Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wild Flat After Trade Deadline Letdown

So Doug Risebrough thinks this team is "good enough" this season. I wonder what they're good enough for? They're a playoff bubble team that has masqueraded as a division leader at times. They're great when the get the lead, but they're paper tigers when the other team scores first. They tout their greater scoring depth (relative to year's past) but they can't win if Gaborik isn't in the lineup. They got tossed around by the Fowl last playoffs, so they go out and get "tougher" - but they get psyched out in big games when the other team shows any willingness to throw the bodies around.

The idea is slow, sustainable growth, and they haven't faltered or deviated from that plan yet. And I believe in the plan. I am not expecting a deep run into the playoffs this season. I would like to think that slow, sustainable growth should mean improvement on last season - which would be winning a series to me.

So, is that what the Wild is "good enough" for right now?

This team with no leadership, no identity, no heart, no willingness to play for each other?

This team that has tougher players but that has had a difficult time assimilating to that style of play?

And the playoffs is far from a given. There are a lot of teams jammed into the middle of the western conference, some of them arguably better than the Wild, some of them on par with them.

And here they are getting their butt handed to them by the Caps - who, by the way, DID get a nice shot in the arm today in the form of some big trades. And they're technically FURTHER out of the playoffs than the Wild are right now.

This appears to be a crossroads for Wild fans. For the first time in team history, they can start to think their team might have the tools to make some noise when it counts. But management doesn't seem to think so.


Wild Acquire Simon

The Minnesota Wild made one move on trade deadline day: acquiring Chris Simon from the New York Islanders for a 6th round pick.

To begin with, they essentially got him for free.

But what did they get?

A guy who has put up a few decent seasons in the 30-point range? Or a guy who has embarassed the league with stupid and egregious plays?


What didn't they get?

A center. A shutdown defenseman. A grizzled veteran and playoff leader.

The question, then, is which hole was bigger and more prevalent?

1. The toughness-from-the-fourth line hole

2. The top line center/leader hole

Time will tell, but some Wild fans are a little tweaked about this.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Schultz Re-signed - Russo *UPDATED*

Russo is reporting that defenseman and current captain Nick Schultz has re-signed for six years/$21M with the Wild. By my math, that's an annual cap hit of $3.5M - which is a great number for the Wild. (That being the case, then kudos to Nick for not holding out for more, which you have to think he could have received on the open market.) This is great news as Nick is so steady in his own zone, and has really blossomed while wearing the C for the last two months.

More from Russo on the Schutlz deal:

"Risebrough, in Montreal for (last night's) Bob Gainey number retirement, raved about the 'trust' Schultz showed. His agent, J.P. Barry, wanted a no-trade clause for Schultz if he was going to sign for this term at such a reasonable price.

That’s against the Wild’s policy (at least now), other than a very limited no-trade clause it’s given Nik Backstrom. Finally Schultz overruled his agent, according to Risebrough, because in Risebrough’s words, 'My performance will never allow them to consider trading me anyway.'"

That, sportsfans, is the stuff legends are made of. If that's true, then it's a welcome breath of fresh air and departure from the "I'm going to get paid" attitude of so many professional athletes today. Obviously they deserve to get paid what the market will bear. But does that have to mean they can be so obnoxious about it?

I hope Nick can be a voice of reason to his colleagues.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Interview about Norm Green, With Scott Goldberg of KARE 11

If you watched KARE 11's news last night, you saw the first of a two part story and interview with Norm Green, the infamous former owner of the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars by Scott Goldberg.

I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Goldberg some questions about his experience talking to Mr. Green - the first local (Twin Cities) interview since 1993.

Reviled by sports fans in Minnesota for what is perceived as "stealing" the team and moving them to, of all places, Dallas, Mr. Green is certainly a touchstone figure in Minnesota sports history - a history with no shortage of colorful personalities.

Here's what Mr. Goldberg had to say about his experience speaking with Norm Green:

What were your impressions of Mr. Green the man, the business man, the hockey fan?

SG: There’s no doubt he’s a tremendous hockey fan – and proud of what he has accomplished as an owner. He keeps a replica of the Stanley Cup in his suite at the American Airlines Center, where he still watches Dallas Stars games. The cup is from the Calgary Flames 1989 championship, when Green owned 18 percent of the team. His suite also is decorated with North Stars pictures as far back as the 1990-91 season, when he bought the team. And he’s very proud of his championship ring from 1999, when the Stars won. Stars owner Tom Hicks, who had bought the team from Green three years earlier, gave him the ring. As a businessman, Green has done quite well for himself. As a man, I can say he was gracious and quite accommodating from the first phone call I made to him asking about a potential interview.

In your mind was he able to justify the decision to move the team in a satisfactory manner?

SG: Emotion aside, his explanation makes sense. He couldn’t get a new stadium, he couldn’t get money to upgrade the Met Center, a deal had fallen through to move the team to Target Center, he was blocked from building a revenue-generating retail complex between Met Center and the new Mall of America, and he couldn’t generate enough revenue to pay players’ growing salaries. What’s more, even after the North Stars made it to the Stanley Cup finals, fans weren’t buying tickets to the games. The team was averaging about 8,000 a game. He was losing $6 million a year. Don’t forget the previous owners, Gordon and George Gund, wanted to move the team to San Jose before they left here to begin an expansion franchise there.

Did he feel any connection to the Minnesotan hockey/North Stars fan? Obviously he is a business man and his ownership of the team allowed him the right to move them. But was there any sense of letting the fans down?

SG: Yes. He’s certainly well aware of the pain it caused, and he says he never intended to leave Minnesota. He said he loved it here and would still like to be the owner of the North Stars, in Minnesota, in a great building. He feels like he did all he could to get fans interested, but they didn’t respond. So he was scared, if he stayed, he would keep losing money.

Was the decision to move purely a business decision (ie no new building)?

SG: Yes, that’s what he said. He moved his family here from Calgary and said he intended to stay here. When I asked him what Minnesotans should know about him, he said “I tried my best.”

I think one of the things that is most galling to Minnesotans is the fear that they played a role in Mr. Green deciding to move the team. For example, that attendance figures translated to fan base erosion or apathy. Is it possible, from talking with him, to allay those fears?

SG: Well, like I mentioned before, Green makes it clear the fan support wasn’t there. I think many North Star fans feel, despite low turnout at games, Green should have respected their emotional connection to the team. “You can’t take hockey out of the State of Hockey” is what I hear over and over – that having professional hockey here is somehow a birthright, regardless of the financial reality. That said, I certainly don’t think fans are the only people to blame. The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission and the legislature could have stepped in with money for stadium improvements or a new stadium. But fans played a role. It’s a chicken-and-egg thing; either fans weren’t going because the team stopped winning and the venue was bad, or the team stopped winning and the venue was bad because fans weren’t going. Either way, the North Stars were losing money, and that’s not a sustainable business model.

What are Mr. Green's impressions of the Minnesota Wild franchise/organization?

SG: He has nothing but glowing things to say about the Wild, their management and their stadium. In fact, everyone I interviewed for this story (many of them now with the Dallas Stars) believe the Wild franchise is an outstanding example of hockey done right. Perhaps the best in the league. Green, though he hasn’t been to the building, said it’s “gorgeous.” He also suggests his decision to take hockey out of Minnesota is the trigger that ultimately woke up fan support for an NHL franchise here.

Did you get the sense that he would have liked to try to make NHL hockey work in Minnesota, or that he would have changed places with Mr. Naegele if he could have?

SG: Yes. Based on our conversations, I think he would have been thrilled to be able to hold onto the team, move into a building like the Xcel Center, and enjoy the kind of success the Wild have in Minnesota. In the end, moving the Stars to Dallas certainly worked out for him. But he appeared to be happy with his life here – he lived on Lake Minnetonka, played golf, and said would have stayed here if he could have.

Was the Stanley Cup win in Dallas rewarding to him?

SG: Of course. I think, because he’s from Calgary, that 1989 cup was slightly more meaningful. But it’s clear he’s very proud of the Stars’ accomplishments in Dallas, and he wears his ring with pride. Perhaps as much as (or maybe more than) the Stanley Cup, I think he’s thrilled to know he brought the game to a state where there only was one ice rink before the NHL arrived. Now, 8,000 kids are playing in organized leagues in Texas, and the Stars are the premier “Sun Belt” franchise in the league.

Why do you think Mr. Green agreed to participate in this story? What did he want to convey to your viewers?

SG: That’s a great question. He didn’t want to rip open old wounds, but I do think a part of him felt like he never was given a fair shot at explaining his side of the story to Minnesotans. He also, I think, feels somewhat vindicated by his decision to move the team because hockey is now stronger than ever in Minnesota.

Here's a link to KARE 11's page on the story, with extended video of the interview.

My thanks to Mr. Goldberg for going out of his way to make time for me on this. It's certainly a topic that Minnesotan hockey fans are interested in.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Foppa the Shoppa

Here’s what’s bugging me about Forsberg right now.

We’re 12 days from the trade deadline. Even though a couple more teams have fallen off the pace in the last couple weeks, it’s still a very tight, pro-seller’s market.

Forsberg is currently alone is his position of being acquirable (is that a word?) without the vanquishing team having to give up any assets - so his leverage is arguably higher than anyone else’s right now. (Jason Alison doesn't count.)

You can make the case that the whole shooting match on the trade deadline doesn’t start until he makes a decision and anoints the lucky team.

But he’s chillin’ in Ornskoldsvik (sp?) eating Swedish fish and trying on skates.

Now, his side would say “we never said we were definitely coming back” but then why “accept” offers from teams? And don’t try to tell me you didn’t officially open for business and you can’t help it if some GM decides to send you an offer - it’s your right to consider it…because you’re going around telling teams that they’re off The List.

Peter is definitely shopping himself.

And while I respect his right to do so, he’s holding the entire league hostage right now - and it certainly smacks of bargaining.

I had said that I didn’t think he was doing this for financial gain so much as to prove to himself that he CAN do it.

Now I’m beginning to wonder.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gm # 57: Wild @ Oilers (6/8)

There have been many losses explained away with an excuse or two this season for the Wild. Some more legit than others, perhaps. Last night, the Wild Played Well Enough To Win, but got beat by a red hot goalie. Plain and simple.

Mathieu Garon was outstanding in both quantity and quality of saves (the Wild pumped an uncharacteristically high 40 shots on him) but also at limiting rebounds and controlling the play.

You could say that the Wild did not generate a ton of traffic in front (Mark Parrish notwithstanding) and you'd be right.

You could say the Wild's PP unit continued to struggle until a late non-issue goal from Rolston - and you'd be right.

But those excuses were all trumped by the solid play of Garon.

Sometimes, you just don't win.

JL's decision to replace Backstrom for the third period was curious and ineffective. Nik was the victim of bad luck on the first goal, and was utterly screened on the second goal. I understand that, when you only see 11 shots through forty minutes, allowing two of them to get past you is a little disconcerting. But I don't think Backstrom was the reason the Wild were trailing.

Season series
Overall: Wild lead 4-1-1 (GF 22, GA 17)
In Minny: Wild lead 3-0-0 (GF 12, GA 6)
In Edmonton: tied 1-1-1 (GF 10, GA 11)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Hot goalie, shmot goalie, you have to bury some chances!

POLLYANNA SAYS: At least the PP finally got one!

BOTTOM LINE: Bummer...but get over it and move on.

STUD: I have noticed Foster more and more, and mostly in a positive way over the last couple weeks. He had a helper on Demo's goal last night.

DUD: Belanger is in some kind of slump. He can't finish to save his life, and he's looking more and more rudderless out there. I did like that he had his hackles up more last night, so hopefully that will bring the rest of it in line...

Up next: The Wild get a Canucks lineup that it is believed will include a recently-healed Willie Mitchell tomorrow.

Scoreboard watching
through 2/12/08

Northwest division
*The Flames pulled out an OT win and are in second place, two points back of the Wild, same # GP (57).
*The Fowl beat the Avs who fell to 3rd in the NW on the Flames win.
*Vancouver was idle

Western conference
*The Wild (68 pts) fell further behind the Fowl (71) and Sharks (70) in the points race.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Gm # 56: Wild @ Blues (4/4)

I didn't see this game, so again I can't comment on it. From what I've read, Burns was the hero again, and Harding rebounded from being ill with a solid performance (got stronger as the game went on - a good sign).

Sounds like the Wild got a little complacent after a strong start, but held on the for the win which is obviously good.

Season series
Overall: Wild wins 3-1-0 (GF 10, GA 7)
In Minny: tied 1-1-0 (GF 5, GA 5)
In St. Louis: Wild win 2-0-0 (GF 5, GA 2)

Up next: Two more on the road this week, Edmonton on Tuesday and Vancouver on Thursday.

Scoreboard watching
through 2/10/08

Northwest division
1. MIN GP 56 W 32 Pts 68 (Tu @ EDM, Th @ VAN)
2. COL GP 56 W 30 Pts 65 (Tu vs. ANH, Th vs. STL)
3. CGY GP 56 W 28 Pts 64 (Tu @ SJ, Fr @ LA)
4. VAN GP 57 W 28 Pts 63 (Th v. MIN, Sa vs. EDM)
5. EDM GP 57 W 25 Pts 55 (Tu vs. MIN, Th @ SJ, Sa @ VAN)


Gm # 55: Wild vs. Islanders (1/1)

The 2nd annual Hockey Day in Minnesota served up a rare Wild v. Isles game as the representative of the professional level of ice hockey in the state. Unfortunately for me, and unlike last year's inaugural HDM, my local cable company did not make the non-Wild festivities available to me. And I was only able to catch the first two periods of the game in earnest.

What I did see was some fairly passive play by the Wild. Though, since I didn't see the whole thing...

All-in-all, getting the two points was the most important thing. Salvaging the home stand that had to be, on balance, disappointing for the Wild. I don't mind giving out the loser point since it's to an eastern conference team.

*Worth noting: On the Wild's first goal Skoula got the second assist - and Foster scored it. That's two goals in four games for Fozzie - and anytime Skoula can contribute offensively he gets a little more lee-way defensively.

CHICKEN LITTLE: It was a win, but it wasn't pretty.

POLLYANNA SAYS: It wasn't pretty, but it was a win.

BOTTOM LINE: Two big points.

STUD: Burns was Johnny-on-the-spot for the GWG. The ability to get points from the defense off the rush is a dynamic the Wild has never had.

DUD: Radio was on the ice for all three Islanders' goals.


Friday, February 8, 2008

Gm # 54: Wild vs. Stars (4/4)

Well, one suspects JL has a nice read on how his team stacks up against the best in the west now, anyway.

The Wild got the two other western conference division leaders in sequential games this week - and went 0-1-1 in those two games. Did they get blown out? No. Did they show they can skate with both teams? Yes. ...And, over the course of a seven game series who knows? But the Wild still lacks the game-breaker or, in lieu of that, the killer instinct to either deliver the coup de gras or rally on a really good team.

Nik Backstrom was again very solid - and really tightened up his rebound control from the Detroit game. He certainly Kept Them In It/Gave Them A Chance To Win and frankly deserves an apology from Skoula on the GWG.

The PK units were excellent, keeping the Stars at bay despite both a lengthy 5:3 and a double minor.

Other than that there wasn't a whole lot of great in that game for the Wild.

Season series
Overall: Wild lose 1-3-0 (GF 10, GA 15)
In Minny: Wild tie 1-1-0 (GF 6, GA 4)
In Dallas: Wild lose 0-2-0 (GF 4, GA 11)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: If you can't beat the tier one teams, you're a tier two team - at best.

POLLYANNA SAYS: At least Backstrom is playing better...right?

BOTTOM LINE: So much for getting some separation in the NW.

STUD: Backstrom was the main reason the Wild was in this one all night.

DUD: Skoula's feet are too damn big for him to be caught flat footed as he was on the GWG.

Up Next: Hockey Day in Minnesota! The Isles are in town to (hopefully) play the Washington Generals to the Wild's Harlem Globetrotters.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Gm # 53: Wild vs. Red Wings (4/4)

JL thought this was a good barometer game, and was happy with the results. I assume that he is referring to the great first and second periods and the point garnered for the OTL. I assume he is not talking about his team getting browbeaten into submission in the third, the crap decision and the goal that came out of it by his goaltender, or the stunning aplomb with which the Red Wings turned that game on a dime from that point on. I mean, he couldn't be talking about that being the first time the team has lost when leading after two periods this season? Or in Backstrom's career...could he?

Look, I have no problem with the fact that the Red Wings forced the issue and carried the play in the third period. They are a very, very good hockey team and it's for reasons like that. And I would say Backstrom played pretty well on balance until that one play. His rebound control was not the sharpest (the Wings' first goal came off a big, fat, juicy rebound) but the bottom line is that he allowed one goal in 58:40 to the Red Wings so he couldn't have been playing that poorly.

But his decision to keep the play alive with a one-goal lead and his own team's penchant for shoddy clearing attempts - when freezing it and getting a face off in his own zone was a perfectly legal option - is baffling. There is speculation that Dan Cleary's (another guy I wouldn't mind seeing in a Wild sweater) shot deflected off something between leaving his stick and crossing the goal line, but the cold, hard truth is thate Backstrom also allowed a GTG with 1:20 remaining in regulation off a shot from the half boards, dot level, THROUGH THE FIVE HOLE!!


NOW...this does not excuse the Wild's poor play with the lead in the third either. Again, give credit where it's due and the Wings played out the whole game. But this inability to clear the zone (at all times, but moreso in high pressure situations) is ridiculous. And, last night, on the few times they were able to penetrate the neutral zone in the third they were guilty of trying to dipsy-doodle through the neutral zone instead of dumping it deep and playing the 1-2-2 that they're so famous for! Like I said, the team did a poor job of playing with the lead last night.

The first two periods, though, were great. No doubt about it. They carried the play, they were the more aggressive, more physical team, the out worked the Wings and they played for each other. It was inspiring. Were it not for the superhuman efforts of Dominik Hasek - and one goal post - Cleary's goal is academic.

Was there more good than bad? I suppose if you just told me the Wild were the better team in two of three periods and took a point out of a game against Detroit that would sound pretty good.

Season series
Overall: Wild lose 1-2-1 (GF 9, GA 17)
In Minny: Wild lose 0-2-0 (GF 3, GA 7)
In Detroit: Wild lose 1-1-0 (GF 6, GA 10)


POLLYANNA SAYS: Showed we can play with the class of the league - for most of the game, anyway!

BOTTOM LINE: Thank God for the loser point.

STUD: Rolston scored and established a new team record for consecutive games with a goal (6).

DUD: Backstrom must make better decisions, manage rebounds than that.

Up Next: Les Etoiles de la Sud are in town to celebrate Mike Modano night on Thursday.


Monday, February 4, 2008

Gm # 52: Wild @ BJs (4/4) Road Trip!

This year, Wife in New York and I decided to make one trip a year to see the Wild play in a city in which we haven't previously seen them. You know how it is when you have kids - any excuse for a little R&R... We decided on Columbus, Ohio for our inaugural trip largely because it is within driving range of home.

We set off in a hard sleet and hit Buffalo around lunch time in a pouring rain. Buffalo... maybe not the nicest city in this great land of ours. It is, afterall, a city's whose lasting tourism draw is nothing more than a massive demonstration of gravity. We had the coordinates for the famous Anchor Bar plugged into the GPS and were frankly a little skeptical between exiting the freeway and pulling up into the parking lot of the bar itself.

Now, the Anchor Bar claims to be the "Home of the Original Chicken Wings" - and I am certainly in no position to dispute that. The bar itself is one of those rustic places with a good-sized bar filling up the main room, and a back dining room. However, as a possible concession to their renown among the chicken wing-eating population, they also have carved out a sundry/merchandise window at which you may purchase t-shirts authenticating your pilgrimage, their own chicken wing sauce and other arcana.

We opted to dine in the back room (as opposed to the bar) and were served by an extremely nice waitress. We went for a plate of 20 wings, with their original "hot" sauce. You will recall that their claim is to the original chicken wing and not, say, the greatest chicken wing known to man. I was not fully appreciative of that distinction upon taking my first bite of wing. This is not to say that I was disappointed - because the wings were as good as the other good wings I've ever had. But I was sort of expecting to be blown over by the awesomeness of the wing - and I was not. Again, no fault of Anchor Bar's - it was my own ignorance that was to blame.

I am also glad that we went for "hot" as opposed to "medium" on the applied Scoville Scale of Anchor Bar's hot sauce. After the usual "mild, medium and hot" there is a special category of pain called "Suicidal" for their wings. WiNY likes her hot a little less hot than I do, but we landed on "hot". I'd put the Anchor Bar "hot" at more of a medium - which begs the questions of just how hot their "suicidal" is and whether or not they should redo their scale to make it something like "mild, hot and suicidal" in keeping with the generally-accepted three-grade form of wing hotness categorization and classification. But I digress...

We exited the bar to find that the pouring rain had turned over to a hard snow of big, fluffy clumps (given the not-frigid ambient temperature). WiNY took over at the wheel and we headed southwest. The snow would abate around Erie, PA though it picked up again just outside Cleveland. We hit C-Bus later than we'd hoped, found the hotel and went to check in.

After procuring our room keys we asked the nice young man behind the front desk where we could go for dinner within walking distance. He told us about a "brewery" that served "American-style food" that was only a few blocks away. We thanked him and headed to our room. After setting our stuff down and checking out the room, the topic of dinner was again broached between WiNY any myself and it turned out we'd both had the same luke-warm reaction to the prospect of going to a "brewery" serving "American-style" food. We'd already eaten at one bar that day, figured we probably wouldn't be dining on haute cuisine Saturday night at the game and so the thought of a burger and fries was not exactly appetizing at the moment.

We began perusing the hotel-provided literature describing and canonizing the best of Columbus and one place that caught WiNY's eye was called the Elevator Brewery and Draught Haus. The write up of it included phrases like "award winning cuisine" and generally painted a picture of epicurean beauty greater than one would generally attribute to any place calling itself a brewery. When she told me what it was called, it turns out that it was the place the dude had told us about. It being within walking distance (which was especially appealing given the preceding seven hours in the car) sold it for us and off we went.

A short and sweet less-than ten minute walk from the Doubletree - the cold-but-not-frigid winter air was perfect for clearing out the cobwebs - put us in front of the Elevator B&DH. You step inside and are greeted with a nice combination of old-fashioned boys club offset by enough contemporary lighting as to be appealing but not so much as to be garish. The place is sort of narrow, but you don't feel cramped walking to your table (if you don't get one of the booths in the two rounded front windows that were very cool looking).

Quick and attentive service from a nice young man who was ready with a reco from their own-brewed list (a porter that was more effervescent and flavorful than any porter I've ever had - and the better for it!) and was able to respond to our request for what he likes off their menu without just reciting the specials. And the food was incredible. This place puts other brewery food to shame. It's not just some hairy dude dropping frozen chicken fingers into the Fry-o-Lator in the back...it is, dare I say, actual food!

Classic wedge salad, medallions of beef with a sort of vinaigrette gravy and sweet potato wedges, crab manicotti (amazing), some kind of double fudge brownie dessert thingy...terrific. Add in a flight of their beers, a couple pints of that porter and a fuzzy navel... and a good time was had by all. There are a couple beautiful looking 8-foot, leather pocket pool tables in an elevated section in the back under a big stained glass window and a few dart boards - but do not confuse this place with a pub. We thought they carried off the combination of brewery and honest-to-goodness restaurant with panache and class. I would recommend it without reservation to anyone.

So our meal is winding down and I excuse myself to go visit the gentlemen's rest facility. On my way through the dining area I notice two guys at a table, one of whom looks a lot like the Star-Tribune's Mike Russo. I proceed to the restroom, take care of business and return to the dining room where I notice the Mike Russo look-alike is sitting by himself. So I screw up the old courage and walk over to him and say "Mike Russo?" He's got that "oh God, who's this nutjob?" look on and sort of warily says "Yes?" I identify myself to him, chat for a minute until his dining companion comes back - turns out it's John Shipley from the Pioneer Press - and then excuse myself. WiNY and I settle up our bill and then on the way out I introduce her to them and we leave.

Hopefully I didn't come across as a stalker - though we did get to the restaurant well before they did.

The next day we slept in (you parents know the value of those two little words "slept in") and then went down to the German Village section of C-Bus to a place called, appropriately enough, the German Village Coffee Shop for what was reported to be a very good, not expensive breakfast. It was everything we hoped it would be, plus good service (notice the trend?). Nothing fancy, but good, hot food served quickly and inexpensively.

Then we drove around C-Bus for a while getting the lay of the land and landed at the OSU campus. Keep in mind that we went to a school with an enrollment of 1,600 so whenever we're on a real, big university campus there is an element of culture shock for us. WiNY was literally amazed by The Horseshoe. We had to stop and get out and walk around it and everything. When I told her how many people fit in there for every Buckeye football game she was astounded. This is not to say that she is a sports rube. But I can see where the thought of 100,000 people at a college sporting event takes a bit to get your head around. She immediately declared that taking in a OSU/UM football game was a new entrant on her life to-do list.

Then it was time for WiNY's portion of the weekend: the spa! Our deal is that she gets to go to a local spa for an afternoon and I get to see the game from some nice seats. I had done a little research and chosen a spa up north of the city.

Dropped her off there and walked into a little bar in the same shopping complex called Gallo's Tap Room. This place totally blows away every preconceived notion of a dining establishment located in a mall that I've ever had. The decor is solid sports bar, but not the dingy, grimy, stick-to-the-floor affair you sometimes get. There are (nice) TVs everywhere but the volume level wasn't ear-splitting. There are two projection screens in front of some high bar tables, a few booths, a bar that's longer than you think it is on first glance, an open kitchen, and a back room with pool, darts, quaits, etc.

I sat down at the bar and ordered a Guiness from a guy who turned out to be one of the owners. He also turned out to share my first name - which obviously makes him a good guy right off the bat. He left me to my Guiness until I asked him where I should go around the arena before the game that night. We struck up a nice conversation about places down there which lead to a conversation about hockey (he plays), running a bar, writing a blog, etc. He told me they back up to a big OSU unofficial off-campus housing area so they do pretty well with local business. I can definitely see why. This is the kind of bar you make "home" not just because of the convenience but because they treat you right. Thanks for the conversation and the recos, Nick!

After that we pretty much just headed back downtown, reconnoitered at the hotel for a bit and then walked up to the arena area about two hours before game time. We went to Will Call first, picked up the stubs, then bounced around between a couple very busy bars and finally ducked into the Frog Bear & Wild Boar for a pre-game pint. This is sort of a super sports bar/club that was in the process of getting PACKED before the game. It was also loud - thanks to a superflous DJ/PA guy mixing tunes and telling me about drink specials, etc. Nice looking place and totally serves the purpose of a pre-game pop and a burger amidst other BJ friendlys.

Russo had mentioned to me that there would be a good showing of Wild fans, and as soon as we stepped outside to walk the fifty yards from the bar to the arena that started becoming evident.

First impressions of Nationwide Arena were that it is obvious that it was built at the same time the X was. Sweeping entrances, high school sweaters adorning the walls, lots of vendors, very nice-looking. We were in section 120, directly behind the net the BJs defend twice, about half-way up the section, on the aisle. I had actually wanted to be a little higher as our line of vision did not allow us to see play along the end boards in front of us, but no matter. Our sight line down the ice was marred a bit by the break between the top of the glass on the start of the netting which was a bigger problem, but I got over it.

I will say that I don't like the white netting. I have no idea why you'd choose a color that reflects light for something that's supposed to be invisible? Black netting has never been a problem for me, but I noticed the white netting all game long - and the light hitting off it was a constant distraction.

The building seems deeper and more cavernous than the X. Our perspective was from the "deepest" parts of it, but the upper decks seemed more on top of each other, and more on top of the lower bowl as well. I thought they made poor use of the Jumbotron. It was pretty much all video and score - no shots or penalty information. You had to look to one of two mid-level scoreboards on opposite corners for that stuff, and it seemed like it would be hard to read unless you were right on the center red line. Between the distance to the board and the awful white netting I had a lot of trouble reading SOG and penalty info. They sort of stack what appears to be luxury boxes in the corners of the building which looks kind of neat in an opera house kind of a way. It certainly appeared as though the press box was about a mile from the ice surface.

We got an added bonus when Russo appeared during the warmups to chat some more. He obviously went out of his way, and he clearly loves hockey and knows his shit cold. One of the best parts of being a hockey fan is the passion for the game that you can find among other hockey fans with such ease. Russo embodies that passion perfectly, and it was a treat to talk with him.

I thought the BJs did a terrific job with in-game production/entertainment. By that I mean they did stuff that the fans got into it and probably increased their in-game experience, but they also left the hockey alone. The fans were definitely into the game, seemed to "ooh" and "aah" at the right times, and were respectful of the fan in the visiting team's sweater - though that was probably reciprocal of the respectfulness of the Wild fans in the building too.

The concession choices were pretty traditional (with a couple wrinkles) and we were there for $1 hot dog night (we did not partake). When the BJs largely squandered a PP with about 8 minutes left the crowd both started to get on them (booing) and soon thereafter started fleeing (the outcome of the game no longer being in question).

We walked back to the hotel, stopped in the bar for a burger and a couple drinks, chatted with a very nice bartender who told us that Rick Nash can be seen at that Frog Bear & Wild Boar after games buying fans rounds of drinks, and generally being a stand-up (read: non-arrogant) guy.

We hit the sack, got up Sunday morning and beat feet back home.

As for the game itself, I thought the Wild played very well. PMB is unbelievable with the puck. Gaborik's war with Adam Foote (there's a guy I'd like to see on the Wild blue line) continues to escalate, but it seemed to only motivate Gaby - which is a good thing on many levels. Backstrom's rebound control was sharp again and the team got a win that they probably should have gotten considering the BJs are a little beat up at the high end right now.

Optimistically, I think it's starting to come together. While that might indicate a continuation of DR's prior reticence in making the big trade at the deadline, it does not mean we're suddenly solid up the middle. I think we could still use a center and a veteran leader, but with so little time left before the deadline I can see where it would be easy for DR to justify not overspending for someone.

In the final analysis, it was a great trip. Downtown Columbus has some very nice looking new areas (mixed in with some sketchy areas that have yet to be gentrified) and a wealth of cool new eateries, etc. The only thing it's missing is residents. It appeared as though no one lives downtown yet, and while that may come, the BJs have been there for a while now. But our experience was positive all the way around. Nice people, good food, a good building, and a Wild win.

Season Series
Overall: Wild win 3-1-0 (GF 9, GA 8)
In Minny: tied 1-1-0 (GF 3, GA 6)
In Columbus: Wild win 2-0-0 (GF 6, GA 2)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Again, not bad.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Two straight wins in C-Bus!

BOTTOM LINE: Solid road game, no major (very few minor) complaints.

STUD: Maybe it was just seeing him in person after so long, but PMB was great. Not just with the puck, but he played bigger than his size.

DUD: No one really sticks out, so...what the heck, no dud for that one.