During the 2012-13 lockout shortened season, current Minnesota Wild interim Head Coach John Torchetti was behind the bench in Houston, leading the Wild’s then American Hockey League affiliate.
Many of the Wild’s younger players spent time there with no NHL action to be had, with the likes of Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Jason Zucker, and Mikael Granlund.
It was there that Torchetti first got a taste of just how hard Granlund, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 184 pounds, competes.
"He always played that way, I'm just telling you," Torchetti said prior to Game 5 of the Wild’s current first round series against the Dallas Stars. "I know that he’s got a big compete inside that heart. He’s always had it."
Torchetti rattled off a story of a game against the Oklahoma City Barons, flush with the likes of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and other young players stewing, waiting for NHL action to resume.
"I said, 'Granny, you've got to be the hardest competitor out there,' and he went out and got the game-winning goal," Torchetti said.
It's why, though Granlund went without a point through the first four games of the Wild's current first-round series against Dallas, there was no worry in Torchetti when it came to his newly minted winger.
"I don’t judge players on points, I judge our team and our team play meaning he was relentless for his teammates and that’s what he’s been this whole series," Torchetti said.
But the points came in Game 5, and in crucial fashion, when Granlund's first goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs gave the Wild a 1-0 lead, and then his first assist, on Mikko Koivu’s late, tying goal saved the Wild’s bacon.
"The biggest thing is, everything matters," said Granlund, who has seven goals and eight assists in 28 career playoff games. "These are the games that really matter and you have a chance to win something great and that makes you really excited about that."
Granlund's game seems to rise when the hockey gets more important. He's scored in international competitions and Stanley Cup Playoff games, and brought an intensity level that matches the situations.
"I guess that’s what I just need to do," he said. "Usually when I do a good job with that my game is pretty good. I just have to keep battling, and that’s what hockey is all about I feel like."
His latest aggressive streak has been bred in part out of a tactical move. Granlund was moved onto the wing prior to Game 2, skating to the left of countryman Mikko Koivu, and opposite David Jones.
In that spot, Granlund was freed up from having to play down low in his defensive zone, a spot Torchetti positions his centers.
"That's actually a big thing," he said. "As a center, a lot of times you need to be ready to go back into your own end and be responsible with that. But as a winger, you can go more in and maybe that has changed that a little bit as well."
Nothing was said by Torchetti to Granlund with regard to being more aggressive, but the message was encoded in asking him to play on the wing.
Torchetti also said he thinks playing with Koivu has factored into Granlund’s improvements.
"They’re both pretty tight, and they talk a lot," Torchetti said. "They're always playing the game within the game, and that complements each other.
"Mikko's experience with Granny on the poise part, and being able to ask your teammate to do something, or try something different, and to me, hold each other accountable. That's a big part of the game, and it’s an easy transition for both of them, and they both play well."
Along with Koivu and Jones, Granlund helped the Wild stave off elimination on Friday.
"More than anything it's the battle level and the compete that he has in his game," Koivu said of Granlund. "It’s fun to see when you have a player like him."
When Torchetti decided to put Jordan Schroeder in his Game 4 lineup, it wasn't a decision made solely by the head coach.
"The assistant coaches brought it up, and we talk every day," Torchetti said. "We feel that if somebody is not doing a certain thing in one area — and the assistant coaches did a good job mentioning that part."
The move paid off when Schroeder scored his first career playoff goal 5:16 into the first period to give the Wild a 2-0 lead.
"I had nerves in the morning already," Schroeder said. "But they are good nerves. It gives me that extra spark, and you just want to help your team win.
"[Scoring] probably pumped me up more."
Schroeder was also effective in other areas, getting in quickly on the forecheck
"He pushed them back," Torchetti said. "We pushed the pace pretty well. We did a better job of backing them off."
It wasn't just Schroeder that was aggressively skating at the Stars defense. Opposite him was Jason Zucker, who, along with Schroeder, are two of the faster skaters on the team.
After the game, Torchetti said he thought Zucker, who has two assists in the first five games of this series, is close to breaking out.
"He's playing with more confidence,” Torchetti said. "He's doing a better job on his walls, and once you’re playing with a better checking mentality you’re going to have the puck.
"He's around the puck more now, and then making sure he’s on the defensive side of plays in the offensive zone, and not being on 50-50 pucks, diving in if it's not there."