Category Archives: Off the Beaten Path

Sometimes news creates itself in strange ways.

Preseason Starts Tonight; Thoughts On Mark Johnson

First and foremost, let’s talk about tonight’s Wild preseason opener against the Edmonton Oilers. Let’s face it, preseason games don’t compare in any way whatsoever to a regular season contest, but we really, really need some hockey around here.

Most years, we’ve still got the Twins distracting us because their in the middle of a pennant chase. Judging by how little buzz their is about the Twins right now, I can only assume they locked up their postseason bid a long time ago.

Josh Harding will get the starting nod between the pipes tonight. It was a long and painful recovery for Harding, who blew out his knee in a preseason game at St. Louis a year ago. He’s the feel good story of the night, and he’ll get the chance to continue his progression toward feeling 100% comfortable.

Mike Lundin was originally slated to make his Wild preseason debut tonight, but some back issues have taken him out of the lineup. Tyler Cuma, another comeback story after a knee injury, will take his place.

The Oilers are playing two games tonight, so the Wild won’t see 2011 first overall pick, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Instead, they’ll get a look at 2010 first overall pick, Taylor Hall. Former Wild players Eric Belanger and Cam Barker will also be in the lineup, as will Wild draft pick Ryan Jones and former Centennial Cougar, Tyler Pitlick.

It was also announced today that Mark Johnson, Hockey Hall of Famer Bob Pulford, long-time USA Hockey executive Toni Rossi and Wisconsin coaching legend Jeff Sauer will receive the 2011 Lester Patrick Awards.

I just wanted to get a few words out there about Mark Johnson. About five years ago, I came across a co-workers desk where he had VHS tapes of every single USA Hockey game from the 1980 Olympics. The Sweden game, the Czechoslovakia game, the Romania game…all of them were there. The co-worker was nice enough to let me borrow them, and I spent the next two weeks watching every…single…minute.

Here’s what I will always remember: Mark Johnson was an absolute beast on that team. In every single U.S. game, he was the best player on the ice. He led the team in scoring in the Olympics, and was dominant in the biggest games.

If you’ve seen footage from the game against the Czechs in the preliminary round, you might remember footage of Herb Brooks, caught on camera threatening to stuff a Koho down the throat of a Czech player. He was just a bit incensed because that player had taken a run at Johnson, and Brooks knew an injured Johnson meant a chance for a U.S. medal of any kind was gone.

Johnson scored two goals in the “Miracle on Ice” game against Russia: one of which tied the game at 2-2 when he stormed the net and buried a rebound with one second left in the first period. Then, in the third period, he again tied the game at 3-3 by making a great play to catch a wayward puck and slide it home.

Of course, Mike Eruzione got the game-winner and Jim Craig held the Russians off the board the rest of the way, but Johnson came up even bigger two days later against Finland in the game the U.S. had to have to win the gold medal. With the score tied at 2-2, Johnson made an unreal pass from behind the Finnish net with two defenders on him. He found Rob McClanahan on the doorstep for the game-winner. Check out the play here. And while you’re at it, check out his game-winner against the Czechs.

Johnson later added the shorthanded insurance goal in the 4-2 win.

I was always a little miffed when the Kurt Russell version of “Miracle” came out, due to the lack of attention on Johnson. In fact, the little that was shown of him portrayed him as some type of talented hot-dogger (or Hongo as folks in Duluth might call him) unwilling to play Brooks’ “team-first” game.

By all accounts, this was a complete misrepresentation of who Johnson was. From what I’ve gathered was that he was one of the most unassuming and humble players on a roster filled with unassuming and humble players. Watch any interview with him, and it won’t do anything to change that perception.

After watching those videos, Mark Johnson easily became my favorite non-Wild, non-UMD Bulldog player of all time. And it’s not easy to say that about a Wisconsin Badger (with obvious exceptions like Dany Heatley, Robbie Earl and Sean Hill).

So, congratulations to Mark Johnson, who in my mind is the greatest U.S. Olympic hockey player of my lifetime (I was 10 months old during the Miracle On Ice, so it counts).

Leipold Issues Statement On Coleman’s Stadium Proposal

Earlier today, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman offered up a proposal in which a 2-cent fee would be added to alcoholic beverages sold in bars statewide. He said the money would be used to pay for a new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis, $75 million in upgrades to Xcel Energy Center and recreation fields throughout the state and a new ballpark for the St. Paul Saints.

As part of this proposal, the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis would close, and the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx would move into Xcel Energy Center.

In response to this proposal, Wild owner Craig Leipold issued the following statement:

Since the beginning of the legislative session, the Minnesota Wild has been in support of a global solution which would address all of the state’s professional sports facilities.

This proposal from Mayor Coleman, for the Xcel Energy Center to host the Timberwolves and Lynx, is a new idea in this discussion. It is certainly possible from a facility standpoint.  Multiple tenants in one building is common and is the case in most major markets around the country including Dallas, Denver, Chicago, and Los Angeles, where the Staples Center hosts three major league sports teams. While we haven’t discussed this idea with the Timberwolves, we would be happy to do so if the Wolves were interested in discussing this proposal.

Over the past few years, the Wild has developed plans for building improvements to keep the Xcel Energy Center a state of the art facility, including a multi-level expansion on the building’s north side. We have also supported the City of St. Paul’s work to build an Amateur Sports Center of Excellence on 7th Street across from the arena, which could also be used as a practice facility for the Wild.  Those existing plans could easily be modified to accommodate the needs of the Timberwolves and Lynx, including additional locker rooms, lower bowl modifications and additional retail and office space should the Wolves and Lynx decide to move to St. Paul.

We remain in close partnership with the City of Saint Paul and are a willing participant in this or any discussion on sports facilities reform and a potential global solution.

The Wild will offer no further comments at this time.

Brunette To Guest On NHL Network

Sooner or later, Andrew Brunette is bound for the airwaves as a hockey analyst. It’s going to be sooner. “Bruno” is going to serve as a guest analyst on NHL Network starting Friday through Sunday.

Brunette had one of the quicker wits in the Wild locker room over the past few years, and he’s certainly got the voice and the laugh that are perfect for TV. You can check out his TV chops on this video from the Wild Skills competition two years ago. I think it would be nice if they brought Derek Boogaard on the show for Brunette to interview him one more time. And if Brent Burns could also be brought in to stand in the background and laugh hysterically, all the better.

Happy St. Patrick’s/Final Five Day!

Top ‘o the lunch hour to ye! My St. Patrick’s Day gift to you is this stunning photograph of Wild communications intern Michael Placko, who is rocking the ultimate bow tie in the office today. The funny thing is that he forgot that it’s St. Patrick’s Day today, so he was relieved that we went with his Kelly green bow tie with neon green polka dots.

Here’s why the Minnesota Wild has to win tonight. It has nothing to do with the playoff push, and everything to do with avoiding a big night from Patrick Marleau and giving headline writers a lay up with “Day Belongs To St. Patrick.”

We need a Wild win and a Niklas Backstrom shutout so can immediately run with the shameless headline of “St. Patty’s Day Belongs To St. Nik.”

Backstrom will get the start tonight for the Wild, and it appears Marek Zidlicky will be out of the lineup. Marco Scandella will take his place.

Downtown St. Paul is bustling with folks dressed in their Bemidji State green colors. The Beaver fans certainly seem to be enjoying themselves, but of course that will come to an end in a few hours when the UMD Bulldogs run wild on the Beavs. I will be at Xcel Energy Center for both WCHA Final Five games tonight, which means Carly Peters will have your back with a live in-game commentary tonight. She owes us a win.


Sights Set On Calgary; Last Day For Camo Jersey Bids

Is it me, or are people around town walking around with a little extra giddy-up in their step? Some warm, sunny weather helps. The eve of the WCHA Final Five always gets folks around here a little geeked (especially when UMD is involved). And I’m sure folks are enjoying one last day of serenity before getting their Irish jig on tomorrow for St. Pat’s Day.

But I think it’s generally because we Minnesotans are an optimistic bunch, even on the heels of a three-game losing skid from the Minnesota Wild. Despite some negative reports today from the media bottom feeders about the Wild’s current position, there is some good news to talk about.

First off, every team the Wild needed to lose last night, did. Calgary, Dallas and Nashville all took the L’s in regulation, which is a double bonus.

The big result was the Calgary game. If the Wild are going to make a run at any team in the current top eight, it’s got to be the Flames. Calgary has played two more games than the Wild, which means those four points can be made up with Calgary not having any say in the matter.

Granted, Anaheim and Nashville are also ahead of the Wild and the Ducks have actually played one fewer game than Minnesota. I’ve got some good news there, too.

Once the Wild plays San Jose tomorrow night, they’ll play six of their next seven games at home. The opponents include Columbus, Montreal, Toronto, St. Louis (twice), Edmonton and Tampa Bay. Those all look like winnable games, with Montreal and Tampa being the only current playoff participants.

Further, the schedules for the other big three (CGY, NSH and ANA) look much more daunting. After a game against Colorado, the Flames must go on the road to take on Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose. The Preds are up against Boston, Detroit and Buffalo in their next three games. The Ducks get St. Louis tonight, but then have to face L.A., Calgary, Dallas and Nashville.

Not long ago, we were worried about almost every result in the Western Conference. Now, it’s time to focus only on those three other teams and pull for wins by Los Angeles, Phoenix and even Dallas and Chicago. Let those teams beat up on the others as we climb up.  Plus, the Wild owns the regulation win tiebreakers over Calgary and Nashville.

Basically, I’m saying the Wild can go 8-3-1 over the last 12 games, which would put them at 94 points, which I think gets them in. The Flames would have to go 7-3-0 to get to 95. I don’t see that happening. Nashville has to go 7-4-1 to get to 95. Anaheim has to go 7-5-1 to get to 94 points.

That was a lot of positive thinking right there, so I hope your head doesn’t explode.

In other news, the Wild recalled Marco Scandella yesterday due to Marek Zidlicky getting banged up in the Vancouver game.

A few other things of note:

  • Make another mental note that Sunday’s game against Montreal is at 5:00 p.m. and not 6:00 as was originally scheduled. Better yet, write it on your wrist with a Sharpie. Don’t worry about that looking unprofessional because it will match the other stamps that get placed on your body as you visit several establishments in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
  • Today is the last day to bid on the camouflage jerseys the Wild wore during warmups on February 22. Click here to bid.
  • The United States National Junior Team is going to announce its head coach for the 2012 World Juniors at Xcel Energy Center on Friday at 12:30. The press conference will be streamed live on One would think it’s going to be a WCHA coach that gets named. Perhaps Nebraska Omaha’s Dean Blais or Wisconsin’s Mike Eaves, both of whom have won World Junior gold medals. Maybe Minnesota’s Don Lucia gets the call this year? We shall see.
  • Hopefully you’ve had the chance to see the Boys’ state tournament music recap courtesy of KSTC-TV, but even if you have, it’s worth another look here. A huge thanks goes out to KSTC and the Minnesota State High School League for allowing to show that. I’ve seriously watched it 24 times in the last 24 hours. And I’m not done.