Each year, the Minnesota High School Press Association (MHSPA) is invited to cover a Wild practice. The participants are then asked to write a story, submit photographs or create a video to capture the experience.
On February 8, the group covered the Wild’s practice at the Xcel Energy Center, then had the opportunity to interview Wild defenseman Nick Schultz prior to listening to guest speakers in the media.
Wild.com is proud to publish the winning entries from the writing and photography categories. The winning video can be viewed by Wild.com is proud to publish the winning entries from the writing and photography categories. The winning video can be viewed by clicking here.
John Peterson of Stillwater High School was the winner of the writing category, and his story "The Stretch Run" is posted below. The photos within the story were courtesy of the winning photographer, Alex Thorson of Champlin Park High School.
The winners of the broadcast category were Eric Riggenberg (reporter) and Lee Benson (videographer), both of Champlin Park High School.
The Stretch Run
by John Peterson, Stillwater High School
| Alex Henry surveys the action during the Wild’s practice at the Xcel Energy Center on February 8. (cr. Alex Thorson) |
With the Olympic break within arm’s reach, the Wild, who have been hot as of late, find themselves in the thick of things in the playoff hunt.
Many NHL players are representing their countries in the Olympics this year. The Wild, along with the rest of the NHL therefore get a long, and in some cases a much needed, two-week break before they return for the final third of the season.
The break could be looked at as a momentum killer for some teams that have been hot as of late, but for others it’s a nice vacation to spend time with their families.
“Hopefully the guys get a much needed rest over break,” said defenseman Nick Schultz, who is taking a vacation to California over the break to play some golf. Schultz is in his fourth year with the Wild and at age 23, is one of the top young defensemen in the game today.
The Wild, who are in their fifth year as a franchise, are looking to make the second playoff appearance in their history and are beginning to see visions of a possibility of making the playoffs after a hot start in 2006. They went on a five game winning streak in mid-January, a part of 16 wins in their last 25 games.
Not often does an entire division have the opportunity to make the playoffs with only eight spots available, but as things currently stand, the team finds themselves breathing down the necks of the Los Angeles Kings for the final playoff spot with just a third of the season remaining. The rest of the Northwest Division, consisting of Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton and Colorado are currently sitting pretty in the playoff picture.
The only other time the Wild made the playoffs was in the 2002-03 season in which they posted a franchise-record 42 wins and entered the playoffs as the sixth seed. Then, after stunning the Avalanche and Canucks in the first two rounds, they were upended by Anaheim in the Western Conference Finals.
This season is a bit different in comparison in that the Wild got off to a fast start in 2002 and never once dropped below sixth in the West, whereas this season they have come on strong recently to push towards the playoffs.
Their schedule doesn’t get any easier, however, as 20 of their final 23 games after the break are against teams with winning records and 12 games are against teams in their division, which is arguably the best division from top to bottom in the NHL.
| The Wild go through intense drills during a February practice. (cr. Alex Thorson) |
Not only will Minnesota have to face rivals Vancouver and Colorado a combined five more times, four on the road. They also have three remaining dates with the defending Western Conference Champions Calgary Flames who are tied for the division lead again.
“With a tough schedule ahead, it would be nice to finish strong,” said Schultz. He added, “If you can have a high-powered offense, that’s good, but defense wins games.” This has been proven by each of the Stanley Cup teams of recent years, such as New Jersey and Anaheim, which depended on their defense to get them to the finals in 2003.
Another reason defense is so valuable in today’s NHL is the new rule changes during the lockout made it tougher on defensemen and goaltenders. This was an attempt to increase goal scoring and the speed of the game to make the game more appealing to fans.
Schultz is one of many Wild players who significantly improved since the lockout and helped create a solid defense that protects goaltenders Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson day in and day out.
“It’s nice to have guys like Filip Kuba that have more experience that help you improve along the way,” said Shultz.
Kuba is one of five Wild players to represent their countries in the Olympics, as he will be skating for his native Czech Republic in Torino. When Kuba is finished trying to take a gold medal home from Italy, it is back to business. The main focus then will be finishing strong, which would put them in a good position to make the playoffs.
If the Wild can stay hot following the break and catch up to the Kings and Avalanche down the stretch, the state of hockey might once again get to be treated to playoff hockey.