Following Wild games, Managing Editor Glen Andresen will give the five takeaways that he'll remember from each contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 4-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Sigh. Another Hockey Day Minnesota has come and gone, and I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen enough hockey today. I think I caught my second wind after watching the Minnesota Wild dismantle the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-2. Make no mistake; this game was not as close as the score may indicate. Columbus scored two meaningless goals in the final 20-some seconds. Those two goals did little to smear an otherwise great night of redemption for Niklas Backstrom
, who looked like the Nik we all know and love.
It was an all around solid effort from the Wild. They built a lead. Scored timely goals. Played tough. Turned in a solid defensive performance. This was pretty darn close to that 60-minute effort we’ve been looking for.
Let’s talk Hockey Day Minnesota a bit before we get back to tonight’s game. Sure, it hasn’t been designated as a national holiday just yet. The mail still comes and banks are still open. But even the most cynical person has to admit that a day like this is pretty darn cool. Three high school games were played in a picturesque scene in Hermantown. You had two marquee college hockey games being played featuring four Minnesota schools – three of which should be in the NCAA tournament this March (sorry Gopher fans). You had the U.S. Pond Hockey championships going on on Lake Nokomis. And all of this was taking part in the flipping rain. You’re telling me people in Pennsylvania can pull this off? Not a chance.
For me, the most memorable moment came right before the Wild game started. Duke Pieper, a 16-year-old who was about to start his freshman season with the Hill-Murray varsity this fall, dropped the opening faceoff for Mikko Koivu
and Rick Nash.
Pieper’s hockey career was derailed and his life changed forever when he experienced a weird feeling on the rink one day. He was diagnosed with a rare vascular tumor that caused a blood cluster to grow in his brain stem, and he was rushed to emergency surgery. After more than six months in the ICU, Duke endured seven more surgeries and now faces therapy to help his day-to-day functions.
Duke was featured in a touching Fox Sports North feature earlier in the day, and to see him walk out onto the ice to a standing ovation with four former Hill-Murray teammates was extremely emotional.
I got a chance to talk to Hill-Murray head coach Bill Lechner, who couldn’t say enough about Duke. He called him a “man-child” on the ice, but an old-school polite kid away from the rink. He said he’s been amazed at the way Duke has battled this setback, especially by saying that maybe he was meant to do something other than hockey.
Perhaps Koivu was inspired by shaking hands with Pieper, or maybe he was just excited because he owns the Blue Jackets. But the captain, who has five goals and six assists in 15 games against the Jackets, buried the first two goals of the night.
His first wasn’t initially ruled a goal as his one-timer appeared to be squished between the post and the pad of Steve Mason. However, it looked like Mason carefully pulled the puck out from behind the blue line, which prompted the Wild players to ask for a replay. It was then ruled a goal, making that three straight reviews in two games that have gone the Wild’s way. Go figure.
Anyone who has read Five Takeaways (and there are at least five of you) has probably picked up on the fact that I really like the way Robbie Earl plays. Once again, the guy brought the energy once again by finishing checks and showing the proverbial fire within. He blasted Anton Stralman with a hit right before going after Derek Dorsett, who hit Cal Clutterbuck
after the whistle. To cap a great night, Earl was the guy who jumped on the ice on a delayed penalty and cranked a slapper past Mason for his fifth goal in 15 games. The Wild is 10-3-2 with Earl in the lineup, including a 9-0-1 mark in the last 10 games.
Not to spark the fire in an opponent, but Mason…yikes! This guy was Rookie of the Year last year after posting 10 shutouts last year. This year, his stats are eye-popping (and not in a good way). It’s easy to see why. Mason looked awful on a weak Eric Belanger skip shot from the point that found the net.
I refuse to call Mason the next Blaine Lacher, but he needs this season to end immediately if not sooner.