The Minnesota Wild's biggest rival has always been the Vancouver Canucks. That's just fact, according to any Wild fan who's followed the team.
Longtime Wild fans know the bad blood started well before the epic seven-game series between the two clubs in 2003. It actually started on December 22, 2001, when the Wild and Canucks combined for 84 penalty minutes in a game, and then matched that total the next season on March 2, 2002.
With players like Matt Cooke, Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cloutier, Jarkko Ruutu and Head Coach Marc Crawford, Vancouver was just asking to be despised. And they were.
Things boiled over in the playoffs, and since then, those five names are gone and the rivalry has continued. There was Mattias Ohlund's vicious hack that broke the leg of Mikko Koivu
in November of 2007. There was the Wild franchise record of 113 combined penalty minutes on March 28, 2008. Heck, this year, one of their players attacked a Wild fan behind the bench for…clapping?
The Canucks rivalry doesn't appear to be going anywhere, and it will be renewed at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday.
A rivalry with the Colorado Avalanche never got too heated despite two playoff series between the two teams. Generally, they seemed like a classy bunch led by Joe Sakic, although Ian Laperriere riled plenty in the State of Hockey when he goaded Wild enforcer Marian Gaborik into a fight in the final game of the 2007-08 season, right before the two teams met in the first round.
But thanks to a couple Avs players, and even an Avalanche beat writer from the Denver Post, the rivalry has escalated. Believe it or not, Friday's game against the Avs might feature more bad blood than Sunday's against the Nucks.
The teams have met twice this season, with both contests being played in Denver. The first game featured a fight between Chris Stewart and Kyle Brodziak
. When it was done, Stewart made hand gestures toward the Wild bench to signal, "Keep talking." Most likely, he then put his hand in a bag of ice because he broke it and hasn't played since.
But that doesn't ignite a fierce rivalry. Neither does a game with just a handful of penalties and one fight between Brodziak and Kyle Wilson, which was the case on December 23.
However, when a 6-foot-6 fighter delivers a head shot on a player and in the same shift challenges the smallest opponent on the ice, players are going to get angry, and some trash talk in the media is going to start up.
When Avs enforcer David Koci started going after Jared Spurgeon
, the smallest player on the ice, he entered the dubious realm of Alexandre Burrows (who fought Pierre-Marc Bouchard
) and Brad May (who sucker punched Kim Johnsson). Although, when you see what happens when Koci takes on guys his own size (here
) you see why he might seek out a Smurf.
Koci's antics landed him in the penalty box, and the Wild scored on the ensuing power play. Koci didn't see the ice the rest of the night, and he's played two games since. Cal Clutterbuck
, who incensed the Colorado bench with his usual heavy hitting and trash talking, couldn't help put take some jabs in the media after the game.
"That's a bigger joke than anything else," Clutterbuck said, referring to Koci's tussle with Spurgeon. "There's some guys over there, two guys in particular, I'm shocked they're still even playing in the league. If they're going to take a penalty, take a penalty."
Clutterbuck didn't specify at the time, but everyone who watched the game knew he was taking a jab at Koci and Adam Foote, who made a night of trying to engage Clutterbuck.
On Thursday, he clarified, "I meant it to be kind of funny. What are you going to do? One [guy] for sure, and then I just wanted a little jab at Foote in saying there was two guys."
At the time, the Wild was in 13th place, but Clutterbuck boldly predicted that would change, and it still could, especially with a Wild victory against Colorado, which sits in eighth place, just three points ahead of the Wild.
"If they want to flaunt their egos, they want to show how tough they are, well, guess what, we're going to beat you, and we're coming for them in the standings."
The war of words seemed to escalate in the Denver papers, but not because of an Avs player responding. In a blog post, Avalanche beat writer Adrian Dater called Clutterbuck a "coward" and "Bill Laimbeer on skates."
"Clutterbuck is who he is," wrote Dater. "A hit-and-run artist. A trash talker. A guy who has no problem catching you with a big hit, as long as your back is turned or you have no time to react from the front."
An interesting point. But the problem is, Clutterbuck has zero checking from behind penalties and two boarding calls among his 29 penalty minutes this season. Further, it's doubtful that any other NHL player looking to lay a hit is going to notify his target in advance so they have time to react.
Dater also said "teammates hate those kinds of guys, because it means their guys are going to be targeted right back since he won't fight his own battles. These teams will meet again soon, and we'll see if Cal is clucking as loudly that night."
On Thursday, Dater sat down with Clutterbuck face-to-face after the Wild's practice. Clutterbuck held no ill will, and was more than happy to answer any questions, including whether or not he shies away from dropping the gloves.
"I'm always ready for that," he said. "As much as people don't think I am, I'm ready and willing to defend myself."
Clutterbuck has yet to drop this gloves this season, but he's also leading the Wild with 13 goals, and not many teams want their top goal scorer sitting out for five minutes. As for trash talking, that's just going to happen.
"If someone says something to me, I'm definitely going to say something back," he admitted. "I've been known to say something, but I'm not going out of my way to try and get attention."
He's still going to get it tomorrow night, and he wouldn't have it any other way. "If they're focused on me, that's a good thing."
Friday night at Xcel Energy Center should be fun.