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Fitting In

by Ben Palosaari / Minnesota Wild

Minnesota Wild winger Andrew Brunette has quietly spent most of his career playing alongside explosive scorers with a focus on feeding them the puck. Whether it was in Colorado, making legendary Avalanche center Joe Sakic look, well, more legendary, or earning his keep at Xcel Energy Center, slipping the puck to a streaking Marian Gaborik, Brunette is accustomed to skating in the shadow of his teams’ flashier offensive players.

That’s not the case this season though. Although he’s spent most of the season teamed up with Finnish Olympians Mikko Koivu and Antti Miettinen, “Bruno’s” line has set the tone for the Wild’s offense all season through unselfish play and awareness of each other’s tendencies.

The trio has done it with substance—passing, racking up assists and controlling the puck in the offensive zone—rather than sizzle. Their success and ESP-like awareness of each other’s location on the ice, Brunette says, is the product of communication and hard-earned chemistry from playing together day in and day out.

“I don’t think any of us is a natural goal-scorer. We create chances for each other,” he says. “It’s not like playing with Gabby, where you get him the puck because he’s the shooter.”

Specifically, Brunette says, the rapport he’s built with Koivu and Miettinen has led to success in front of the net, where the goals come as a result of quick passing and rebounds, rather than converting off the rush.

“We’re very good at cycling and creating plays around the net and reading off each other,” Brunette explained. “Once you get a little bit of that chemistry going, you can throw pucks without even looking, and that’s where you become a dangerous line.”

The goals Brunette’s scrappy play has produced have been particularly important late in games this season, given the Wild’s penchant for hard-charging comebacks.
“Desperation seeps into your game,” he says.  “Especially when you get one [goal], it just seems to keep building. Especially earlier in the season, we were down, and then it seemed the pressure was off, and we got on our toes and just played.”

Although the Wild has been better as of late in terms of scoring the first goal and playing with a lead, Brunette says that the team’s knack for climbing back into games does have an upside.

“It’s not a good feeling (to be down), but it builds confidence, and it’s a sign of a good team when we show that resilience. If you’re down one, you know we have enough to pick our game up to another level.”

As for the final month and half of the season and gearing up for a playoff run, Bruno says the key is stop the streakiness that had dogged the team much of the season.
“We’ve been very inconsistent—winning a couple, losing a couple—and you can’t do that. These are becoming crunch times here, and the bleeding has to stop,” he says.

The bandage will likely be supplied by Brunette and his Finnish linemates.
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