By Wild Road Tripper
It was the final game for the Minnesota Wild tonight at Xcel Energy Center, as the 2009-2010 season drew to a close. Normally, that would be the big event if your team was not going on to the playoffs. Normally, the last game would be a chance to say farewell to the local hockey club as they swing into their summer hiatus.
Saturday night, 19,109 -- announced as the sixth largest crowd in Wild regular-season history -- saw as abnormal a finish as the NHL can provide, with a four-round shootout which featured a future Hall of Famer, both teams' leading scorers, and a rookie in only his 12th NHL game. And then, there was Jamie Benn and his shootout winner, the only goal scored by either side in the four-round shootout, as the Dallas Stars completed the comeback with a 4-3 shootout win to end the NHL regular season for both teams.
And then, there was what happened after the game.
Mike Modano, ending his 20th NHL season and weeks away from age 40, was voted the No. 1 Star of the Game. He celebrated it very appropriately, at least for being in Minnesota.
He came out in a white late-80's Minnesota North Stars jersey -- the ones that he wore at the late, lamented Met Center -- to a second standing ovation, having been given pucks to sign and throw out to the lower bowl crowd. He was still wowed by the response after the game when he faced the press post-game (link: http://wild.nhl.tv/team/console.jsp?catid=842&id=65712).It was a fitting tribute to the only No. 1 overall draft choice of either Minnesota NHL team to make it long-term in the NHL. Twenty seasons is a very long time. 1,538 points, more than any other U.S.-born player in NHL history. And now, it could be all over. Modano was also feted during a TV timeout in the first period, as a Wild-produced video (link: http://wild.nhl.tv/team/console.jsp?catid=849&id=65693) celebrated his career as fans, players and even the game officials cheered for well over three minutes.
As for the game itself, Mikko Koivu and Steve Ott each scored twice, as the back-and-forth nature of this game made it only moderately entertaining knowing that this game was the end of the string for both teams. Rookie free-agent signee Casey Wellman also scored his first NHL goal, tying a team record for fastest goal from the start of the period, :09 into the third (tying Brian Rolston for that Wild team record). Neither had anything of consequence to play for going in: the Wild will pick 9th in the NHL Entry Draft June 25-26 in Los Angeles, and the Stars will draft either 12th or 13th (depending on results of Sunday's games).
The Wild will disperse on Monday (physicals) and Tuesday (exit interviews) with many, including head coach Todd Richards, destined for the IIHF World Championships in Germany which will begin at the end of April.
With six regulars out of the Wild lineup (Zidlicky, Nolan, Havlat, Latendresse, Harding, and Sheppard) the Wild were down to the bare minimum -- 18 players, 2 goalies -- as they limped across the finish line to close out their ninth season of play. They looked like a tired, beaten-up bunch of hockey players. They've played like it for weeks, tho. And that's the hard part.
Next Game: Next season. Schedule TBA (expected schedule release date: July 14th).
(BTW: This blog will continue all summer long. So, keep reading!) -- WRT