Thursday, February 25, 2010

Don Cherry's favorite reason to hate the Wild signs 3-year deal

Should we all feel sorry for Don Cherry now?

The irrascible, ornery ex-Boston Bruins coach and Hockey Night in Canada intermission icon will most definitely not like this news: the Minnesota Wild announced on Thursday that restricted free agent winger/pest extrordinare/hits leader Cal Clutterbuck has signed a new 3-year contract, keeping him with the only organization he has ever played for thru 2013. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the deal is worth $4.2 million over 3 seasons, a cap-friendly $1.4 million per season.

Clutterbuck, who last season set a new NHL record for hits (356), has over 250 this season, a season which will resume for the Wild next Wednesday evening when they meet the Calgary Flames at the Pengrowth Saddledome.


Monday, February 22, 2010

The Medalled Road

Well, we Olympic hockey fans were certainly paid yesterday, weren't we?

Three of the best hockey games probably of this generation, in one incredible day, in one city, all at the same arena. First, Ovie & Co. crushed Jagr (literally), Zid-LITS-ky & the Czech Legion 4-2, as a clean, open-ice hit turned the game in the Russians' favor. Russia awaits the winner of the play-in game, playing on Wednesday against either Belarus or Canada, who play on Tuesday...

...wait a minute! CANADA?!?!?!? What the hell happened to Canada??? Weren't they the team that was supposed to 'Own the Podium'?

Oh, yeah. They lost -- at home, nevertheless, (the last time I looked, British Columbia is still a part of the Dominion of Canada) -- to the USA, 5-3, as Brian Rafalski's two goals and Ryan Miller's 44 saves turned the 'Sea of Red' inside the arena nicknamed 'the Garage' into an angry, sober mob (as the City of Vancouver shut down the bars when the game ended, trying to avoid the riots which occurred after the Canucks choked away the Stanley Cup to the NY Rangers in 1994). The loss to the Americans means that the Canadians are seeded sixth in the Olympic medal round, and will play the eleventh-seed Germans on Tuesday, for the right to take on Ovie, Geno & Co., a.k.a. No. 3 Russia, in the quarterfinals on Wednesday; one of the three pre-Olympic top seeds will not even make it to the semis, should this become reality.

The USA goes into the medal round as the No. 1 seed, and they will play the winner of Tuesday's Switzerland-Belarus game on Wednesday afternoon, 2:00 PM Central Time. And, unlike last night's game, the second-highest rated US Olympic hockey game in history, (estimated 8.2 million viewers) was deliberately buried by NBC, the Olympics rights-holder in the USA, to the non-HD-equipped world of MSNBC, in favor of the 800-pound gorilla of Olympic competition, figure skating (specifically, the Ice Dancing original dance program). In another move which will throw further doubt as to whether or not the NHL will participate in the Sochi Games in 2014, Wednesday afternoon's quarterfinals game will be shown on the flagship NBC network...when most people who would want to see the game, are still at work.

In the nightcap, Sweden shut down -- and shutout -- Finland, 3-0, to take the No. 2 seed in the medal round. Finland, which had won everything else before then, takes the No. 4 seed, which means the USA will have to take on the Koivu Bros. & friends in the semis, should both teams get that far. The Swedes will get the Slovakia-Norway winner, while the Finns get the Czech Republic-Latvia winner in the quarters.

The semis will be on Friday; Saturday will be the bronze medal game, and the gold will be played for on Sunday (2:15 PM Central Time, the last event prior to the Closing Ceremonies). Where it will be on TV, does anybody really know?

Maybe on ShopNBC? Versus?


Friday, February 19, 2010

Olympic Thoughts

Enjoying the Olympic mens' hockey tournament?

I am, and I didn't think I would. But the fact of the matter is that these ARE the best players in the world, all in one (over-used) location, with the world's strangest array of starting times. Kind of reminds me of the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament, when games start anywhere (depending on round and opponent) from 8:30 in the morning until 9:00 PM (or later) at night.

It's even sadder that NBC couldn't find a way around the Olympic television problem, that USA-Canada will go up against the mighty 800-pound television gorilla of the Olympics -- Ladies' Figure Skating -- so that most of the USA will not be able to enjoy the best of their own country against the No. 1 team in the world, in a game which is desperate for fans south of the 49th parallel. (The USA-Canada game is on Sunday evening, 6:00 PM Central Time, on MSNBC, or as conservative rabble-rouser Rush Limbaugh calls it, 'MSDNC').

Oh yes, we know, the viewership is there and is KNOWN to be there for figure skating. That's a given, and no one is even remotely challenging that. However, you would think with two separate, 15,000-seat arenas to use (GM Pl -- er, Canada Hockey Place and the Pacific Coliseum, on the PNE grounds) you would have thought that this would have been a slam-dunk for the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee.

Not so.

And that, for the hockey fan, is another reason the NHL is casting doubt upon participating in Sochi, Russia, in 2014. For if the primary North American television rights holder doesn't think that it's important enough for hockey to be televised in primetime on its' primary channel, why should the NHL support that kind of behavior?

Enjoy the Olympics, folks. We'll talk again next week after the dressing rooms re-open on Wednesday. Until then, nationalism reigns!

-- WRT

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Wild throttle Canucks, 6-2, as Olympics, trade deadline loom

Final game of homestand becomes old-fashioned beatdown of divisonal rival

By Wild Road Tripper

With the eyes of the sporting world focused on their home town, the Vancouver Canucks ended their first half of a 14-game marathon road trip in grand style. Grand style, that is, for fans of the Minnesota Wild.

As 19,342, the third largest regular-season crowd in Wild franchise history, watched on Valentine's Day at Xcel Energy Center, the Wild systematically took apart the current Northwest Division leaders with one of the better efforts of the season, as the Wild proceeded to force Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo from the nets with 11:56 remaining in the game, after giving up the Wild's 5th goal, an incredulous scene where Cal Clutterbuck put the off the back boards rebound of a Kyle Brodziak breakaway shot past Luongo, to make it 5-1 Wild at that point.

The Wild had all cylinders firing in this one; even Derek Boogaard had an assist, was a +2 for the afternoon, and got the better of Darcy Hordichuk after Hordichuk horse-collared and cartwheeled Boogaard from behind, as Boogaard went along the boards to retrieve a loose puck. The Wild scored almost immediately after Hordichuk, who received the full package (2 minutes for instigating, 5 for fighting, 10-minute misconduct) for his derring-do. The goal was one of 4 power-play goals for the Wild, who went 4-for-7 in power plays, a most jarring turnaround for a power play unit which had been rather anemic earlier this season.

In fact, 10 different Wild players, including Brodziak and newcomer Cam Barker, acquired only on Friday afternoon for Kim Johnsson, tallied points, Barker's point a laser-shot goal which eluded relief Vancouver goalie Andrew Raycroft en route to finding twine. The Wild outshot the normally shot-happy Canucks 41-29, and held the normally effective Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, to just one assist. Even Greg Zanon got in on the act, saving a sure goal by Henrik Sedin in the first moment of the third period, by robbing Sedin while prone in the crease as Niklas Backstrom scrambled to get back into position.

So what now for the Wild? With the team now on a 17-day break for the Winter Olympics, and the NHL trade deadline looming a mere 63 hours after the Olympic roster freeze ends, we may have seen the last of at least some of the seven remaining Wild unrestricted free agents-to-be. The Wild end the pre-Olympic portion of the schedule in 13th place in the Western Conference, 64 points, five points behind the eighth and final playoff spot. The team occupying that spot will be the opponent in two of the next three Wild games:

Next Game: at Calgary, Wednesday, March 3, 8:00 PM Central (7:00 PM Mountain) Time, Pengrowth Saddledome. (Wild TV: FSNorth; Flames TV: Rogers SportsNet-West; XM Radio, Ch. TBA)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Totally Thrashed: Wild manage to beat themselves, Atlanta wins 3-2

Self-induced loss to lowly Thrashers ends playoff hopes; Wild are now sellers after Olympics

By Wild Road Tripper

It was a pathetic ending to a really pathetic game Friday night at Xcel Energy Center, as the playoff intentions of the Minnesota Wild were virtually snuffed out, from within, with a 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers before 18,257 somewhat stunned patrons.

The Wild as much beat themselves as the somewhat hapless Thrashers, still reeling themselves by the recent trade of Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils, helped themselves with two power-play goals as a result of 16 minutes in Wild penalties, which included wiping out 3:15 of a double minor power play, including a 2-man advantage for Minnesota in the first period as the minutes just kept on coming.

This game was a microcosm of the Wild season. Truly, the gang that couldn't shoot straight, didn't. Even though Atlanta goaltender Johan Hedberg was credited with 35 saves, most of the night the frustrated Wild just let things fall where they may, instead of taking the action to team which, in my opinion, should have been ripe for the taking. No one in Iron Range Red was on their game tonight. No one.

So enjoy the last Wild game (due to the Olympic break) before the 2:00 PM March 3 trade deadline, Minnesota. Because some of those you see Sunday in green sweaters (it's a third jersey game), you will not see in Minnesota sweaters after they return. Why then?

Yep, you guessed it. They're sellers.

Next Game: vs. Vancouver, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2:00 PM, Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: KSTP-5 in HD; Canucks TV: CITY-TV, CSN-Northwest (yes, Seattle, you get hockey on Sunday!); XM Radio, Ch. 207)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dog Daze: Pass-happy Wild lose to 'Yotes 3-2

Too many passes, not enough shots equal home loss as Wild position becomes precarious

By Wild Road Tripper

The future for the season of the Minnesota Wild rarely looked so bleak. After starting out against the Phoenix Coyotes with more optimism than they had in weeks -- after all, starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom was fully healthy again, for the first time in a fortnight -- and actually scoring the first goal of the game, for the seventh time in their last eight games -- the 'Yotes came roaring back to beat the Wild Wednesday night, 3-2, before 18,178 at Xcel Energy Center, to sweep the season series from the Wild, 4 games to none.

Well, I wouldn't say 'roaring' back. More like, 'boring' back. This game was a real snoozer, folks. The Wild had plenty of opportunity to score, but time after time, they never went for the ugly, garbage goal. They wanted the 'pretty' goals, the mis-directions into the open net, the no-look passes to open men. One problem:

There weren't any men open very often to pass TO.

The Coyotes defense, stellar all night, clamped down hard in the third period, yet the Wild forwards just didn't get it. You had to go inside on this group to get goals. There were goals to be had. The Wild just didn't want to get their noses bloody enough to go get them.

Now, with the Wild clinging to the slightest of playoff hope, they must sweep the final two games of the pre-Olympic homestand, beginning with the Next Game: vs. Atlanta, Friday, Feb. 12, 7:00 PM Central (8:00 PM Eastern) time, Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: KSTC-45; Atlanta TV: SportSouth; XM radio, Ch. 209)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wild to start 2010-11 season in Finland

Two games vs. Carolina Hurricanes to start NHL season, game vs. Finnish club highlight overseas start in October

By Wild Road Tripper

The National Hockey League announced Tuesday afternoon that the Minnesota Wild will be one of six teams who will begin the 2010-11 season in Europe, playing back-to-back games vs. the Carolina Hurricanes on October 7 & 8, Thursday and Friday, in Helsinki, Finland, at Hartwell Arena, the nation's largest hockey facility. In addition, the Wild will play against TPS Turku, the Finnish Sm-liiga team partially owned by Wild team captain Mikko Koivu, in his hometown.

Other teams and locations announced Tuesday for the 'NHL Premiere' games will include the San Jose Sharks vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets in Stockholm, Sweden, and the Boston Bruins vs. the Phoenix Coyotes in Prague, Czech Republic. There will be two games per day for two of the four days of NHL Premiere. All NHL Premiere games will be carried on the NHL Network; no local TV arrangements were announced Tuesday.

The Wild and Hurricanes currently roster three Finns each: Koivu, Helsinki-native Niklas Backstrom, and Antti Miettinen make up the Finnish Wild contingent, while Jussi Jokinen, Joni Pitkanen and Tuomo Ruutu make up the 'Canes roster of Finns. The trip will shove the pre-season earlier into September as they will play primarily the other five teams going overseas (so they all can stay on the same schedule) before crossing the Swamp -- er, North Atlantic -- to the Land of the REAL Reindeer (hey, Lapland is only a few hours' train ride away!)

And, of course, Finnish saunas...more on this story as it develops.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Khudobin goes Wild, downs Flyers 2-1

Rookie in second NHL game saves day with 38-save stellar performance

By Wild Road Tripper

Some old-time Minnesota Wild hockey came out of the dressing room at Xcel Energy Center Saturday night. Rookie Anton Khudobin, making his second NHL appearance and first start at hockey's top level, is sure appreciative that it did.

The Wild ran its home winning streak to four straight, and eight of its' last nine, as they rode Khudobin's 38-save performance to a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Flyers' second straight loss on their Western road swing.

Khudobin's game was the difference, according to Wild Head Coach Todd Richards in the post-game press conference. From my own point of view, as well as the team's, he really DID hold the Wild in the game, especially in the first period, as lacklustre a stanza as the Wild have produced since the disasterous first week of November, where they lost two games in three nights, at home, to Vancouver and Dallas. The Wild came out tentative and the Flyers were just willing to let the Wild do that, although Cal Clutterbuck's surprise goal 15:37 in opened the scoring, it didn't take the Flyers long, as Daniel Carcillo, a All-Star 'Blackheart' if there ever was, cashed in a rebound as Marek Zidlicky failed (once again) to take out his man in front of Khudobin, to tie it up with just over 4 minutes remaining.

The second period was much better for the Wild as the tempo -- and the hitting -- started getting fierce, punctuated with Derek Boogaard's de-helmeting of ex-Canuck Lukas Krajicek near the mid-way point. Shortly afterwards, Owen Nolan's rebound goal made it 2-1 Minnesota, and that's where it stayed.

The third period was a throwback to the Jacques Lemaire era: get the puck, play the puck, dump the puck, repeat. Again, and again, and again, and again. The Flyers were becoming more frustrated with every shift. But, there was nothing they could really muster. Even in the waning seconds, after goalie Michael Leighton was pulled for the extra attacker, did the Wild stray from what they were formerly famous for -- defense. And, this time, they were successful.

As the crowd of 18,640 (minus a few Flyers' fans, mostly decked out in their blaze orange) cheered their approval, the traditional 'goalie huddle' after a victory probably never was so well-earned. The boys actually did it; they beat the Flyers, for the first time in five meetings since 2003, and they have their rookie call-up to thank for it.

Next Game: vs. Phoenix, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 7:00 PM Central (6:00 PM Mountain) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth in HD; No Coyotes' TV; XM Radio, Ch. 209)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Khudobin, Latendresse 'Save' the Day, Wild squeak past Oilers 4-2

Harding re-aggravates hip injury as Wild win 12th straight vs. Edmonton in St. Paul

By Wild Road Tripper

From a ho-hum, boring game to a lightning rod for several NHL careers, the third period of Thursday night's Minnesota Wild -- Edmonton Oilers game had more intrigue than a John Grisham novel. And a full house at Xcel Energy Center to bear witness to it all.

With starting goalie Josh Harding re-injuring his already wonky left hip 10:30 into the third period after sprawling for a game-saving save of a shot by Edmonton's J. F. Jacques, it was left to backup (and recent call-up from the Houston Aeros) Anton Khudobin to help save the day, and possibly the season, for the Wild, whose win tonight puts them back into 11th place (when combined with St. Louis' loss at home to San Jose). Guillaume Latendresse's dipsy-doodle puck carry, and subsequent game-winner, was scored just 1:45 after Khudobin relieved Harding after Harding was unable to continue in goal for Minnesota. Harding was seen limping off the ice, putting no weight whatsoever on his left leg as he was helped to the dressing room. Cal Clutterbuck was also seen limping to the dressing room at about the same time; no word was immediately forthcoming after the game from Wild staff members.

From that point, the battle cry for the 18,168 in attendance was, 'Support your Local Goaltender,' as the Wild were implored to end the game in regulation with a win. The victory was sealed when Martin Havlat scored his second goal of the game (first time he has two goals in a single game in a Wild sweater) to seal the victory. The Wild are now 3-0 against the Grease this season, with three more meetings to come (all after the Olympic break), two of them in Edmonton. The Wild now have won twelve straight against the Oil in St. Paul.

So for now, the question is: Who plays goal Saturday night against Philadelphia? Whomever does better be ready, as the Flyers will have had three days off and come off a Western Canadian swing which did not turn out as well as most Flyers fans had hoped. So far.

Next Game: vs. Philadelphia, Saturday, Feb. 6, 7:00 PM Central (8:00 PM Eastern) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: KSTC-45; Flyers' TV: Comcast SportsNet-Philadelphia; both feeds in HD; XM Radio, Ch. 241)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wild go o-fer-Big 'D' for sixth year as Stars win 4-2

Last-minute injury, 'dirtiest player in game' combine to help Dallas extend Wild losing streak in Metroplex to six full seasons

The Wild just can't get a victory out of Victory Station.

The Dallas Stars, behind Steve Ott's two fights against Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck, fought -- literally -- their way to a 4-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, as an announced 16,729 roared their approval for Mike Modano's goal and assist, which propelled the Stars to victory at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, whose commuter train stop (for trains to Fort Worth) is named 'Victory Station'. The victory solidfied Dallas in 10th place in the NHL Western Conference.

Without Derek Boogaard and John Scott in the lineup, the Stars' Steve Ott, widely known as one of the dirtest players in the NHL, was allowed to run roughshod over the overmatched Wild, playing their fourth game in seven nights, as they ended a three-game road trip with a 1-2 record.

The problems were exacerbated prior to the game, as the Wild's Josh Harding, the scheduled starting goalie, somehow re-aggravated his hip injury in warm-ups, necessitating the use of emergency call-up Wade Dubleiewicz, who was re-recalled to the big club after being sent down on Monday to the Houston Aeros. Dubleiewicz played in the Aeros' game vs. Abbotsford on Monday night, after traveling from San Jose to Houston on Monday, after having been sent back when Niklas Backstrom, who had been ill, was declared OK to play on Sunday. Tuesday morning, Backstrom was sent back to Minnesota, as he still was not feeling well.

The Wild now are home for the next month; two weeks of that, however, is the Olympic break, when locker rooms are closed. Prior to that, there is a five-game homestand, beginning with the Next Game: vs. Edmonton, Thursday, Feb. 4, 7:00 PM Central (6:00 PM Mountain) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth (including FSWisconsin) in HD; Oilers' TV: Rogers SportsNet-West; XM Radio, Ch. 238)

-- WRT

Monday, February 1, 2010

Wings and Wild Tuesday Night!

Yeah, I know, the Minnesota Wild are playing the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center in Dallas (7:00 PM, Versus, TSN2, in HD) Tuesday night. If you are a DirecTV subscriber, however, the continued spat between DirecTV and Comcast (owner of Versus) over rights fees will prevent you from seeing Tuesday night's game, even if you subscribe to the NHL-operated 'Center Ice' TV package.

The Buffalo Wild Wings chain of restaurants in the Twin Cities area will have the game on in their establishments. And, of course, Tuesday is 40 cent-per-wing night. BWW restaurants in 'Greater' Minnesota (i.e., outside the Twin Cities) may or may not carry the game; inquire locally.

-- WRT