February 23, 2010 | 11:45 AM
February 27, 2010 | 11:59 PM
The Olympics are done for all of the Wild players involved, and three of them will return from Vancouver with some hardware. Mikko Koivu
, Antti Miettinen and Niklas Backstrom
earned bronze medals after Finland staged a furious rally with four unanswered goals in the third period to beat Slovakia, 5-3. Backstrom had bench duty again, and neither Koivu nor Miettinen registered a point.
While all will likely be fatigued, all five Wild players seemed to avoid significant injuries. I'm not sure what their schedule is. Obviously, the medal ceremony will follow tomorrow's gold medal game between the U.S. and Canada. Whether or not the Finnish players will be in attendance remains to be seen.
The Wild will be practicing tomorrow at Xcel Energy Center, and it remains to be seen if Marek Zidlicky and Martin Havlat will be there. The guess is that they won't be, and the other guess is that the Finns won't practice any earlier than Tuesday. It's possible they could just meet the Wild in Calgary on Tuesday night, but that is just speculation.
So congratulations all around. Congrats to our three favorite Finns on the bronze. Congrats to our favorite college hockey team, the UMD Bulldogs on their win over the hated Gophs. And congrats to Warroad, the Class A Girls' State Champions, and my Como Park neighbors to the north, Roseville, winners of the Class AA title.
February 26, 2010 | 7:43 PM
For another four years, Daniel Tjarnqvist will hold the distinction as the only player to win a gold medal while playing for the Minnesota Wild. But there aren't too many in the State of Hockey that will be upset about that. The gold medal aspirations of Mikko Koivu
, Antti Miettinen and Niklas Backstrom
were dashed by four Minnesotans and Team USA, who rolled the Finns in a crazy first period on the way to a 6-1 win.
It was a huge day for the Minnesota natives. Prior Lake's Zach Parise and St. Cloud State alum Ryan Malone each had a goal and an assist. It was Parise's second consecutive game-winner. Bloomington's Erik Johnson scored his first goal. Cloquet's Jamie Langenbrunner had an assist. Former Gopher Phil Kessel was spectacular despite not picking up a point. Blaine's David Backes was also pointless, but was again a physical force.
As for the three Wild players, it was a long day despite Miettinen becoming the first Wild player to score a goal at these Olympics. His slapper was tipped by Jack Johnson's stick and zipped by Tim Thomas. Backstrom got into the game, but it was at least one goal too late according to analysts Pierre McGuire and Eddie Olcyzyk. Both said Backstrom should have replaced Miikka Kiprusoff, who looked like his body had been taken over by a Dan Cloutier-like alien.
And how satisfying was it to see Jarkko Ruutu get what he deserved when he obviously ran goaltender Ryan Miller and then refused to get off of him. The refs saw right through his nonsense and gave him a two and a 10. They did miss Olli Jokinen's cheap shot on the same play as he slashed the ankle of Patrick Kane. McGuire pointed out that Jokinen's next NHL game will be against Kane's Blackhawks, and Chicago's Ben Eager may have something in store for the only NHL player that can shut down Jarome Iginla.
The analysts and play-by-play man Doc Emrick had a lot of time to talk as this game was over after 12 minutes. And they seemed to spend a lot of time talking about how awesome we are in Minnesota (as if the rest of the world didn't know that already).
McGuire started talking about the "great statue" of Herb Brooks, which is located right next to the Wild offices on Rice Street in downtown St. Paul. He then said what an amazing arena we have in Xcel Energy Center.
Doc Emrick then talked about the great hockey that is played there, "not just by the Wild, but in all of the major tournaments that are hosted there."
As most Wild fans know, McGuire was a finalist for the Wild's general manager position this past summer, which obviously was given to Chuck Fletcher. It certainly doesn't seem as though McGuire harbors any ill feelings.
In talking about Koivu, he praised Fletcher and Todd Richards for naming him captain this season.
There was also a long announcer discussion about Shattuck St-Mary's in Faribault. The subject came up in talking about Parise, and then a long list of Shattuck products were rattled off including Sidney Crosby, Jack Johnson, Jonathan Toews, the Eaves brothers and former coach, Andy Murray.
Because I'm a dog person, my favorite anecdote was Emrick talking about Backes and his wife, who own two dogs and two cats. Apparently, a stray Boxer came to their doorstep and was pregnant. The couple decided to see the Boxer through the birth of 12 puppies, and then they worked with the Humane Society to find homes for all 12, and the mother.
The U.S. will find out it's gold medal opponent in about three hours, but if it's not Canada, I'll eat my gym socks.
The only way this day can get better is if the UMD Bulldogs can pound the Minnesota Gophers. Am I right, or am I right?
February 25, 2010 | 12:30 PM
The big news in Wild land today is that Cal Clutterbuck
has been re-signed to a three-year extension. Cal actually signed the deal last night and was thrilled to have the security of a one-way NHL deal, and to be able to stay in Minnesota.
"There is no other place that I would want to be," he said.
I asked Clutterbuck what he thought about the clause in the contract that calls for him to submit one Wild.com blog per week for the entirety of the deal. He claims it's not in there.
Clutterbuck and everybody else besides Clayton Stoner
and the five Olympians were on the ice today for the second practice of the Olympic break.
As for those Olympians, there are only three left after Finland shut out the Czech Republic last night, 2-0. It's uncertain when Martin Havlat and Marek Zidlicky will join the team, but likely not until Sunday at the earliest.
February 24, 2010 | 4:25 PM
As Ray Romano exclaimed when he played the part of a SportsCenter anchor on "Saturday Night Live," "Sweet Sassy Molassy!"
The United States moves on to the Olympic semifinals, but this one was not easy. It took two Zach Parise goals and a shut out from Ryan Miller to finally bury the Swiss. Parise and his linemates - Jamie Langenbrunner and Paul Stastny - were outstanding in this one. The game could have been 10-0, but Swiss goaltender Jonas Hiller was amazing once again. If the United States never has to face Switzerland again, I will not be upset.
That means the U.S. will get the winner of Czech Republic/Finland, and I don't know if you're aware, but there are some Wild connections on those teams. Tune in to see who they are.
February 24, 2010 | 2:22 PM
Team USA is currently battling the Swiss in the first quarterfinal of the day. There will obviously be more on that following the game.
If you're not watching the game. You're not alone. Neither are the Wild's non-Olympic players (although staff members Matt Benz and John Worley can be seen above watching the game during practice on a flat-screen). The Wild is currently holding its first practice since the break began. All of the players are skating, with the exception of Clayton Stoner
, who skated on his own and is hoping to join the team on Friday.
Anton Khudobin has also joined the team for the week, but only to provide another goaltender with the absence of Nik Backstrom.
Of course, the five Wild Olympians will be together tonight as Mikko Koivu
, Antti Miettinen and Niklas Backstrom
take on Martin Havlat and Marek Zidlicky. For live in-game commentary fans, I will be doing one during that game starting at 9:00 PM.
February 23, 2010 | 11:52 PM
Martin Havlat had by far his best game of the Olympics, but it almost wasn't enough as the Czech Republic needed overtime to avoid a stunning upset by Latvia. Havlat assisted on Tomas Rolinek's power play goal in the first period, but he as all over the place the entire game.
In the second, he nearly became the first Wild player of these Olympics to score a goal when he streaked in and put a dazzling move on Latvian goaltender Edgar Masalskis. Somehow, Masalskis dove back and got a glove on Havlat's shot as the puck came within inches of the goal line.
The Czech win means we'll have five Wild players in tomorrow's quarterfinal game with Finland, although Niklas Backstrom
likely will not play. And Antti Miettinen dressed, but didn't play a shift in Finland's loss to Sweden on Sunday.
February 23, 2010 | 4:45 PM
Team USA has its quarterfinal opponent, and it could be a very fatigued opponent at that. Switzerland needed a 3-2 shootout victory to get past Belarus and advance to face the top-seeded Americans tomorrow at 2:00 PM.
Both of the Swiss goals were scored by former Wild connections. Hnat Domenichelli scored in the second period, and 2004 draft pick Julien Sprunger scored the first Swiss goal in the first period.
It's possible, but not probable, that two Wild players could see their Olympic dreams end tonight. Martin Havlat, Marek Zidlicky and the Czech Republic face an elimination game against Latvia tonight at 9:00 PM CST. The winner moves on to face the three Wild Finns in the quarterfinals tomorrow night, also at 9:00.
I also came across to interview gems on NHL.com today. The first
features Minnesota hockey legend, John Mayasich, who appears to be the friendliest man in the world. The second
features Josh "Lil' Herb Brooks" Sacco, who of course attended a Minnesota Wild game earlier in the year and delivered the Herb Brooks speech in the Wild locker room. Both interviews are conducted by Heidi Androl, which is also a plus.
February 22, 2010 | 6:04 PM
I’m one of the few that doesn’t remember where I was when Al Michaels asked Ken Dryden and the rest of America, “Do you believe in miracles?” I was 11 months old at the time, and though I weighed about as much as an eight-year-old, I have no recollection of the events. When I asked my mother what I was doing at the time, she matter-of-factly told me I was crying because I crapped my pants.
But the foul smell wasn’t enough to pull her, or my dad away from the TV (they couldn’t pause the Tivo, because they didn’t have Tivo back then, and if they did, I guarantee you my parents would not have been able to figure out how to operate it).
So even though I can say I was alive for the greatest sporting event in history, I would give anything to be able to remember it. I can’t imagine what would have happened had I been of legal drinking age on that Friday night, and gotten to celebrate with my buddies.
I mean, what championship have Minnesotans in my generation and younger gotten to go out and celebrate? I suppose there was the Minnesota Gophers’ national title in 2002, but that was an awful night for a UMD Bulldog fan such as myself.
I tried to re-create that experience at Grandma’s Sports Garden in Duluth 22 years later when the U.S. again beat Russia on a Friday afternoon with Herb Brooks behind the bench to reach the gold medal game. It was a great day, but it wasn’t the same (although I did take advantage of the fact that I was over 21 this time).
But while I may not have cognizant, or gotten to feel what it was like for the country in those times, I do consider myself a bit of an expert on the subject of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team. I can’t get enough of it. Every person I meet that remembers that night is subject to a long line of questioning by me.
The only people I don’t ask are the actual players that were involved. I spent four days with Neal Broten on the Minnesota Wild Road Tour, and I was petrified to ask him about it. And this is Neal Broten, one of the nicest guys in the world.
For reasons unknown, many of the players are weary of talking about the “Miracle,” and I suppose that’s understandable. That’s why I loved Todd Smith’s recent Wild.com story
as told to him by his dad, Gary Smith, the trainer for that team.
While I both own and enjoy the Disney version of “Miracle” with Herb Brooks, it doesn’t compare to watching the HBO documentary, “Do You Believe in Miracles: The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team.”
In that film, you get a clear sense of the world temperature (the Iranian hostage crisis, the Russians in Afghanistan, the lines at the oil pump), you get the real highlights and calls rather than attempts to recreate them and you get interviews with about half the team, Herb Brooks, Al Michaels, several Russian players, Walter Mondale and Barry Rosen, a prisoner in the Iran crisis.
The players share some of their favorite “Herbie-isms,” which included one that I will forever use whenever I feel the need to trash-talk someone I’m competing against: “You’re getting worse and worse every day, and right now you’re playing like the middle of next month.”
It was that DVD that I borrowed from a friend (who has no chance of getting it back) that got me hooked on the story, and I’ve watched it at least 400 times. And every time I watch those guys celebrate that win, I get the chills followed by a big, goofy perma-smile. In describing that moment Mike Ramsey talks about the photo of him laying on his back with Jack O’Callahan on Ramsey’s stomach with his arms raised.
“I’ll take that picture to the grave with me,” he says with a smile.
About four years ago, I was in the cluttered office of former Minnesota Hockey Executive Director, Mark Jorgensen, and I noticed a stack of eight VHS tapes. I took a closer look and saw that they were the broadcasts of each game that Team USA played that year: Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Romania, West Germany, Russia and Finland.
I could win the lottery today and not be as excited as I was when Jorgensen told me I could take them home and watch them. And I did. I watched every minute of every game, starting with Sweden and ending with Finland.
There were a few things that jumped out at me, after watching these games, and since I have a venue to express them, I’m going to take advantage.
• First off, Mark Johnson was an absolute machine in the Olympics. He was unbelievable to watch. Sure, he scored two goals in the game against Russia, but he was a beast all tournament. His teammates called him “Magic,” and he showed why when he made a remarkable pass to set up Rob McClanahan with the game-winner (you can see that video here
), and then willed in the insurance goal to seal the gold medal. Had Johnson turned in that type of performance in the days of Internet and 24-hour sports channels, he might be the most beloved U.S. hockey player of all time.
• While Team USA was considered huge underdogs against Russia, they were extremely talented, and Johnson wasn’t the only star on that team. Broten, Ramsey, and several others went on to exceptional NHL careers.
• Another thing that popped out was that Russia won their first two games of the Olympics by a combined score of 33-4 over Japan and the Netherlands. Lopsided indeed, but how did Vladislav Tretiak give up four goals to Japan and the Netherlands?
• The U.S. team perfected the “running man” celebration (where players celebrate a goal by running on their skates), which I am convinced needs to be resurrected in today’s game. Mike Eruzione broke it out when he scored the game-winner against Russia, and Johnson also had it on display when he scored against Finland. When Zach Parise scores the game-winning goal in the gold medal game, I fully expect him to break out the “running man.”
• Another image that really stands out is the closing seconds of the Finland game. As the final second ticks off, a U.S. player (I believe Phil Verchota, who scored the tying goal in the Finland game) flings his stick into the raucous crowd. Can you imagine how much that stick is worth now? I can only hope that it landed in the hands of a kid who still has it encased in glass in a basement somewhere.
For those of you who, like me, are “Miracle on Ice” enthusiasts, I also highly recommend Boys of Winter by Wayne Coffey. It goes into great detail about each player on the ’80 team, and shows how these guys were not only great players, but also great people.
February 22, 2010 | 12:54 AM
I am going to take off my Wild hat for this blog entry, and put on my star spangled Uncle Sam top hat as I talk about the things I love after watching a DVR recording of tonight's Team USA stunner over Canada.
I love Doc Emrick. Everything that guy does in calling a game is outstanding. He would make a Luxembourg vs. Syria hockey game sound exciting, so to get him for one of the biggest games we'll ever see is just a privilege, and almost makes up for the ridiculous fact that tonight's game was not broadcast in high definition. I know, I sound like one of those high-def snobs, especially since I've had high-def capability for about two months of my life. Still, can we make sure US games are now on a high-definition channel from here on out?
As for Emrick, his nuggets of information, his descriptions of the action (I loved when he said Rick Nash "drove Ryan Suter into a ditch."), his enthusiasm, his reactions to every goal no matter what team scored, his conversations with Ed Olczyk. Everything. I used to rank Gary Thorne as the one hockey announcer I'd take above him, but after these Olympics, I may have to rescind that rank. Emrick is spectacular.
I beginning to love Jeremy Roenick as an analyst. He's still not completely polished, but the guy makes me laugh out loud. If anybody watched the pregame show, did you see what Roenick was doing after they talked about Ryan Kesler's quotes about Team Canada? As Mike Milbury started blabbing about it, Roenick started mock cheering Kesler's remarks, and I could not stop laughing. Just a solid choice of J.R. as analyst. And he's working during every stinking game, too! The guy must be slamming Five-Hour Energy drinks every 10 minutes.
I love Zach Parise. My wife claims that he has supplanted Johan Santana as my new man-crush, and she's right. I've loved the way the kid plays since his days at North Dakota. I love the way he works and thinks. I love the way he celebrates when his team scores. The guy is a gamer. Don't let the lack of goals through three games fool you.
I love Kesler! There, I said it. And you can't do anything about it because I already said I took off my Wild hat before I started writing this. How could you not love the effort he gave when he dove and whacked that puck into the empty net. That's what the Olympics is all about. I think I now hate Kesler the least of any Vancouver Canuck, which is kind of like saying, "the King Cobra is my favorite poisonous snake in the backseat of my car." But still, Kesler is okay in my book. I might even look the other way the next time he cheap shots a Wild player.
I love that the entire country in Canada is going to spend the next 24 hours in a frenzy over who should start in goal against Germany on Tuesday. Yes, Germany. The country that was shut out in its first two games and has only scored against Latvia.
I love Digital Video Recorders, without which I would not have been able to watch this game, because of a prior obligation. I don't love how it is impossible to go to a prior obligation without some nimrod spoiling the night by giving me a score update.
I love that Team USA has the best goaltender in the world. It wasn't like Team USA was outmatched, but let's be honest, without Miller, it could have been a different story. The guy was phenomenal.
I love watching these guys celebrate goals in the Olympics. There are no premeditated celebrations. There are very few, "I just scored but I'm offering nothing more than a small fist pump because I'm too cool to act like an idiot" acts. It's just guys seeing the puck go in, skating about 100 miles per hour and flailing their arms wildly above their heads before creaming their teammates. Those celebrations make me smile.
I love that Martin Brodeur is so in love with his own ability to play the puck, that he basically decided to show off by taking a Justin Morneau hack and smacking a line drive right to Brian Rafalski, who promptly put the puck right behind Brodeur.
I love that there is still a week of Olympic hockey left. These games are unbelievable. I'm not sure how the second week is going to live up to the first week (especially today), but I get the feeling we're just getting started when it comes to big-time performances.