As we start a new decade, we look back one last time and count down ten great moments in the Wild's first decade of existence. Certainly, this list will vary from fan to fan, but here's Wild.com's best crack at ten great moments.
Before we begin, here are a few that just missed the cut: Richfield's Darby Hendrickson scoring the first goal in Xcel Energy Center history, Neal Broten shedding the Dallas Stars sweater to reveal a Wild sweater before shouting Let's Play Hockey, the Wild's playoff-clinching win over Detroit in March of 2003, the retiring of the #1 sweater, the raising of the 2007-2008 Division Championship banner and Wes Walz' retirement ceremony.10. April 8, 2002 - Antti Laaksonen's $25,000 pass
Especially during the early years, the Minnesota Wild was stocked with “character” guys more than “superstar” guys. One of those character guys was Antti Laaksonen, whose high-pitched voice and slight frame made him look like anything but a hockey player. That’s what made his nickname of “The Iron Finn” so amusing, because he didn’t look like a guy who would set a franchise record for consecutive games played at 288.
Laaksonen also had a reputation among the team as a…um…frugal person. He didn’t like to freely spend his hard-earned money, and he wasn't afraid to poke fun at himself for that face. That’s what made one particular play near the end of the 2002 season so amazing. With the Wild leading the San Jose Sharks 2-1 late in the game, Sergei Zholtok had a clear path to an empty net goal. Zholtok dished off to Laaksonen at the blue line, but rather than burying his 15th goal of the season, Laaksonen gave it right back to Zholtok, who easily put it in.
It looked like an unselfish play from two unselfish players, which is not uncommon. The next day, however, it was revealed that Laaksonen passed up on goal number 15 at the expense of a $25,000 incentive in his contract for reaching the milestone. Laaksonen was well aware of this when he had the puck on his stick, but the always-modest Finn simply said, “It was a great play be Sergei. He’s the one that got the puck out. Most guys wouldn’t have even passed the puck. They would shoot it from the blue line. I was just happy with the assist. He didn’t have to do that.”
Laaksonen did end up getting the bonus, and finished the season with 16 goals.9. January 26, 2006 - The Kill
Following a Wild goal. Anytime the team emerges onto the ice in a darkened arena. When Derek Boogaard pummels another team’s enforcer. These are all instances that cause the decibel level inside the Xcel Energy Center to rival that of a jet engine in your living room. But there is that rare occasion when a team is forced to kill a five-on-three for a full two minutes, which works the crowd into a frenzy with each passing second.
In late January of 2006, the Wild was still very much in contention for a playoff spot (it didn’t make it), and it was playing a crucial home game against the Nashville Predators. The Wild had taken a 2-1 lead, but midway through the second, Mikko Koivu
and Derek Boogaard took simultaneous penalties, giving the potent Preds a full two minutes of a 5-on-3.
For every blocked shot and save by Manny Fernandez, the crowd noise grew and grew. During the mayhem, Wild blueliner Daniel Tjarnqvist was never able to get off the ice, staying out there the entire 120 seconds. Yet, the Preds couldn’t score, and when Boogey and Koivu scrambled out of the box, the noise was deafening. Just 49 seconds after the penalties expired, Pierre-Marc Bouchard
ripped a beautiful slap shot past Chris Mason, and the scoreboard nearly came down it was so loud.8. April 11, 2008 - Foster's Let's Play Hockey
One of the worst injuries in Wild history later provided the most memorable “Let’s Play Hockey” declaration, with all due respect to Tim Pawlenty and Adrian Peterson. After having his leg broken in several places after an awful collision with the boards in San Jose, Kurtis Foster
’s season was over, and his career was in jeopardy. In the middle of his slow rehab process, Foster made his way to the Al Shaver Press Box before Game 2 of the Wild’s playoff series with the Colorado Avalanche. Foster was greeted with one of the loudest ovations ever at a Wild game, and the team responded with a 3-2 overtime victory.
Less than a year later, he was back on the ice in a Wild uniform.7. December 5, 2006 - Bouchard's Spin-O-Rama
It had been done in the NHL before, but until you saw it happen in person, you couldn’t truly appreciate how amazing the shootout spin-o-rama really is. In a shootout contest against the Chicago Blackhawks, Pierre-Marc Bouchard
got the chance to show off the move he had perfected in pick up games with his buddies.
In the sixth round of a deadlocked shootout, Bouchard went wide to the right, skated to the front and then spun on a time to tuck one on the opposite side of Nikolai Khabibulin. He did it right in front of Hawks head coach Denis Savard, the father of the spin-o-rama. It almost took a second for everyone in the building not named Savard to determine A) does that count? and B) did that just happen?6. January 21, 2008 - Koivu's Revenge
The 2007-2008 season was Mikko Koivu
’s coming out party, as he was showing Wild fans why he was the sixth overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. But a trip to Vancouver in November derailed his season when Canuck defenseman Mattias Ohlund took a vicious hack at the back of Koivu’s leg and cracked his fibula. Koivu missed 24 games, but his team stayed afloat and kept rolling toward a division title.
Koivu eventually returned. In his first game back at General Motors Place, Wild fans just wanted him to confront Ohlund and drop the gloves for the first time in his NHL career. He did us one better. Skating up the left wing, Koivu willed a shot past Roberto Luongo and then capped the goal with the best celebration in Wild history. Without hesitation, he skated right past the Vancouver bench, glared at every player in it, and let out a huge scream audible for everyone in the silent arena. The Wild won, 4-2.5. December 20, 2007 - Gaborik's Five Goal Game
Marian Gaborik’s five-goal, one assist game against the New York Rangers currently stands as the greatest individual game for any Wild player. Several images remain embedded in the brains of people who were there that night, like Keith Carney and Sean Hill carrying Gabby off the ice, or the ovation when Gaborik returned when named the most obvious star of the game ever.
But perhaps the funniest moment of the night came after Gaborik had picked up five goals, but had a clear shot at number six on a breakaway. Rangers backup Stephen Valiquette made the save, which was probably a good thing, because some people may have spontaneously combusted if that puck had gone in.4. May 10, 2003 - Hey Bertuzzi, Have A Nice Day!
Todd Bertuzzi could have avoided this altogether, but it turns out that Bertuzzi sometimes has a hard time restraining himself from doing things he shouldn’t.
Prior to Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals, Bertuzzi and some Vancouver Canuck teammates walked through the Xcel Energy Center lobby where hopeful Wild fans were in line to purchase tickets for Game Six. Rather than be on his merry way, Bertuzzi yelled at the fans for wasting their time because there wasn’t going to be a Game Six.
But the last word came from a kid who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. During Game One of the Western Conference Finals against the Ducks, the youngster was shown on the Jumbotron holding a sign that read, “HEY BERTUZZI, HAVE A NICE DAY.”3. November 19, 2005 - The Sergei Zholtok Tribute
Even Jacques Lemaire, whose demeanor never seemed to change when he was on the bench, said he had to look away because he could feel the tears welling up in his eyes. In one of the most poignant moments in Xcel Energy Center history, Edgar Zholtok, the son of former Wild winger, Sergei Zholtok, walked to center ice and dropped the puck for the opening faceoff between the Wild and Nashville Predators – the last two NHL teams that Zholtok played for. Less than a year earlier during the lockout, Sergei had tragically passed during a game in his beloved home country of Latvia.
Edgar was one of more than 18,000 who had just watched a touching video tribute to Zholtok, and here he was in front of all of the Wild fans, wiping away tears and shaking hands with Filip Kuba, one of Zholtok’s many close friends from his days in a Wild uniform.2. April 21, 2003 - Park's Game Six Winner
The first biggest goal in Wild history only held that title for the span of about 24 hours, but it will always be the first overtime playoff goal in Wild history. Richard Park, who earlier in the night broke a scoreless tie in the third period, somehow found an opening between the pads of Patrick Roy’s legs from a tough angle. Granted, it was more a case of Roy looking bad than Park sniping a perfect shot, but that didn’t matter to the delirious fans that had just witnessed the first-ever playoff victory at the Xcel Energy Center.1. April 22, 2003 - Brunette's Game Seven Winner
The Wild can play for 100 more decades, but there might never be a more memorable goal than Andrew Brunette’s game-winner in Game Seven to shock the Colorado Avalanche. The drop pass by Zholtok. The seemingly slow motion Bruno gliding in alone on Patrick Roy. Brunette letting go of his stick and his eyes looking like dinner plates. Every player on the bench jumping up and down like over caffeinated kids. Jacques Lemaire calmly clapping on the bench. Mike Ramsey not even celebrating because he was too bewildered about what just happened.