One of the more curious and quaint traits of some Wild fans is a desire to see the Wild draft/trade-for Minnesota-born (or even just fleetingly-connected) players. It’s parochial and inane, but what are you going to do? The team ginned up this “State of Hockey” thing and this is one of the by-products of it.
Obviously Minnesota has a long and proud tradition of amateur hockey. And Minnesota has a long and, well…long tradition of professional hockey as well. And the Land of Sky Blue Waters – as compared to the other states in the US of A - has produced a lot of NHL players (205 according to hockey-reference.com, versus 166 from MA and 122 from MI, for example.) So, I suppose if one is given to state-level jingoism to begin with, it’s somewhat natural to want to expose one’s state-level jingoism to passers-by, particularly when it’s conveniently institutionalized by one’s professional sports teams.
The problem with that, at least from the Wild’s perspective today, is that….well none of those players is particularly good. Sure, there have been some greats in the past. At the pinnacle: those Minnesota-born kids who have raised Lord Stanley’s Cup. But, for every Mr. Zero, there are a couple LoPrestis (literally, in this case): guys who were good enough to gain some notoriety, but not to ascend to the top of the mountain. For every Neal Broten there’s an Aaron and a Paul. Heck, Neal didn’t even spend his day with the mug within the borders of Minnesota – instead committing the gaucherie of spending it in (Minnesota’s sworn enemy) Wisconsin! Minnesotan hockey players historically tend to peak at the collegiate and international levels, as opposed to the professional level.
Yet, come draft day, trade deadline, or really any lull in the action, the call for more Minnesota kids on the Wild goes up by these diehard myopes and quickly spreads like a grease fire in a tenement. And more-rational Wild fans (read: those who care about, you know, winning sometime this century) have to roll out the old fire cart and try to contain the blaze before it takes down the entire block. Good times. Every trade involving a Minnesota-born player that does NOT involve the Wild is greeted with "[insert GM's name] is an idiot! I would have traded a 1st round draft pick and Mikko for [insert 3rd line Minnesota-born player's name]!" Every Minnesota-born UFA that signs somewhere else is seen by this set as a reason to hang the GM and the owner in effigy in Rice Park.
During the nomination process for the WATW Team, one of the sidebars became the number of Minnesota-born players that have actually played for the Wild – and their relative (even as compared to the paltry contributions of the non-sons of Bunyan) dearth of material contributions to the effort.
Here’s the All-Time Worst Wild All-Minnesota Dishonorable Mention list:
Sean Hill (D)*
AJ Thelen (D)**
Erik Westrum (F)
Brian Bonin (F)
Wyatt Smith (F)
*denotes member of Worst All-Time Wild Team
**didn’t actually play for the Wild, but A) his is a true tale of hockey woe and B) he was the only other defenseman on the list
That's quite the underwhelming list of hockey players, eh? Notice as well that the forwards all came out of the vaunted University of Minnesota Golden Gopher men's ice hockey program.
What the heck. Might as well go down the rest of the list of Minnesota-born players, who were only good enough to NOT make the list:
Mark Parrish – gets a pass because he was kind of productive (relatively speaking) and maybe just didn’t fit in Lemaire’s system. Plus he’s still on the payroll, so Minny-centric Wild fans have THAT going for them.
Jeff Nielsen – didn’t really distinguish himself, he just did more than the other forwards who made the list.
Darby Hendrickson – so far, the ne plus ultra of Minnesota-born Wild players. Of the guys on the list, Darby’s been the best.
Danny Irmen – mentioned mostly because he’s a perfect example of a non-Minnesota-born kid who these nutso Wild fans still think is a Minnesotan just because he played for “The U.”
Nate Prosser – only got here last year. Doesn’t even deserve to be mentioned with this rabble at this point.
Matt Cullen - could easily end up being The One. Signed with the Wild this summer as a UFA, Matt's future with the home state Wild is still bright and shiny, unmarrred as yet by the echoes of the bleats of failure and mediocrity from his predecessors.
So you see, the Wild has employed a number of Minnesota-born kids. One of them has done anything of note, two of them are too green to be judged and the rest haven’t done jack.
But they’re all (well, almost all) Minnesota’s own flesh and blood, right? So that’s gotta count for something.
Look, this isn't some kind of FU to Minnesota hockey. And there are obviously good hockey players out there that are also from Minnesota. This is a FU to anyone who thinks that, all else being equal, the Wild should go with a Minnesota-born kid over a kid born somewhere else. Anyone singing that tune has had one too many falls off the back of the snowmobile.
And it's an especially big FU to anyone who thinks that, all else NOT being equal, the Wild should go with a Minnesota-born kid over a kid born somewhere else. Anyone singing THAT tune has spent too many nights inhaling kerosene fumes while trying to fish in a FROZEN LAKE.