legs are always moving, which leads to induced penalties and power plays.

And his shoot-first mindset is why Fletcher acquired Setoguchi and Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer.

"You have to have guys like that," said former Wild coach Todd Richards, now an assistant with Columbus who coached Setoguchi for one year in San Jose. "[Setoguchi and Heatley] are finishers and proven goal-scorers. When they lost [Marian] Gaborik, we had lots of guys who wanted to pass but nobody who was willing to shoot and, once they got the opportunity, could actually finish."

Setoguchi knows he still has to earn his first-line duty to stay there, and one way would be to become more consistent. He's a streaky scorer, which was proven last season when he followed a miserable first half with an exceptional second half and postseason (seven goals, including two overtime winners).

"Sometimes a fresh start is good," Setoguchi said. "We're definitely motivated, not only Dany and myself but the whole group of guys and coaching staff. We've got a little swagger going where we can start fresh and erase whatever memory people had of this team in the past and try to build and move forward.

"I'm just excited. I'm young. I'm not married. I just kind of fend for myself and have fun and love the things I'm doing right now. I know a lot of other people would kill to be in the position that everyone in this dressing room is in."

  • 2011-12 NHL SEASON

    Opening night: Thursday • Wild opener: 7 p.m. Saturday vs. Columbus • Xcel Energy Center • TV: FSN

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