EDMONTON – After an even-louder-than-usual postgame cheer, Wild jerseys spilled out of the team’s quarters at Rogers Place.
But it wasn’t players getting ready to pack up and head home.
It was their dads, mentors and other guests wearing their jerseys exiting after the celebration for a 5-3 win over the Oilers on Friday – an outcome that improved the entourage to 2-0 during a two-game trip through Western Canada.
“It gives you goosebumps,” interim coach Dean Evason said. “Just as you’re talking and saying it, it gives me goosebumps. To look around the room after and to see all the jerseys, the huge smiles on dads and mentors, yeah, it’s special for sure. Very special.”
Not everyone’s dad made the trip; defenseman Jared Spurgeon’s father Barry didn’t go to Vancouver, instead meeting up with his son in his hometown of Edmonton. But once his dad was in attendance, Spurgeon shined – recording his first career hat trick to lead the Wild to a comeback victory.
“He stayed here,” Spurgeon said. “He had some work to do. I was able to go home last night, have some dinner with everyone. It’s pretty special.”
Asked if the team will petition to keep the group around as it continues its playoff push, goalie Alex Stalock said, “I don’t know if they can hang in there, honestly. I think my dad needs about a month off.”
The Wild’s rally coincided with better defending.
After the Leon Draisaitl line toyed with the team through the first two periods, recording all three of Edmonton’s goals – “Draisaitl’s line was just eating us up,” Evason said – the Wild tightened up in the third – improved play that helped it generate offense. In the end, the Wild registered a season-high 26 blocked shots.
“I think in the first two periods we had a lot of odd-man rushes against, and we had to block them,” Spurgeon said. “So, I think in the third we cleaned that up.”
The Wild wasn’t at full strength by the end of the game, with center Luke Kunin and defenseman Carson Soucy leaving the game with upper-body injuries.
Without Kunin, Evason juggled the forward lines up front by tapping into the team’s center depth since a few wingers have experience playing up the middle.
“It’s so nice,” Evason said of the versatility. “You can bump guys up and down. [Ryan Hartman] played a little bit of center, and [Alex Galchenyuk] played a little bit of center. We had a real scramble fest going there in the third, but the guys were committed and didn’t matter who we called up. They just played and played the right way. So, it’s very encouraging.”
Even playing shorthanded, the evening was a strong one for the Wild defense. Not only did it slow down the Oilers as the game progressed, but the blue line totaled six points.
“We’re playing well, and that’s how we win,” said Ryan Suter, who had two assists. “We’ve got to chip in and contribute from the back end.”