Greetings to the State of Hockey, from the State of Sand and Oppressive Heat!
Dutch Schnell...goalie-racer...here in Phoenix, Arizona, with the Minnesota Wild hockey team. Tonight, the Wild take on head coach Wayne Gretzky, in his home debut, and his Phoenix Coyotes. I’ll give you my take on that match-up shortly, but allow me, if you will, to opine for a moment about how amazed I am that I’m in Arizona right now.
Six years ago, I was toiling in the goalie-racing minor league circuit, racing in sparsely populated arenas and sleeping in rat-infested motels on the sides of highways. I had begun to think that my life as a goalie-racer was going 100 miles per hour down a dead end. I seriously considered hanging up the pads and inheriting the family agate-collecting business along the shores of Lake Superior.
The voices in my head told me that I would regret it if I gave up the only thing I’ve ever known since I was in diapers.
Those voices have been wrong on many an occasion, but that time, they were right. I realized this as I basked in the sunlight, poolside at a posh Resort & Golf Club (I can’t reveal the name or I’ll have people calling my room at all hours, namely a goalie-racer named Egg) on Friday afternoon. I’d love to be able to post photos of the accommodations here in the Valley of the Sun, but that sadistic deer tick-loving Egg Olson caused me to forget the cord that hooks into my camera and allows me to upload photos. Just know this, there’s a phone right next to the toilet! What will these crazy Arizonans think of next?
The trip has been a delight, except when I found out I must wear a sport coat at all times per Jacques Lemaire’s dress code. This rule caused me to leave a trail of armpit sweat whenever I walk around the resort. I’ll probably set up a meeting with Jacques to discuss my perspiration issues and see if he’ll allow me to wear my mesh Wild jersey with biker shorts in these conditions.
Anyway, the reason I’m here is not to work on my tan, nor violate the dress code, nor is it to kill spiders the size of hockey pucks crawling on my bed, although I found myself doing that last night. The purpose of my mission in Arizona is to comfort the SOH legion so they know what to expect when the Wild play the Phoenix Coyotes tonight, and the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.
I’ll start with Sunday’s game, specifically because it’s an easy call for me. I hardly had to do any arithmetic ot figure this one out. Minnesota has never, EVER lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the month of October. It hasn’t happened. It won’t happen. The Wild will skate around the Kings so fast; even Jeremy Roenick will be at a loss for words. The Wild will treat the Kings like aluminum cans and stomp their way to a 5-1 triumph.
Tonight’s game worries me a bit. I’ve been crunching the numbers poolside for the past five hours and I finally had to stop after my skin started to bubble and blister. Here’s what I found.
As you may recall, a major factor for my pick of the Wild over the Flames on Opening Night, was the fact that our goaltender, Dwayne Roloson, actually executed a recognizance mission when he played in Calgary from 1996 to 1998. His knowledge of the Flames’ system down to the most miniscule detail was obvious when the Wild ran roughshod over the defending Western Conference champs.
Tonight won’t be so easy. The Wild do have some inside information, courtesy of enforcer Andrei Nazarov, who played for Phoenix the past three NHL seasons. Nazarov won’t be in the lineup tonight, but his words of wisdom will be in the helmets of every one of his mates on the ice.
Unfortunately, Nazarov’s spy work may be canceled out by former Wild defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who is now a Desert Dog. For those who didn’t know “Z,” he was one of the nicest guys around during his time in Minnesota. In fact, he was almost too nice, which is exactly why I always thought he was probably on a recognizance mission. Turns out, the team he was working for was the Coyotes. No doubt he’s talking to the Great One at this very moment as they try to crack the complex codes that make up Jacques Lemaire’s system.
The lesson: you can’t trust anybody who isn’t Wild media relations guru, Aaron Sickman.
I will also be wary of the Phoenix crowd tonight. Now, normally these people are only concerned with making sure the temperature of their backyard pool never falls below 80 degrees. But Gretzky was able to perform miracles as a player, and turning Phoenix into a hockey-crazed town would be his greatest achievement. I wouldn’t put it past him. The guy could make gold out of cotton if he really wanted to. These people will be jacked up, and so will the Yotes.
The main reason I’m shaking in my goalie skates is because of one habitual goal-scorer, Brett Hull. It’s not because he’s a Hall of Famer. It’s not because he’s scored an obscene 741 career goals. It’s because he’s a former UMD Bulldog, and there is no doubt in my mind that he got word of the Mighty Bulldogs’ crushing loss to the Bemidji State Beavers last night. He will be furious, and it will be evidenced when he one-times a shot that clocks 244 miles per hour and breaks a goal post in half.
NEVERTHELESS (dramatic pause), expect a big-time Wild win tonight. And here’s why I know. My room at our hotel overlooks the outdoor swimming pool. Since our arrival, I have not seen one Wild player going for a dip. What does this mean, you ask? Well, it shows me that these guys are so focused, that they haven’t even been lured into the cool, blue waters where they would have exerted all of their energy playing Marco Polo or chicken fighting.
The ’Yotes will be flying out of the gate and I expect them to dominate early. They’ll squeak one goal past Roloson before the Wild completely turn the momentum in the second stanza. Alexandre Daigle will bury a rebound off a Filip Kuba shot. Brian Rolston will rocket home a power play one-timer and Wes Walz will add a breakaway goal in the third. The boys in Forest Green and Iron Range Red will hold off a furious Phoenix comeback for a 3-2 road win.
And there you have it folks. Despite the fact that I told you what will happen, I still want you to tune into Fox Sports Net or WCCO radio tonight at 9:00 PM Minnesota time. But if you can’t, rest easy, the Wild will come home with a 3-0-0 record after Sunday night’s win in Los Angeles.
That’s all from the desert folks. I am Dutch Schnell and I...am a goalie-racer.