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'Minnesota guys' hope Iowa run helps make transition permanent

As AHL affiliate's playoff run ends, Greenway, Kunin and Donato soak up as much postseason experience as possible

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- He won't tell you, but Jordan Greenway is exhausted. 

After playing in 81 games with Minnesota during the regular season, Greenway played in three regular season games with Iowa then jumped into an 11-game playoff run that concluded Monday night with a 3-1 loss to the Chicago Wolves at Allstate Arena.

In all, Greenway played in 97 hockey games since the beginning of October. If you count the preseason and two games at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament on the eve training camp, Greenway has more than doubled his previous career high in games played during the season.

His 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame is worn after a long season, but his time with the Wild's American Hockey League affiliate over the past month won't go to waste.

"Playoff hockey is hard," Greenway said. "Whether it's the NHL or AHL, it's hard. It's tight. There's not a lot of room out there."

It's an experience Greenway hopes to take with him moving forward. After a brief cup of coffee with Minnesota last season at the end of the regular campaign, Greenway played in five Stanley Cup Playoff contests.

Now, with 16 games of postseason experience under his belt, Greenway, along with Luke Kunin and Ryan Donato, has his sights set on the next chapter of his career.

These three were invested over the past month, no doubt. But once the sting of the Game 6 loss, and the end of another season, wears off, the trio of young forwards have the rest of their careers to look forward to. Referred to by most in Iowa as the "Minnesota guys," the trio did what they could to help the 'Baby Wild' advance as far as it could in its first-ever trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs.

But with all due respect to the people in Iowa and their teammates in the AHL, Greenway, Kunin and Donato want this experience to be their last in the American League: They view themselves as full-time NHLers beginning this fall when training camp opens in St. Paul.

Video: Iowa: Checking in with Jordan Greenway

"I hope so," Kunin said. "That's my goal, that's where I want to be, so that's going to be my mindset all summer is to make that team and be an impact guy in whatever ways I can, and stay there."

It's been a grind of a season for the former Wisconsin Badger, who sustained a major knee injury last spring just when it appeared his NHL career was about to take off. He embarked on a grueling summer of training in order to get back near the start of the regular season, one that started in Iowa and continued in Minnesota two weeks before Christmas.

Injuries and roster upheaval had Kunin moving up and down the lineup and from his natural right wing to center, but through it all, Kunin seemed to get better as the season wore on.

Barely able to walk around the All-Star break, Kunin took a brief demotion to Iowa in stride, then returned to the NHL on Feb. 5 and proceeded to post three two-point games in a span of five once he got back.

From that point on, Kunin looked the part of an NHL regular.

Video: Webisode: On the ice with Ryan Donato Part 2

"I'm really happy with how I bounced back [from the injury] and how I handled all those situations," Kunin said. "I wouldn't have been able to do it without a great support staff, trainers and everyone I had in my corner. It was nice to be able to play that full season and really get that first full taste of pro hockey with the playoffs and everything. 

"I'm just really looking forward to having a full summer to train and work on a lot of little skills and things I couldn't do last summer that I think will help me for next year."

In the nearly three months since joining the organization, Donato's head hasn't stopped spinning.

Acquired in a trade from his hometown Boston Bruins on Feb. 20, Donato skated in the final 22 games of the regular season with Minnesota before joining Greenway and Kunin for the final week of the AHL campaign and the playoffs.

It's been a lot to handle for the Boston-born winger who turned 23 years old last month. 

For the first time in recent memory, Donato will embark on a summer knowing that at the end of it, he'll be heading across the country, not down the street.

"This ended a tough way and that will take some time to get over," Donato said. "But I'm excited that I can finally relax and regroup. I know what I want to do, but more importantly, I know what I need to do this summer. I'll make a plan, attack the summer and come back ready to go."

Video: Wild forwards quickly find a role in Iowa

Donato, like Greenway, got his first taste of playoff hockey last season, when he played in three postseason games with the Bruins. While Minnesota missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years this spring, he hopes that will become the exception, not the rule. The two playoff runs have shown him what it takes to be a leader on a team that makes the postseason with regularity.

"Every little play matters; every little back check, every little stick play. At the end of the day, it all matters," Donato said.

From the time he arrived in New York to join the Wild in February, Donato has said he believes he's an NHL player. With 16 points in 22 games, he certainly showed what he's capable of. Now, Donato aims to become the kind of full-time NHLer he believes he can be.

Video: Webisode: On the Ice with Ryan Donato, Part 1

"I want to be up there, but I don't just want to be up there, I want to be one of their best players every night," Donato said. "I want to be a guy who can score 25 or 30 goals, that's my goal every year. I want to come in and make a major impact this year and this summer will be huge for me.

"I think if I came in with the mindset of just wanting to be there and being a part of it, I'd be cutting myself short. I want to make sure I come back, train really hard and show these guys that I deserve to be there."

When the season began, Minnesota was the NHL's oldest team. By the end of the season, the Wild was trending much younger. 

Kunin, Greenway and Donato each sees himself as a crucial part of the Wild's next wave of young talent, one that can help Minnesota make Stanley Cup pushes an annual tradition in the State of Hockey.

The experience gained over the past month in Iowa can only help.

"A lot of the young guys are going to have huge responsibilities next year and have big impacts, including myself," Greenway said. "I'm gonna be ready for it and I'm confident everyone else will be ready for it. Big things are coming, for sure."

More from Iowa's Calder Cup Playoff run:

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