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Seeler jump-starts Wild with 'old school' tussle

Rookie defenseman has first NHL fight, then takes care of the dirty work late in Sunday's victory against Detroit

by Dan Myers @DanMyers /

ST. PAUL -- Following a 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday night at Xcel Energy Center, Wild defenseman Nick Seeler sat back in his locker stall, visibly spent after a grueling, physical game.

With the team's "Hero of the Game" police hat sitting beside him, Seeler's title was well earned.

It was his second-period fight against Red Wings forward Luke Witkowski that teammates credited for awakening the team from a sleepy start.

Video: Boudreau postgame vs. Red Wings

"Very much so," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "While he was in the box, we scored two goals."

Witkowski very nearly unloaded on forward Zach Parise just inside the Wild's offensive blue line. Parise was cutting to his left and looking right. Witkowski, fresh on the ice after a line change, angled in from near the Wild bench. 

At the last possible instant, Parise said he caught a glimpse of Witkowski skating full speed and was able to dodge what would have been a devastating hit.

"It could have been ugly. Really ugly," Parise said. "Luckily I got out of the way."

The rookie Seeler didn't take kindly to the near miss, and immediately dropped the gloves with the veteran brawler, who was participating in his fifth NHL fight this season, a total that ranks him 11th in the League.

But this wasn't just any fight.

The two immediately unloaded repeated blows on each other, with neither worried much about defending themselves. The bout lasted several seconds, with each landing several heavy blows.

Neither blinked, however.

Video: Locker room postgame vs. Detroit

"That was old school. And I had a front-row seat for it," Parise said. "The sounds that were coming out of that thing... it was nasty. It was a great scrap. I think I owe him a steak dinner after that. Standing up for teammates, you always appreciate that."

When it was over, both players skated to the penalty box to serve their five-minute penalties. 

It took the Wild just 41 seconds to score its first goal of the game. Less than three minutes later -- with Seeler still in the box -- it scored again, grabbing a lead it wouldn't surrender.

"It was worth it, they got some momentum off of it, which is great," Seeler said of the fight. "If they didn't, that's OK too. I just thought it was the right time to step up. It was nice to see them get a couple of goals."

It's not uncommon to see a player step up and drop the gloves when his team is sleepwalking through a game. Often times the strategy doesn't work. But on this night, with his teammates on the bench only a few feet away, it galvanized the group. 

"It was the first time -- I was just telling [Wild GM Chuck Fletcher] -- in a year and a half that it was a good fight that the guys were on the bench and they were saying, 'We gotta go now. If we can't get motivated for this, then we're in trouble,'" Boudreau said. "It was a real opportunistic time when I think we were really flat. At the time we were really flat."

But Seeler's night was far from done.

The Eden Prairie native did everything except find the scoresheet on Sunday, something that's become a trademark of his after 11 games in the NHL.

While he showed off the ability to fight -- a trick he hasn't been shy about unveiling in the minors but did for the first time in the NHL on Sunday -- Seeler has also added a grittiness to the Wild's lineup that has been sorely lacking.

"[Matt Dumba] and [Jared Spurgeon] are very offensive and can make some unbelievable plays," said Wild forward Jason Zucker. "Everyone knows [Ryan Suter] and [Jonas Brodin]. So for a D like that to be a little bit more aggressive and gritty and be able to fight like that is impressive."

While Nate Prosser has been counted on to bring that defense-first mentality, and is perhaps the best shot-blocker on the team, Seeler has shown a willingness to go into the crease and physically remove opponents from his goaltender's ice.

It's an aspect that doesn't show up in the box score but earns major points in a dressing room.

"I think definitely in that area, I think I can help out," Seeler said. "I pride myself on being tough in front when I can and when it presents itself. There were a couple of times tonight where it presented itself. Just trying to clear lanes for [Devan Dubnyk] I think, he needs to see the puck so that's what I'm trying to do."

With nine minutes left in regulation in a one-goal game, there was Seeler scrapping in front of his own goal and clearing those lanes, battling with Detroit veteran Darren Helm. First he took a stick to the face, then a slash, then a -- let's just say, unkind -- stick to the midsection, drawing a penalty. 

It's that willingness to do the dirty work that has earned Seeler a spot in the every night lineup for a team currently sitting rather comfortably inside a postseason spot. It's also what's earned him the quick respect of his teammates and the trust of his head coach.

"It is a different element for us," Parise said. "It's important to have those guys that clear the crease a little bit, a little sandpaper in front of the net, cross-checking. Those guys are really appreciated around the locker room, they block shots. I think he's fit in really well for us."

"I think it's been great," Boudreau said. "We needed somebody of that ilk back there that can play. And he can play, too, which is really good."


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