A dizzying roller coaster of highs and lows epitomized the Wild in 2015, which went from hopeless to the best team in the NHL during last season’s second half thanks to one goaltending acquisition.
It was a wild, unexpected turnaround, one in which the Wild was ridiculously good on the road, upset the division winner in the first round of the playoffs for a second year in a row but couldn’t beat the Blackhawks in the second round for a third year in a row.
There was elation in Devan Dubnyk being a Vezina Trophy finalist and Masterton Trophy winner and heartbreak in Zach Parise and Marco Scandella losing their fathers to cancer.
Here’s a look back at the Wild’s biggest stories in 2015:
• On Jan. 7, J.P. Parise, the beloved former North Star, died. Zach Parise painfully played through the anguish of watching his father suffer, but four days before his dad’s death, Parise admitted: “I’m trying to find ways to cope with it and I’m not doing a good job. I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy. … I don’t want to see him suffer anymore.” Parise, whose dad taught him everything about hockey, looked like a burden was lifted off his shoulders the second half of the season. Scandella’s dad and hero, Francesco, passed away Dec. 2. Scandella played the next night and said, “I just want to carry on the legacy of my dad. He was a great man.”
• After the Wild lost 12 of 14 games, Dubnyk was acquired Jan. 14 and was a revelation as the Wild went 28-9-3 to soar into the playoffs. He started 39 consecutive games, went 27-9-2 last season (most wins in the NHL in the second half) with a 1.78 goals-against average, .936 save percentage (team record) and five shutouts, went 15-2-1 on the road and was awarded a six-year, $26 million contract in June.
• One year after beating Colorado in seven games, the Wild knocked off St. Louis in six games to advance to the final eight for the second year in a row. Parise led the Wild with seven points in the series, and Dubnyk brushed off a Game 4 pummeling by walking into St. Louis and making 36 saves in a huge Game 5 win. But against Chicago, the Wild couldn’t manage one single lead in the series and shockingly was swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champs in four games.
• Other big stories: The Wild, after years of pursuing a Winter Classic, was finally awarded a Stadium Series outdoor game that will be played Feb. 21 against the Blackhawks at TCF Bank Stadium; for the second year in a row, the Wild wasn’t permitted to buy out veteran goalie Niklas Backstrom because of a medical issue (in 2014, it was season-ending abdominal and hip surgeries, in 2015 offseason elbow surgery); the cap-strapped Wild bought out the final year of the contract of Matt Cooke, who is now unofficially retired and helping Mark Parrish coach Orono High School; after weeks of being courted by high-profile teams such as the Blackhawks, Kings and Penguins, former Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly signed a free-agent contract with the Wild; assistant coach Darryl Sydor was arrested for drunken driving in August and missed training camp and the first month of the season.
• One of the coolest parts of my job is the personality profiles I get to write. Here were my 10 favorites (archived on startribune.com): 1. Scandella’s cool side translates well for Wild, Feb. 9; 2. Dubnyk has been a giant in goal, saving Wild’s season, Feb. 22; 3. Chris Stewart’s pregame sprints have Wild keeping heads up, March 26; 4. For Jason Zucker, perfection is the goal, April 15; 5. Man Behind The Mask: Devan Dubnyk, April 16; 6. Wild waits on Mikael Granlund to show his ability, Oct. 3; 7. Nino Niederreiter lives off-ice life to the fullest, Oct. 7; 8. The Old Man and the ‘C’: Wild captain Mikko Koivu rolls with the changes, Oct. 8; 9. Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba: Opposites who attract, Oct. 9; 10. Ryan Carter, family and home are the ties that bind, Nov. 25.
• And finally, there was the creepy, I mean humbling, birth of about a dozen Russo parody Twitter accounts having to do with everything from my attire, glasses, coffee addiction, thinning hair, apparent girlfriend, mother and more.
@RussosFilter, of course, will always be nearest and dearest to my heart because he was the trendsetter years ago when parody accounts weren’t so, uh, cool, but a special shout-out to @RussosSlacks (who clearly has too much time on his hands) for the clever GIFS and artwork.
Until the 2016 year in review, a happy and a healthy New Year to you all!
THE WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Monday: 7 p.m. vs. Detroit, FSN Plus
Thursday: 7 p.m. at St. Louis, FSN
Saturday: 6 p.m. at Tampa Ba, FSN Plus
Player to watch: Dylan Larkin, Red Wings
After one year at the University of Michigan, the 19-year-old leads all NHL rookies with 13 goals and the entire league with a ridiculous plus-21.
Voices “It’s 2015. Get some cameras. There shouldn’t be inconclusive goals anymore.” — Zach Parise on the Wild having two possible goals disallowed Tuesday against Montreal.