While the stars often shine, Kyle Brodziak has been just as important for the Wild because of a versatile game forged through good, old-fashioned hard work.
Early in the second period Saturday night, the St. Louis Blues had a power play and a chance to take a stranglehold on their game with the Wild.
Wild center Kyle Brodziak pressured David Backes to dump the puck into the Blues end. Brodziak then made a sharp left turn and chased Kevin Shattenkirk around that zone before heading off the ice.
Mikko Koivu stepped on for Brodziak. Moments later, the score was tied in the second period and the crowd rejoiced over one of the sweetest short-handed goals of Koivu's career.
Brodziak was on the bench. He wouldn't get a plus-1 for the goal. He wouldn't get an assist.
But make no mistake: Without Brodziak's hustle, without the mayhem he created, that initial turnover and Koivu's goal never happens.
Perfectly symbolic of Kyle Brodziak's game. Unsung and underappreciated.
Koivu fashioned the highlight. Koivu received the accolades. And Brodziak, who created the momentum-building shift, wasn't even on the ice.
"I don't care at all," said Brodziak, in his third season with the Wild. "I don't mind not getting the accolades or credit. I do take pride coming to the rink and working hard because I know I have to. Without working hard, basically, my game is nothing."
Working for a living
Brodziak is a man who knows his limitations. He's not as skilled as Koivu. He's not as fast as Matt Cullen.
But the former seventh-round draft pick made an NHL career out of contributing offensively, being strong defensively and putting forth a work ethic that is admired by his teammates.
"He's probably one of the most, if not the most, underrated guy we have," teammate Cal Clutterbuck said. "He does too many things in too many situations that he never gets any credit for. But his credibility inside the room, everybody's got his back and everybody respects him -- a lot."
Even on nights where Brodziak's game is off, he never cheats from an effort standpoint.
"If the coach thinks I'm not working hard enough, I'm embarrassed. I take it to heart," Brodziak said. "When I feel like I wasn't working as hard as I could, I can't stop thinking about it. It drives me crazy."
After the Wild was trounced 5-2 two weeks ago in Los Angeles, Brodziak sat buried in his stall staring across the room. He ripped himself and the team saying, in part, "We weren't ready," and "We were standing there watching," and "We made it way too easy for them."
The next night in Anaheim, Brodziak arguably was the Wild's best player. He played a 200-foot game, sweating all over the ice. He scored the game's first goal. And his checking line, with wingers Darroll Powe and Nick Johnson, made the presence of Ducks forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan purely a rumor.
"If you're going to talk the talk, you better be ready to back it up. That's what Kyle did," coach Mike Yeo said. "We spent a lot of time together at the early part of the year trying to get him to understand our game and his role within our game and, to me, he just looks like he's got it figured out.
"He goes out there and he wants to be great defensively, he wants to be real strong on the puck. We put him out there against every team's top lines. We put him out every time to start the penalty kill. This guy is somebody I lean on."
A durable dude
What we're seeing with Brodziak is the evolution of a player.
He's a versatile player who can move up in lines, as he did two years ago with Guillaume Latendresse and Martin Havlat, and last season with Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Havlat. He can play wing or center. He can play power play or penalty kill. He can be put on the ice in any critical situation.
Brodziak was the first player trade of the Chuck Fletcher era. At the 2009 draft, the Wild general manager traded two draft picks to Edmonton for Brodziak and a sixth-round pick that became goalie Darcy Kuemper.
But Brodziak was young, finding his way. Today, the 27-year-old is assuming a leadership role and setting an example.
"I love the role I have right now," Brodziak said. "I love playing with the guys I'm playing with. Mike has made my role pretty clear, and that's great. It's more black and white. I know what I need to do, and I'm a perfectionist.
"I still think I have more to give to the team."
Brodziak, who averages 17 1/2 minutes a game, doesn't get a lot of power-play time but still would like to contribute more offensively. He's tied for sixth on the team with eight points. He'd like to improve on his .498 faceoff win percentage.
"You can win a lot of hockey games if you have a bunch of guys that can still play a good game without scoring goal," Yeo said. "Can you go out and be effective on the forecheck and bring momentum and play in the offensive zone and possess the puck and draw a penalty and defend really well and be frustrating to play against?
"These are all things that Brodzy does well."
The team ditz
Brodziak grew up in Vegreville, Alberta, a small town of 5,000 an hour outside of Edmonton.
When he was 14, his father, Dale, died of cancer at the age of 42. Kyle's mother, Marielle, was there to support her devastated children -- Kyle, older sister Shauna and younger brother Ryan.
"It was tough. It just stunk, but thank God for my mum," Brodziak said. "She's a pretty strong and smart lady, and she helped us through that."
Off the ice, Brodziak is a new father. His wife, Nicole, had the couple's first child, Lenny, on Aug. 26. In the locker room, Brodziak can be a cartoon character. He gets chirped for his music selection, and at times, he stares at the carpet for minutes at a time.
Teammates love to make fun of him, calling him the "team ditz."
"He brings it upon himself," laughed Clutterbuck. "You can be engaged in a conversation with him and it's like he realizes he's in a conversation after you've been talking to him for like five minutes. He'll go, 'Wait, what are we talking about?'"
Admits Brodziak: "If I'm in my own world, most of the time I'm thinking about hockey, especially this year.
"Before, I was always good leaving hockey at the rink, and this year for some reason, maybe it's because we're winning, that's all I think about. Even when I'm sitting on the couch, I'm thinking about hockey, I'm reading about hockey."
Free agency looms
Brodziak, 27, can become a free agent after this season. Fletcher continues to analyze the team, and hasn't offered a contract extension.
"We have a lot of potential forwards coming into our organization next year, so we have to balance that against who's here," Fletcher said. "But clearly he's played well and done what we've asked of him. The longer we play well and the longer he plays well while we're playing well, I think things will go fine."
Brodziak wants to stay long-term, but also doesn't want to think about his contract situation because "then you dwell on it and it becomes a problem."
His lone goal is to help the Wild end a three-year playoff drought.
If that happens, his role in doing so might go a little unsung and underappreciated from the outside.
But not inside the Wild dressing room.
"He doesn't have a letter on his jersey. He's not going to be a leading scorer on the team," Yeo said. "But I know one thing: He is respected by his teammates for all he does. They respect him because the way he goes out and plays, because he's play for his team, because he plays honest and because he puts an effort in everyday that's tough to match."
|Toronto - LP: A. Loup||4||FINAL|
|Cleveland - WP: J. Outman||6|
|LA Angels - LP: H. Santiago||1||FINAL|
|Detroit - WP: R. Porcello||2|
|Atlanta - LP: G. Schlosser||3||FINAL|
|NY Mets - WP: J. Valverde||4|
|Seattle - LP: T. Wilhelmsen||2||FINAL|
|Miami - WP: M. Dunn||3|
|St. Louis - LP: S. Maness||2||FINAL|
|Washington - WP: R. Soriano||3|
|Milwaukee - WP: Z. Duke||3||FINAL|
|Pittsburgh - LP: J. Gomez||2|
|NY Yankees - WP: P. Claiborne||5||FINAL|
|Tampa Bay - LP: H. Bell||1|
|Minnesota - WP: P. Hughes||8||FINAL|
|Kansas City - LP: Y. Ventura||3|
|Cincinnati - WP: H. Bailey||8||FINAL|
|Chicago Cubs - LP: C. Villanueva||2|
|Chicago WSox - WP: E. Johnson||16||FINAL|
|Texas - LP: R. Ross Jr.||2|
|Houston - LP: B. Peacock||1||FINAL|
|Oakland - WP: J. Chavez||4|
|Philadelphia - WP: J. Diekman||10||FINAL|
|Colorado - LP: M. Belisle||9|
|San Francisco - WP: T. Lincecum||4||FINAL|
|San Diego - LP: R. Erlin||3|
|Arizona - LP: J. Collmenter||1||FINAL|
|Los Angeles - WP: J. Wright||4|
|Baltimore - LP: B. Matusz||5||FINAL|
|Boston - WP: E. Mujica||6|
Poll: Can the Wild rally to win its playoff series against Colorado?