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Fiala already on the ice, eager to pick up season where he left off

Wild winger tied career high after scoring two goals, including an overtime winner, in final game before NHL's stoppage

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

The last time Wild fans saw Kevin Fiala, he was showcasing the exact kind of game-changing talent they had grown accustomed to witnessing on an almost nightly basis.

Minnesota was finishing off a three-game California road trip in Anaheim on March 8. Tied 4-4 with the Ducks, and the fate of the road trip hanging in the balance, Fiala used his speed and skill to draw a penalty late in overtime. 

Six seconds later, the puck was in the back of the Ducks' net after Fiala whistled a snap shot past the glove of goaltender John Gibson, giving the Wild a winning trip and moving it to within one point of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. 

The winning goal was Fiala's 23rd of the season, which tied a career high. It also capped a red-hot stretch in which Fiala scored 14 goals and 26 points in his previous 18 games. 

Video: MIN@ANA: Fiala fires PPG from circle for OT winner

At 23 years old and in the midst of his first full season in Minnesota, Fiala appeared on the path to stardom. 

Just four days later, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to hit pause on the 2019-20 season, slamming the brakes on his ascent.

"Looking back at my season, I'm kind of happy -- and not happy with the start -- but as it got going, it got better and better," Fiala said. "In the end, I felt my best, I was very comfortable and the team was doing great. They were helping me to make it look easy, and without them, I wouldn't do that great."

A brief holdout kept Fiala from getting to training camp on time, and despite the fact that he showed up in tremendous shape, it took him some time to find his game legs. 

Fiala had just one point in the month of October, and was even a healthy scratch for a game in Toronto on Oct. 16.

But after scoring his first goal in the first game of the month of November, the only thing that slowed Fiala was the pandemic that would put the season on hiatus. His 23 goals came in just 56 games, a 34-goal pace over the course of an 82-game season. 

The 14 goals over his final 18 games would be a 64-goal pace, one that likely isn't sustainable, but certainly showcases the kind of game-breaking talent that resides inside the left-handed shooting right wing.

For Fiala, who came to Minnesota just over a year ago, a shell of himself from a confidence standpoint, it's the kind of ability he now believes he can bring every night. 

Video: Kevin Fiala chats with the media

"I'm gonna take [that last stretch] with me. I think it's very important for me to be consistent and to continue like that," Fiala said. "If [the season] continues, or if it starts next season, I'm confident I can do that."

There are plenty of questions surrounding the future of the 2019-20 season, but there is a strong desire both inside the organization and League-wide for a resumption of the campaign at some point, even if that means playing hockey deep into the summer.

In that regard, Fiala may have a head up on some of his North American teammates. 

A native of Switzerland, Fiala has spent all but the first two weeks of the stoppage in Gothenberg, Sweden, which has become his offseason home. While the United States and Canada have been dealing with nearly universal stay-at-home mandates, few such rules exist in Sweden. 

And while Fiala said he isn't spending any more time outside of his condo than he absolutely has to, it has allowed him the opportunity to return to the ice, something that players from most other nations haven't been able to do.

Because the regular season was 85 percent complete when the season hit pause, Fiala and a few small groups of players in Sweden have tried to remain sharp by getting on the ice most days and participating in scrimmages. 

For the Wild players that are based in North America, they haven't seen the ice since the team's final practice at TRIA Rink on March 11.

If the season is to resume this spring/summer, a short training camp is likely one way players will be able to get back into game shape. Prior to that, players are expected to be able to skate in small groups ... a step that could be announced in the next few weeks if things continue trending in the right direction.

Fiala is already doing just that, which could allow him to push even harder if and when a camp begins.

"It was a big reason too as well as why I came here back to Sweden," Fiala said. "If the season is going to continue, I think I'm going to have a better chance to get back to 100 percent than other guys who haven't been back on the ice for six weeks or seven weeks."

With the Wild on the cusp of a potential playoff spot, having Fiala pick up as close to possible as to where he left off provides the team with its best chance to see hockey played in these parts deep into the summer months.

It's no coincidence that when he was playing some of his best hockey, so was the team.

"We had such a good roll and the team was rolling. We had some huge wins there [before the stoppage]," Fiala said. "Just one point right now outside the playoffs, especially with the start we had ... We want to get back, I want to get back as quickly as possible and finish the job."


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