Sunday, January 8, 2012

Biting the hand that (helps to) feed you

Well, the Minnesota Wild are, indeed, in outright free-fall now. There is no sugar-coating it anymore. No excuses that can easily be accepted. No way to hide the inimitable fact:

This is a bad hockey team right now.

The last three games (Phoenix at home, at Vancouver, at Calgary) are prima facie evidence as to the 'Limbo theory' of hockey: 'How low can you go'?

The Wild have managed to lose to two teams, which you should have beaten like a drum (Phoenix and Calgary), and one that your talent level should have been able to keep up with (Vancouver), in an eight-day stretch where you returned two of your top-6 forwards and one of your top-4 defensemen to the lineup. Yes, the Wild have had injuries, but what team this season hasn't? The Wild are without Guillaume Latendresse, but other players (Sidney Crosby, Chris Pronger, others) have also been concussed, and their teams carry on without them. (In fact, four of the next five Wild opponents now have players on their rosters who are suffering post-concussion symptoms.) The good teams learn to get along without pieces of their puzzle when players are injured. The good teams find ways to persevere. The good teams find ways to turn adversity into triumph. Good teams find ways to win.

The Wild are now finding different ways to lose. There is no depth as to the embarrassment this team will drag itself into. The 2011-2012 Wild find themselves now inexorably linked to the 1999 Vikings, the 1994 Twins, and numerous Gopher football teams (of the last 50 seasons) as Minnesota sports team public embarrassments, that allowed major milestones by opposing players to happen against them. Jarome Iginla's 500th goal, a double-deflection Saturday night off the skates of Marek Zidlicky and Mikko Koivu, is just another sign as to the depths that this franchise has driven itself into. Like Rod Carew's 3,000th hit, the biggest collapse in NFL conference championship history, and numerous Big Ten and NCAA record football record days (not to mention two losses to 1-AA -- or whatever division they call it these days -- North Dakota State), the Wild have managed to be reminded of the embarassing way they played Saturday night, for all time. The players will be at home in the Czech Republic (Zidlicky) or Finland (Koivu), watching old NHL 'remember when' video, and watching that lack of effort again, and again, and again, and again...

And, then, if you could add injury to the insult that was the last game in Calgary for this season, inexplicably, one of the forwards dissed Minneapolis Star-Tribune Wild beat writer Michael Russo after the game when Russo, doing nothing other than what he was hired to do, asked the player for a moment of his time. The player responded with, 'I have #*$& to get done'.

Uh, excuse me there. Part of your job is to interact with this man. Part of the reason you exist is the excitement in the community from what Russo generates. Part of the reason you have a contract, a contract that allows you a living playing a game, a contract that can feed you, and your family, is the buzz that is reported in the newspaper, on the radio, online, and thru social media. (Including this blog, by the way.) Russo (and Bruce Brothers, at the St. Paul Pioneer Press) are the two people you should least consider to brush off. The fact that you did it at all is bad enough. The fact that it was done, when your team needs all the friends it can get right now, especially in light of a 1-7-2 record in your last ten games, makes it that much worse. The fact that you did it to one of the two people that basically you can't get away from, (as they are assigned by their employers to follow you), makes it absolutely inexcusable.

Can you be disappointed? Yes. Can you be angry? I hope you are! (Might make you play better.) Can you improve your game? I hope you can! But don't take your frustrations out on those who attempt to help keep that lifestyle, which your talent and work up to this point have allowed you to earn, in the public eye. The fact is that without a Russo, this team could have easily been the second coming of the Atlanta Thrashers; a team which played to half-empty houses, garnered no press, couldn't get on TV, generated absolutely zero buzz in the community, and finally packed up and moved out after losing so often, that the fans just stopped coming, and the bills stopped getting paid.

So, dear Wild player, please stop and think, before you blow off the everyday beat writer. He's doing his job, just like you're doing yours. You need him, in order for you to survive and thrive in this environment, more than he needs you. Your environment is a product of your poor play in the last month. Don't like your environment? Change it. Work harder. Play smarter. Start winning again.

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