Who are these guys?
The roster says Minnesota Wild, but this isn’t the same group of guys that played hockey for six weeks like the Grinch treats Christmas.
Remember that team? The one that couldn’t score, couldn’t win, basically tuned out Mike Yeo and then quit on him?
Eight days later, the Wild can do no wrong, an about-face that resembles a person going from a sickbed to running a marathon.
The Wild won a fourth consecutive game by overwhelming the mighty Chicago Blackhawks 6-1 Sunday to put the finishing touches on a Minnesota showcase of outdoor hockey at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Wild is 4-0 under interim coach John Torchetti and has outscored its opponents 21-8.
This is the same team that looked listless in losing 13 of 14 games to prompt a coaching change. Given the before-and-after contrast, one can reasonably surmise that Yeo’s players really must have not enjoyed playing for him.
“When you have 20 guys who are not playing with confidence, it’s hard to win games,” Thomas Vanek said. “I think the coaching change — right or not — what it does is have everyone start from zero again.”
Maybe this is only a temporary high, but something substantial has clicked with Torchetti that disappeared under Yeo’s watch.
That’s an indictment of Yeo and his players. Both deserve blame.
The players clearly aren’t as pitiful as they looked, but for whatever reason, they stopped playing for Yeo. This team should serve as a case study in the strange psychology of sports and how a coach can lose his team.
“Everything that happened is a wake-up call for all of us,” captain Mikko Koivu said.
Here’s one reason for the reboot: They’re actually putting the puck in the net. Whether that’s the Torch effect or something else, the Wild suddenly is scoring on tic-tac-toe passes.
The team is so hot that Erik Haula scored a goal Sunday without even putting the puck in the net. Seriously, that happened.
Haula was pulled down from behind as he raced toward an empty net, thus awarded a goal.
“I think Torch has definitely stepped in and kind of gave us freedom to make more plays offensively and came in with new ideas and created a spark for our team,” said Jason Pominville, who suddenly looks re-engaged.
The Wild’s revival set a perfect tone to a festive Stadium Series weekend. Owner Craig Leipold begged and pleaded for an outdoor game for so long that he probably did cartwheels in his suite.
The temperature at puck drop was a cozy 35.6 degrees. Light snow fell during the first period to add a dash of Minnesota ambiance.
The vibe in the stadium of 50,000 spectators felt like a combination of a house party and a selfie convention.
This was more than a hockey game. It became a community event, the place to be.
Fans danced in the aisles as Cheap Trick played “I Want You To Want Me” live on stage during the first intermission.
Mites and squirts played pickup games on a miniature rink adjacent to the main ice.
The Wild kept the party lively by scoring goals like an avalanche.
One woman in the lower bowl captured the spirit of the scene by holding a simple blue sign above her head that read: “You Should Be Here.”
Some argue that the NHL holds too many outdoor games, that the novelty has worn off.
Not buying it.
Try telling that to the fans who watched and the players who participated.
“The first thing when you walk into the stadium was something you’ll never forget,” Koivu said.
Said Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk: “You can certainly see why football players get pretty fired up when they run onto the field. I found myself getting a little too excited and had to tell myself to calm down a bit.”
Defenseman Ryan Suter caught himself looking into the crowd during TV timeouts, describing the scene as “awesome.”
His 5-year-old son, Brooks, took home a different memory. Brooks sat on his dad’s lap during his postgame press conference. Asked his favorite thing about the game, Brooks paused and said, “Um, the win.”
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org