Monday, December 16, 2013

Canucks at Wild: Pregame

The Canucks play the Wild in Saint Paul tonight

What worries me:
  • The Canucks are rolling - 8-1-1 in their last 10.
  • The Wild are not - 4-5-1 in their last 10
  • The Wild lack secondary scoring
What gives me hope:
  • The Wild are at home  - 13-3-2 at home.
  • The Wild are coming off a win.
  • Nino finally scored, setting up Saturday's win.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wild at San Jose: Pregame

The Wild visit the San Jose Sharks tonight

What worries me:

  • The Sharks are tough (10-1-2) at home.
  • The Wild are on the road.
  • Bax is in net.
What gives me hope:
  • The Sharks are winless in 4.
  • The Wild beat the Sharks on Sunday.
  • The Wild's top line is in fine form.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wild at Anaheim: Pregame

The Wild visit the Anaheim Ducks tonight

What worries me:
  • The Ducks are undefeated at home.
  • Perry and Getzlaf lead the league with a combined 36 goals
  • The Wild are on the road.
What gives me hope
  • The Ducks might be ready to cool off?
  • The Ducks have a lot of injuries
  • Harding is on fire and rested.

Friday, December 6, 2013

30WR: BJs Crush Wild


Wild was terrible.  

*I'm only giving you 10% tonight, which is 9 percentage points more than the Wild gave us.  

Wild at Columbus Pregame

The Wild visit Columbus tonight

What worries me:
  • The Wild are coming off a big win. Can't deflate
  • The Wild are playing on the second of a back to back, with travel
  • Backstrom in net (I hate to say it, but, well, yeah)
What gives me hope:
  •  Bobrovski is human (and not playing)
  • The Wild are sticking to the game plan
  • BJs are plagued by injuries.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

30WR: Wild Beats Blackhawks


Big win.  Took a very good punch from Chicago and stayed on their feet.  Great response by defense.  Also noteworthy: got it done in regulation.  Turning into excellent home team.

3 Things: Wild vs Blackhawks


*This is a new concept, a brief, digestible pre-game level-setter.  Enjoy!

1.  Power Play.  The Wild has no momentum with the man-advantage the last handful of games.  Getting a power play is step one.  Then cashing in on it is step two.

2.  Offense from the defense.  Russo highlighted the distinct lack of scoring the Wild blue line has generated so far.  It starts with defenseman getting shots on goal.  I'll be counting those tonight.

3.  Riled up 'Hawks.  When Chicago gets 50 shots on goal, and only gives up 18 SOG, you figure they won, yes?  Not in their last game, a 4-3 regulation loss to Dallas.  How fired up and focused the Hawks are - and how well the Wild handles that - is a huge key, especially early.  If the Hawks get up by a couple early....

Chicago at Wild Pregame

The Hawks visit the Wild tonight.

What worries me:
  • The Hawks are 6-1 in their last seven, and coming off a loss. 
  • They also have lost twice in a row once this season.
  • Mikael Granlund is out.
What gives me hope:
  • Josh Harding's invincibility at the Xcel Energy Center
  • That second loss in a row for the Hawks? That came against the Wild.
  • The Wild have been controlling the play really well lately.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

This has got to end

So, it's December. You know what that means right? It's time to shit our pants!

Wait. This isn't the Wild locker room?

I mean, I'm about as glass-half-full as you can get, but this annual ritual has got to end, and right fucking quick. Mike Yeo has to figure out which buttons to push, or I'm going straight to #fireyeo territory. I won't even make a stop in #freezucker land or #freehaula -stan.

The team started the season great, but once again, the wheels are falling off. His first year, I gave him a pass because the Wild suffered an amazing stretch of injury bad luck. Shit happens, you try again.

Last year there was no December letdown, because there was no December hockey, but there was a precipitous drop at the end of the season when everything fell apart and the Wild went from top in the division to fighting for the privilege of being Chicago's playoff tuneup.

But this is the third year in a row where the Wild have gone from controlling the play to not being able to control a fucking cell phone, much less the pace of the game. Once is an event. Twice a coincidence. Three times, incompetence.

Shape up, boys, or you'll get to meet a new boss, I hear a couple are available, and they already have clean big boy pants on.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

30WR: Wild Stomped in Montreal


Well, that was like trying to masturbate with sandpaper.  Sometime you just lay an egg, and, if the other team play well, as the Habs did, you're pretty much screwed.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

30WR: Wild Grounds Jets


Koivu comes through with two, Scandella very strong, third and fourth lines pushed the momentum.  But let's take a minute to celebrate Harding.  Outstanding stuff, just keeps getting it done.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Appropriate Response And The Hockey Neanderthal


The "appropriate response" question is interesting to me.  I like my hockey played with an edge to it.  I like the rough - not dirty - stuff.  I even like fights - the organic and spontaneous ones that (like and accept it or not) have a hockey purpose.  

There is a distinct part of me that wishes the Wild had thumped Kadri for running Bax last night.  Part of that, I admit, is because I also play goalie and I've been run (not as bad as that, though) and I know how good it feels when your team steps up and comes to your defense after that kind of thing.  

But, on the other hand I am also tired of the "guy hits your guy hard but clean, and you grab him and pummel him" move that is becoming so prevalent.  Perhaps I'm ignorant of the historical context for that move, and if it's there, then maybe that makes it more palatable.  But it just seems to comport to the over-entitlement that we see in society today and that, frankly, I would prefer to continue to only see in sports like football and basketball.  Because a parallel behavior to that is "don't you dare fucking disrespect me" which just seems to feeble and immature, but that is reflective of that mindset.  

And I'm having trouble reconciling those two thought processes.

I accept that the Wild just isn't built for that kind of game.  So, regardless of whether or not Yeo, the team, or I would have wanted to escalate the hostilities, the prudent thing was to do what they (eventually) did and get even on the scoreboard.

And further to that point, I recall the days of Boogie, Fridge, and Simon.  How embarrassingly pathetic that was.  And how fruitless.  

Maybe the idea is that toughness is more than goons.  Boston Garden, 2/26/81, sounds like some revered date in Grateful Dead history, but it's actually the date of a historic hockey game wherein the North Stars conquered their El Guapo in the form of the big, bad Bs (who had run up a 27-0-7 record against the Stars in Boston to that point).  Matching them punch-for-punch all over the ice - and up and down the lineup.  That game set a PIM record (406) that would stand for 23 years.  Now, that's nothing to be proud of per se, but in the playoffs later that spring, the North Stars, having proved to themselves that the Bruins were nothing to be feared, would pull off an improbable 3-game sweep of Boston en route to a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals where they were dispatched in 5 games by the Islanders.  So, there you have it: definitive proof that sometimes toughness does have a benefit beyond getting the fans all frothed up.

My friend John used to say that Detroit's enforcer was its power play - and he has a point.  Last night, the Wild's power play was no deterrent to the Leafs continued belligerence.  And we didn't have a stable of toughs on hand to discourage the Leafs that way, either.  

What's bothersome to me is that, okay I accept the Wild can't play that game.  But to my eye, they lost some intensity and crispness last night.  They've talked about how good their puck possession was, and how they didn't back down when the Leafs wanted to yuk it up after the whistle, but that edge was missing.  And, if that's attributable to them knowing they can't play that kind of game with a team as committed to it as the Leafs are, then I think that is a problem.  You can't play scared.  That doesn't mean I want guys running around just to prove their manhood, and certainly the scoreboard is more important that a dick measuring contest.  But, I have a hard time saying the Wild deserved to win that game based on their play.  And that's my point.  

We'll never know if seeing Bax get run and knocked out of the game cowed the Wild.  Or if they were just "off" and would have been regardless of Kadri.  And, again, I'm not calling for them to goon it up.  That's why this is an interesting discussion.  I would have liked to see a sharper effort from the WIld than what we saw.  And I'm drawing a connection in my mind between the Leafs brand of physicality and the WIld's lack of sharpness.  Maybe that's unfair.  Maybe it's totally misplaced.  But, what if it isn't?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

30WR: Wild Edge Buds


Leafs came for the party, Wild eventually got sorted.  Harding was strong in relief.  Parise was clutch.  Yeo teams get hot, but they also get cold.  Is this year different?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

30WR: Wild Beats Flames 5-1


Another game where the Wild took some time to get going, but took advantage of a lesser team.  Can't do that against good teams, but we'll take the two points.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Stats 1101 Week 6: What the hell is a Fenwick?

It's been a few weeks off, as I've been traveling and scouting the hockey broadcasts in Columbus Ohio and Hazelton, PA.

I wanted to discuss advanced stats. There's been some talk lately about the Fenwick Close rating that a Calgary Flames fan named after himself. While that's something a native Minnesotan would never dream of, it's still something interesting to look at.

I think this analysis makes a good point.

Then again, I compiled data from 2008 to 2012 and plotted points against Fenwick Close scores:

Not an overwhelming correlation, and plenty of outliers. Some teams (Nashville 2012) had Fenwick Close scores below 500 yet garnered enough points in the standings to not only make the playoffs but also finish in the top half of the conference. Also, Columbus in 2008 had the third worst record in the West yet had the third best Fenwick Close score in their conference that year, the best Fenwick Close score of any team to not make the playoffs in the scope of this analysis.

But I think what it does is give Wild fans an explanation for what we've felt the last few years. Several times the last couple years, Wild fans have known their team was playing above itself and winning games that by rights it should have lost. Conversely, this season, the Wild have lost some games that fans felt they should have won.

Should I, as a Wild fan, expect the Wild to continue to win? Only insofar as putting a good product on the ice. Can I, as an armchair analyst, hang my hat on an advanced stat to prove this team will make the playoffs? No.

Fenwick might be good as a retrospective tool, to try to suss out why certain teams have been good in the past, but all we can get is a correlation, not a predictive tool. It may give us hope, but I wouldn't take it to Vegas. As we've seen, there are other factors, ( *cough* Dany Heatley *cough* ), that can affect the team's ability to win games.

Monday, October 28, 2013

“LET’S GO [team name]!”

Fan creativity in North American sports—most specifically, in the NHL—is dead. There. I said it. The most creative thing fans have to do is take their one-syllable team name and force it into the above formathence the abominable existence of the chant, “LET’S GO WY-ULD!” I suppose “GO [team name] GO!” is just as common, and just as mindless. You’d think that would be our chant. Not that I’d prefer shit to crap. Alas… And let’s not forget the most complex, artistic chant ever: “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

How did this happen? How did it come to be that these chants pretty much sum up the creative capacity of North American sports fans? Your typical hockey fan has never thought that there could be any other way to support a team because the NA Sports fan doesn’t have to think. The arena thinks for them… in the most oppressive, Van Halen- and Nickelback-filled manner imaginable.

Why? Who is on the fence about going to the Wild game tonight and then decides to go only because they realize, “Oh yeah! Not only do I get to see the highest level of professional hockey in the world, but I get to hear all my favorite top-40 hits from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and today!” And then they go to the game and get their ears murdered by Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” played at deadly decibel levels.

Who makes money off of this? Not the arena. The Black Eyed Peas do not approach the Wild and Xcel Energy Center overlords, thrust sweaty dollars into their palms, and plead with them to blast “Let’s Get It Started in Here” in the dead of the 2nd period (ya know, to prompt the fans to get it started in here because they hadn’t yet thought to get it started in here).

No, the arena likely has to pay royalties to stay in compliance. I am a nobody musician and even I have had to pay royalties… kinda. My shitty band has been charged by the bar—who paid us to play—because we played a couple cover songs. They charged us because the RIAA charges them to allow bands to play live music, and that live music might be a cover song. There’s nothing more humbling than being at the bar for eight hours (load in a 5pm, sound check at 6pm for four bands, doors at 8pm, first band at 9pm, listen to those MFers and the two other ear nightmares, and then play your set at 12am) and seeing your measly $50 cut down to 44-entire-dollars because you were charged $3 dollars per cover song played. And then you get to take all your shit home and go to work in the morning because those business meetings aren’t going to meet with themselves and obviously you aren’t making enough money gigging to quit your day job.

But I digress… Arenas and therefor teams and therefor the League actually pay to do this.

Pumping music into the stadium stunts any creativity. Hell, it’s so MFn loud that you can’t even have a conversation with your family, friends, nor the patron to your right (sometimes, though, that’s a good thing). Every commercial break it seems people sit there thinking, “Well, since I can’t talk over Motley Crue, I guess I’ll just see if anyone Liked my Facebook check-in at the X. Nope. OK… Maybe @russostrib is letting some rube have it over Twitter…”

There’s no fan engagement other than watching, maybe cheering, maybe booing, and—of course—mindlessly screaming “SHOOOOOT” when their team is on the powerplay.

What would happen if that music was not played? I think taking it away would stimulate creativity and improve fan connection to the game/team/sport. Want proof? Look at soccer. And for those of you still reading after that sentence, I don’t mean that you have to watch soccer; I just mean take it as an example. Fans sing, chant, and are engaged the entire time. Even 0-0 draws. Of soccer, of all sports.

Futbol supporters have a song or chant for every occasion. Why can’t hockey? Taking the ice, goals, hits, fights, powerplays, penalty kills, wins, and losses. All song and/or chant worthy events. Star players—check out Arsenal fans serenading Olivier Giroud with their adaptation, "Hey, Giroud." How about the team captain or fan favorites—like when once in a blue moon Willie Mitchell scored a goal, fans could have sung Sweet's “Little Willy.” Or when Cooke scores (which is a lot so far), fans could be the ones singing “C is for Cookie”—and screw him anyway if he doesn't like it. And speaking of Cooke, how about hated rival teams and players—imagine how much more awkward it would be for Cooke if Wild fans had come up with a jeering song for him back in his Vancouver days?

It’s nice when the guy running the music is clever enough for this sort of stuff, but the fans could be doing it instead to enrich their connection with the game.

The answer to why we currently can’t is because before there’s a chance to even think about it, the second that play ends some horrible song is blaring through the speakers. If it were up to the fans to be the entertainment, instead of shoving entertainment into people ears, we’d think of something. Sure, British FCs are like a million years old, so some of these chants have come to be out of years and years of development. But we’d get there.

We know that’s this is possible in the US. MLS (that's Major League Soccer, you rubes) is a great example of how a lack of music at a sporting event in the US can work. Just like the MLS and most every soccer league in the world, the NHL could designate a specific section as the supporter section where anything goes. Anyone else who doesn’t want to participate in that way or doesn't want their experience be obscured somehow (like by banners, flags, standing fans, etc.) will be perfectly happy with their families in the general admission sections. Let their kids take in the supporters section to allow them to make the decision of what kind of fan to be when they’re old enough, like deciding whether or not to pierce their lip, get a tattoo, or get that gender readjustment like they’ve always wanted. And that’s just it: it should be a decision, a choice. Van Halen is never a choice; if it were, it’d never be heard. If Van Halen’s “Right Now” is ever heard, you know that somewhere a hockey game is in the 3rd period, it’s not going well for the home team, and the time for fans to cheer is not only now—it’s Right Now.

And time—game time—is another major contributing factor to how two different sports' fan experiences have developed. Futbol has running game time, so there’s no pause in the, ahem, action. Like most sports, a stadium can't play music during game play. This certainly has to be one of the reasons why fans began taking it upon themselves to chant and sing their teams towards victory. This must mean that Major League Lacrosse, however, doesn't consider its own sport to be a sport. It allows horrendous, awful music to be played constantly. We cannot allow the NHL to become that lowly.

[Editor’s Note: the author has other strong opinions about how running game time could work for the NHL, but that’s a post for another day.]

Have you ever witnessed Liverpool players taking the pitch at Anfield? Behold:

Liverpool supporters have been singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as the players take the pitch since the 60s. Unfortunately, what has helped cement this song and the phrase into the Liverpool fiber is not just history, but tragedy

do think there are some current examples of elevated fan experience in the NHL on which to build.

My first example is my worst because I don’t particularly appreciate the execution, but I dig that it exists. The Nashville Predators fan base seems like one of the most engaged audiences in the league, but I don’t appreciate how juvenile and choreographed the engagement is. It feels forced, because it is. College fan interaction is pretty childish and that’s what the Nashville experience seems to closely mirror. College gets a pass because it’s college. Nashville, though? C’mon… you’re the Perds. Grow up. However, it’s a step in the right direction. To change the culture of the fan, though, some extra help and encouragement like that of Nashville may be necessary.

The Candiens supporters have their “Ole Ole-Ole-Ole” thing, and… well that’s just great for them. But at least it’s something.

The Wild’s “Let’s Play Hockey” is another OK current tradition. They do a good job getting fans to participate—if only the people they select to lead it could get it right for once (ahem, Doc Emrick and any non-hockey athlete ever).

And, IMHO, nothing in the NHL is as stirring from a fan engagement perspective than the jacked up, energized National Anthem at Chicago home games.

As cool as that is, though, I think they could do better by also singing along instead of cheering. I mean, Jim Cornelison can belt but it’s not like 20k more singers at the same time is really going to hurt that Frankenstein of a man's performance.

The Wild have an anthem that could work perfectly, and preferably without the tragedy, like Liverpoolbut sometimes their PK is nothing but tragicamiriiight? I think the Wild organization wants the fans to sing it, but somehow I don’t think people get the message.

Fans need to be led. US soccer stadiums often have hype-men in the rouser sections who lead chants, all game long. It’s quite a sight. What’s sad is that the longevity of the MLS is nothing compared to the NHL. Yet in their short life, the MLS has managed to attain this level of fandom:

The kind of involvement and creativity I envision will not be easy to come by. Frankly, I feel it’ll never happen. But if it were to happen… it would require time. As for the Wild, maybe we’re just too meek as Midwesterners. I’d like to think that with a little more encouragement we could make the fan experience pretty special. But the way arenas have a stranglehold on the entertainment flow of a game, fans just aren't currently wired to get engaged. And that’s what needs to change.

Is a massive rewiring required, though? I wonder, and the more I think about it, maybe not. Hockey can do it because it already has an iconic, unique element that no other sport has: the hockey organ. Many of these fan connections could be led by the organist before the game, between play, and during intermissions. More and more, though, the organ seems to be dying out as an old tradition rather than a prevalent, current tradition. The league can’t let it happen, or we’ll never hear the end of Van Halen.

We need more guys like Frank Pellico, and guys like whoever this "Matt" guy is at 1:47... GTFO, Matt. I see you mousing-over Back in Black. Fn Matt. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

30WR: Wild Beats Blackhawks in Chicago


Satisfying road win, against Chicago, no less.  Bax was very strong when we needed him.  Spurge had another strong game, and the offense showed up.  Same points as Chicago now.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It's just like sex

Watching the Wild, that is. At times it's ecstatic, frustrating, and ridiculous.

Well, watching Dany Heatley is mostly ridiculous. It's also a bit voyeuristic watching him not do anything.

I don't want to tell Dany what to do, but part of me wishes he would take some time off to see the game from above. As Michael Russo has reported, Matt Cooke learned to see the game differently and change his game. As Wild fans, we saw how Andrew Brunette could be effective and skate slower than a sloth in a hockey helmet. As reported, Dany came to camp this season in great shape, ready to be a lean, mean, scoring machine.

The machine is broken.

For Cooke, the impetus was another suspension, with 10 games off, he spent his time watching video. Dany clearly needs a wake-up call. He's in the midst of the worst drought in his career, and isn't doing anything substantial on the ice.

I would say "Waive him and send him to Houston" (Yes, I said Houston. Yes, I know the Wild's AHL affiliate is in Iowa.) but it appears he has an NMC in his contract (per Capgeek), so that appears to be a no-go. Still, maybe some time in the press box, or a video marathon with Brunette might give him some tips or tools that would get his game going. If anyone knows how to score goals with the same handicap (such as it is) that Heatley has, it's Brunette - he scored 25 goals as a 36 year old.

There's got to be a lesson there. Is Bruno Crash to Heater's Nuke?

Does Heatley want to learn? What's his wake up call? Is he going to have a Cooke moment when he realizes he needs to do something different? He seems to have had a moment this summer (or before?) and made an effort to get his body in a better place. Now he's got to get his head in the right place before he can get the real benefits out of the situation.

Now, I don't want to say that Heatley is responsible for the Wild's scoring woes. But for a dude making $5 mil a year and a 7.5 mil cap hit, he's got to score more than Mike Smith.

Monday, October 21, 2013

This *Is* The Mean


Wild fans are freaked out by the team's start and particularly with the way the recently-completed road trip went. As, is fans wont in such aggravated situations, the hue and cry for change - at every level of the organization - is reaching a fevered pitch.

Heck, my own blog posts have mirrored this - and the boys have certainly been frustrating to watch - even though they're playing better for more of the time than they ever have.

I'm not sold on the fancy maths. At least not yet. I think the good old fashioned maths suffice just fine. And here's what those old fashioned maths tell me about the Wild under Mike Yeo: they tend to start slow.

In Yeo's inaugural season, 2011-2012, through nine games the Wild's record was 3-3-3, and they had scored 20 goals. However, two of those goals were for winning shootouts. So, call it a soft 20, net 18.

Last season, they started out 4-4-1, netting a total of 21 goals, with only one coming from a shootout win, so soft 21, net 20.

This year, of course, we're 3-3-3, having amassed a hard 19 goals (no shootout wins).

How about defensively? Goals allowed through 9 games:

2011-2012: 23, net 22
2012-2013: 24, net 24
2013-2014: 22, net 20

So you see, the point of this little exercise is to show us (myself included) that this start - this vexing start - is just how Mike Yeo teams start, it would appear. Except that they ARE more fun to watch; ARE controlling play more comprehensively, and for longer, than ever before.

There is no mean to which to revert. This is it. May your blood pressure drop 15 points.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

30WR: Wild Lose To Panthers in SO


Shit fucking butt-licking dog-humping donkey dick red monkey ass piss drinker dipstick dipshit fuckwit fuckstick cock-knocking ball-smacking shit-eating moose-ball-sweat-sucking dick holes.  Fuck.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Stop With the Goalies, Guys


Pop Quiz: what are good stats for NHL goalies?  Goals Against Average and Save Percentage?
How does 2.00 and .930 sound?  Fair, yes?

Last regular season (such as it was) Craig Anderson was best among goalies who played a reasonable amount of games with a 1.69 GAA.  Four goalies (in order: Bernier, Crawford, Emery and Bobrovsky) came in under 2.00, the rest of the top 30 were between 2.00 (Bobrovsky and Rask) and 2.59 (Price and Mason).

Anderson also paced the league in save percentage, turning in a .941 (hell of a year, Craig!).  Bobrovsky came in with a .932, and the rest of the top 30 were between .929 (Rask) and .908 (Giguere and Ward).

For the '11-12 regular season, the GAA leader was Brian Elliott, who allowed 1.56 goals per 60 minutes.  Again, four other goalies (in order: Quick, Schneider, Lundqvist and Halak) were sub-2.00, and the rest of the top 30 were between 2.13 (Howard) and 2.65 (Khabibulin).

And Elliott was also tops in save percentage in 11-12 with a .940.  The next 29 guys ranged between .937 (Schneider) and .911 (Sanford).

So, yeah I think 2.00 and .930 are pretty good metrics for a goalie.  

How about 1.15 and .946?  How do those numbers sound for a goalie?  Those are Harding's numbers.  Backstrom has been worse (3.40 and .849).  But, together, they have combined for a 1.86 and .915 line - hardly disreputable.  

Okay, but that's not all the games, right?  There's Kuemper's partial game.  Yes, Kuemper had a bad outing.  Three goals against, one that would have been a goal no matter who was playing, two softies. Can't deny that. 

But, we're really willing to say that one game's worth of mediocre-to-poor play from our 3rd stringer negates the work our top two goaltenders have done?  Come on.

I'm not saying watching the Wild hasn't been aggravating.  I've got agita just like the rest of you.  All I'm saying is: relax about the goalies.  Bryz-schmyz.  We're rolling with Bax and Hards.  It's done.  Move on.

Now, about that 22nd ranked offense....

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

30WR: Wild Lose To Leafs


Just could not finish tonight.  Had plenty of shots and chances, but Reimer played well.  Kuemper should have started, but played poorly.  Fans will now freak out into panic mode.

Thoughts On Seeing The Wild Live


I live in New York.  Whoever owns the Center Ice package gets my money every year so that I can see the games at all, albeit on my TV - which is a wonderful thing and I certainly chose to live in New York and root for a team from Minnesota.

And I've gotten to the point where I can see the game pretty well on my TV screen.  The only problem is of course that I'm limited by what the camera shows me, and the camera is limited in what it can show me.  This is how TV works; I'm not uniquely handicapped for TV being my medium.  

This is all to lead up to my stating yet another obvious: that the game is just so much better live and in person.  I would say all sports are like that, but I would be lying.  I think football is a much better TV sport than live sport.  Too much damn down time.  Golf is a great TV sport.  I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time at the PGA Championship this year, and you just get to see very little of golf, unless you're willing to walk with a group, or get there stupid early and camp out, and then you're still only seeing a few seconds worth of every shot/player in action.  On TV they do a great job of telling multiple stories simultaneously and it's just shot, shot shot - insofar as you can say there's "action" in golf, it shows up on TV much better than when you're fighting through five-deep galleries of old people in Easy Spirits.  And I wouldn't watch basketball under any circumstances short of you holding my wife and children hostage lest I take in a game.  I did got to a pro game a couple years ago for the first time since I was a kid.  It was a Miami Heat game and between the pyrotechnics, and the noise, and the wannabe gang members jumping up and down and putting their fists to their mouths whenever a player did something good, and the PA guy growling all the time it was honestly like what I picture hell, or at least purgatory, being like.  I would not watch that on a boat, I would not watch that with a goat

On the hockey tip, as my wife said last night, yes the AHL is the closest league to the NHL, but, when you see an AHL game and then an NHL game soon thereafter, it's......not that close.

I took in one of the Wild's open practices during camp this year, but my dad was circling the drain and my kids were with me and they were understandably all antsy, and neither my head nor my heart were really in it.

So last night's game in Buffalo was the first chance I've had to see a live NHL game since February.     

What a sport.  

I could go on and on about NHL hockey in general, but none of us needs a fluff piece about how great hockey is in this space.  If you're already here...

So, about the '13-14 Minnesota Wild specifically:

This team is unlike any other team the Wild has iced in several ways.  First, they possess the shit out of the puck.  They're not going to win 74% of faceoffs every game, but, even when they lost faceoffs last night, their puck pressure was noticeable and effective.  There was no sitting back.  

I'm just going to throw this out there now and cover my bases so I don't have to keep caveating everything with it: the Sabres are not good.  Their passing is horrible, it's hard to say Hodgson, Vanek and Ott is a legitimate second line, much less a first line.  They got good goaltending from Enroth last night (score could have easily been 3 or 4-1).  And, despite that, they were in the game.  They did not get blown out by any stretch of the imagination.  But everything I write about last night needs to be tempered with this paragraph.  

On the experience in general: I like going to games at the Aud/Midland/HSBC/First Niagara Center.  It's a steeply-pitched seating arrangement so it feels like everyone is right over the ice.  The "shoooot!" guy behind me I could have done without, but in general I find Sabres fans to be accomodating and polite.  They're a seriously jaded bunch, though.  I mean there's obviously cross-over with Bills nation (such as it is) so you can understand why they have such itchy trigger fingers when it comes to switching from cheering to booing and open hostility.  Hopefully they get a better product to support here in the near future (although, to judge by Rochester's early season returns - and specifically the play and behavior of Matt Hackett - it might be a while).

Okay back to the Wild.  Puck pressure supplements overall strong possession.  Very noticeable.  And up and down the lineup.  I loved the job the third line did on Buffalo's top line.  A given shift with those two lines out there would often result in more offensive zone time for us than for them.  Our fourth line did not look like it was just there to give the other lines a breather and hopefully not get scored on.  I was impressed with the power play units.  Yes, the top unit got the goal, but the second unit did not demonstrate a marked drop off - and that's the future, gang.  It's great to have these kids (plus Heatley) getting this ice time now, and in that type of situation.  Often the decision to send a skilled player down or keep him up hinges on "do we want him scratched or riding the pine in the NHL, or getting TOI in key situations in the AHL?"  Well, if we can get these kids PP time - and Yeo and Co. did a good job of getting them their minute on a 2-minute PP - then it's hard to say they would get that much better of an experience in the AHL.  

And, when that top line gets going, whoo-boy.  They just hound the puck.  So strong.  It's really something to watch Parise in action.  Every "power forward" in the league should watch him around the net and in the corners and try to emulate him.  He's such a bulldog.  I thought Nino was okay with them last night, but I do look forward to a time when Pominville isn't needed to babysit (sorry: "jumpstart" is the euphemism, right?) Heatley on the second line because I do think his game complements Parise's and Koivu's - although that might be gilding the lily a bit, too.  

Heatley, it's easy to pick on Heatley right now.  But it is what it is.  If he keeps playing like this, he's here for the rest of the season because ain't no one running a charity for lost NHL souls - at least not for ones that cost even a pro-rated percent of $7.5M.  Might as well just manage our expectations of him and try to abide the rest of his tenure.  

I kept waiting to see Dumba's big shot on the PP, but it never came.  SRV was invisible to me.

But I can't think of anything else that was not positive.  

I thought the second period was the closest the Wild has come so far this year to being out-played for an entire period.  As Russo noted, the Swords did a good job of clogging up the NZ and the Wild did a poor job of Roto-Rooter-ing that clog.  But you can hardly blame Buffalo for it - as little as they got in the first period, they pretty much HAVE to play not to lose.  

So, I'm impressed.  The Minnesota Wild is FUN to watch.  They played in control.  They didn't simply play down to their opponent.  Those three things would have never been said about any other Wild team before.  They've lost pretty, and they've won ugly now.  These things are all the hallmarks of playoff teams.

Plus, those new road whites are snazzy!

EDIT: just noticed I didn't mention Brodin at all.  My bad.  He is incredible.  The skating...slap-my-ass-and-call-me-Sally, the skating!

Monday, October 14, 2013

30WR: Wild beat the Sabres

This was a game the Wild should be happy they won. Not their most complete game, but a win nonetheless. Some flashes of good play, like on the Pominville goal.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

30WR: Wild beat Stars


Pretty much a 60-minute effort and the results are obvious.  Great to see the kids (Fontaine, Dumba, Nino) get some goals.  And Cooke has been very good.  Harding, too.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Twitter Trolling: Jason Zucker Really Likes His GF. Like A Lot.

Mason here with another edition of Twitter Trolling, where we'll be watching, waiting, as though living under a bridge, for Wild players to do something mildly entertaining on Twitter. Hopefully we don't just resort to making fun of hockey player grammar.

Quite succinctly speaking, it appears that Jason Zucker just Fn loves his GF. Like... A lot. Behold:

Being the jaded MFer that I am, I imagine this bizarre behavior is the result of girl friendly pressure. Like Zucker could tell her in person with his mouth to her two perky ears that he loves every single one of her thoughts, but that she retorts with "Then why don't you EVAR favorite my Tweets? Yes, even the insanely banal, waste-of-bandwidth Tweets."

And he's so sick of it now that out of reflex he just goes through her backlog and favorites the shit out of her endless dross.

I mean, c'mon. What's the thought process?

Madison Woodbright Tweets: I left my sunglasses in Jason's truck...

Jason thinks: "OMG that's my fave Tweet ever! [Favorited.] And now she doesn't have to inconvenience herself with asking why I didn't favorite it! I'm the best BF. Ahh love."

Yes, young, dumb, Twitter love.

Yet I'm the one watching, waiting, trolling for it. And without it I'd have to formulate cogent observations and opinions about deep hockey theory. That, however, is no fun when your shitty team is 0-2-1.

So maybe that's the moral. Ahem...

Dear, Wild.

Please turn this quickly sinking shitbarge around as soon as poss so that the most noteworthy thing we at HTP have to write about is NOT your meaningless Twitter activity.

Thanks, bros.

<3 HTP

Stats 1101 Week 2

We're only three games into the season, so it's too early to draw any conclusions, but a few things have jumped out at me:

Parise and Granlund are tied for the most points on the team - Parise has 3 goals, Granlund 3 assists.

Koivu (0-2-2), Niederreiter (0-2-2), Suter (0-2-2) and Brodin (1-1-2) are tied with two each.

Harding has a .950 save percentage in his only appearance. But for taking a penalty shot cold, he'd be perfect.

Konopka has an impressive streak of fighting majors, and owns 37% of all PIMs of Wild players (17/46).

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Post-Game Drunk Haiku Reax: Wild @ Perdators, 10/8/13

Mason here with 5-7-5 from good ol' 952. Another Wild season, another bastardization of the haiku form. Tonight I got all extra far-East and attempted writing whilst challenging my drunken balance atop a yoga ball. Like a doosh. I have no idea why. Ask Sierra Nevada Tumbler why.

Coupled with all the beer and core-engagement, it certainly felt like a challenging game for the Wild.
  • Ya know, the challenge Wild players faced while playing in awe amidst the Wild-fan-anointed savior that is Jason Zucker.
  • Ya know, the challenge of refereeing that lead to a weak 5-on-3 and a penalty shot which somehow resulted from a Predator running and injuring Backstrom.
  • Ya know, the challenge of an ice cold goalie coming in for that BS PS, and, upon giving up the goal, the subsequent Predator fans announcing to said cold goalie (who is overcoming all odds while playing the highest level of hockey in the world with M.-MFn-S.) "YOU SUCK."
  • Ya know, all that.

Challenges schmallenges. Try writing shitfaced haiku about an 0-3 team on a birthing ball. Blossoms and italics a'ho!


Beware old castoffs.
Mr. October Octobers
For the enemy.

Just gonna say it:
I’d watch Jamie Hersch and Walz
Pre-game… alllll niiiight looong.

Already sick of
Commercials I’ll be sick of
For the whole season.

Who boos anymore?
Booing is so plebian—
[Cooke takes the ice.] BOOOOOooooo…

Fighting should be banned
Cuz fights as boring as that
Can cause concussions.

Lapanta utters
“Forsberg” and my spine flutters,
So deep is the hate.

Wary, do I go
Out on a plumb blossom limb:
5 on 3s are bad.

This Perds stubbornness,
Don’t they know Zucker’s playing?
Not the chosen one?!

Though a goal we have,
The new Aways betray us
When goals are against.

It all reminds me…
Calming summers in Nippon
‘Cept with more sucking.

Only fools seek Hellfire.
Far more call for fire on Yeo.
Still idiots though.


"Art is dead!" they say.
A great spring is upon us.
Twit blossoms abound.

Forego 5-7-5
For characters 1-4-0.
Twitter... new haiku?


Hope too high to dare—
Vengence for thine wronged goalie.
The Man Stallion.
OR TAKE A MFn SLASHING PENALTY (my one haiku form veto)


Mr. October
Stills speaks with a reverence
For Minnesota.

Like Walz, like Brunette,
Hendrickson, of course Bomber,
Cullen will return.


All hope for haiku…
Lost. All energy, effort
On this yoga ball.

Wild at Nashville Live Drunk Blog

The 6:40 20 minutes pre game. Not drunk yet.

6:41 Why do I have to see LaPanta right now?

6:45 God, now I'm looking Gorg.

6:50 10 minutes to go. Beer #1 Summit Summer Ale. (Shut your face, Mason, it was free beer)

7:10 I wish I could hear all the game action without having to hear Lapanta.

7:20 Konopka fighting? I'm shocked.

7:25 A Wild player draws a high sticking call? I am shocked.

7:22 Nashville fans are going to blow out an O-ring if they keep booing like that.

7:25 Weak call on Koivu

7:27 2-1 Predators. I'm glad I've got lots of beer on ice tonight.

7:28 Beer #2: Leinies Orange Shandy. Not a great beer, but,  free beer.

7:30 An obnoxious arena announcer is the hallmark of an organization that doesn't respect its own fans.

7:35 I have to say, if Bax allows another goal, I say go with Harding.

7:38 Well fuck me, that doesn't look good.

7:41 So I guess when you run a goalie you get a penalty shot now.

7:50 Two beers down. I need to pace myself.

7:55 Great control on the late shift by the Koivu - Parise - Pominville line.

8:00 I'm glad I put SwiftKey keyboard on this tablet. It knows how to spell "Laviolette" even if I'm too drunk to do it.

8:05 This live drunk blog is not sponsored by SwiftKey keyboard.

8:15 Beer #3 More free beer.

8:20 I swear I just heard the beginnings of a boo from Preds fans when Brodziak touched the puck, obviously confused over which Wild player had it. 21 is not 20.

8:22 Nino to Spurgeon. Two Isles castoffs connect for that one.

8:27 I never really saw Weber as an overly intelligent player.

8:35 Beer #4 Leinies Hoppin Helles

8:42 There's the pack of wolves mentality for you.

8:43 It takes a special kind of asshole to run both of the other team's goalies.

8:46 Fine. It takes a special kind of group of assholes..

8:55 Is it redundant to call Lapanta the worst game caller in the NHL?

8:57 My wife just reminded me that I said I'd do the dishes. I don't think she realizes how drunk I am.


9:20 Hold up. Scandella didn't fuck up the odd man rush?

9:23 This third period is either really boring or I'm really drunk.

9:26 Nice job by Pommer hounding Seth Jones to get the puck out of the zone.

9:32 Too much hockey on the right side of my TV, not enough on the left.

9:38 A fucking tiger on a desk of a banker. Either I'm on a hell of a bender or this is one fucked up commercial. Oh,  and beer #6 Leinies Oktoberfest.

9:43 Stoner did something good? I'm really fucking drunk or it's the apocalypse.

9:51 And that's game.  They should buy the refs a Hello Kitty cake for that win.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

30WR: Wild Lose in OT


Showed flashes again, but inconsistency still there, too.  Each line created chances.  Scandella, Heatley looked particularly bad. They're just not in synch yet.  When Parise gets it going it's impressive.

Friday, October 4, 2013

It's the End of the World!

Yep. Might as well pack it in now, folks.

Yet again, the Wild couldn't close it out.
Yet again, the Wild played good one period and terrible the next.
Yet again, Mike Yeo is to blame.
Yet again, Mikko Koivu is to blame.

Yet again.

Ah, it's Wild season. Hockey has arrived. You can smell the ice when you walk into the Xcel Energy Center. I love it.

You know what else I love? Watching people lose their fucking minds when the Wild lose.

What I saw in the second period last night was one of the best periods of Wild hockey I've seen in, ever. The Wild defense was shutting down the Kings' breakout. Forwards were buzzing. Coyle and Niederreiter were parking themselves in the crease like giant fucking Cadillacs squeezing into the compact car space.

And Jonathan Fucking Quick was Jonathan Fucking Quick. I hated him last night in the same way I hated the Penguins and Red Wings of the late 90s; so damn good and you can't do anything about it.

With a human playing goal last night, the Wild would have put the game away. With Quick, they didn't really have much of a chance.

Relax, Wild fans. Breathe. It's going to be a long season. Enjoy it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

30WR: Wild Lose in SO


Solid effort, closer to 60-minute effort.  New PP units looked solid, defense did fine against good Kings team.  Nino, Coyle, Granlund looked good.  Heatley looked old.  Solid road point.

Opposition Intelligence

In another ongoing series this season, I want to look at how other teams are covered. I can't say how often we'll be doing this series, but we can kick it off with the Wild's season opener.

This is one of those days I wish my day job wasn't so, um... I'm going to shut up now. Let's just say I wish I'd had more time for research.

On the one hand, I'd expect more from a big, serious newspaper. On the other, this is about the level of coverage I'd expect from a big, serious paper that also covers the Ducks.

Compared to the quality and quantity from Michael Russo in the days leading up to the Wild season opener, I think the LA Times has a long way to go to consider itself on even footing in terms of NHL coverage with the Star Tribune.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Stats 1101 Week 1

Here on, we've decided to try a couple new weekly features this Wild season. One of those weekly features will be a review of the week's and the season's numbers.

Since the Wild have played, uh, zero games, I wanted to look at how the schedule is laid out. I don't have much analysis to go with this week's numbers.

By day of week, the NHL has the following schedule:

Day       League  Wild
Sunday     132      9 
Monday     115      9 
Tuesday    227     15 
Wednesday   90      5 
Thursday   234     20 
Friday     152      6 
Saturday   280     18 

As  you can see, Saturday is the most popular day of the week for the League, with Thursday and Tuesday also very common game days. The League apparently hates Wednesday. The Wild's most common game day is Thursday, with Saturday and Tuesday close behind.

By quarter and month, here's the Wild's breakdown, by type of rival:

          D    C    IC
Q1        6    3    11
Q2        8    5     8
Q3        8    9     4
Q4        7    4     9

October   6    2     5
November  5    2     8
December  4    4     6
January   6    5     3
February  1    3     1
March     3    5     7
April     4    0     2

(D = Divisional game, C = Conference, IC = Inter-Conference)

Interestingly, the Wild play most inter-conference games at the beginning of the season, but also a large number at the end of the season. Fittingly, the final six games include 4 against the division (I say "fittingly" because that has been common in seasons past).

Thirteen times this season the Wild will play back to back games. Fourteen times, their opponent is playing on no rest.

Days off  Wild  Oppt
   0       13    14
   1       48    44
   2       15    15
   3        3     5
   4        1     2

On average, the Wild play on 1.37 days rest. Their opponents average 1.43 days.

The difference in rest is also something to look at.

-3    2
-2    5
-1   11
 0   45
 1   15
 2    2
 3    1

In other words, the Wild have three more days of rest than their opponent once this season. (March 8 in Dallas. The Wild will be playing on 4 days rest, the Stars one day.)

So what does all this mean?

Not a damn thing. That's why they play the games. Maybe in April, I'll revisit this topic and we'll see something important from this.

But I doubt it.

As an aside, Mason's got a busy few months coming up, but I fully expect to see drunken rants from him on a regular basis.

I'll be back tomorrow with another new feature.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

TDI 092913


Man, it's good to be back!

We break down the entire roster, plus some burning questions.

With One Move, Wild Season Lost


Well, Fletcher and Yeo really did it this time. The Minnesota Wild had one chance to make a serious run this year, and that chance is now blown.

You can talk about your Parises, your Suters, your Backstroms. But everyone, apart from Fletcher and Yeo, knows the Wild engine starts and stops with Jason Zucker.

What's more, the smear campaign against Zucker that has been going on for a week now was the height of folly, and obviously uncalled for. Never in the history of sports has a team's best player been so baselessly and tastelessly derided, and his reputation so injuriously besmirched than what we saw with Zucker the last week. Pathetic. Unprofessional. Dare I say: criminal.

It is enough, in this NHL day in age, to skate fast, to score the odd overtime goal. What more, when we really think about it, could we possibly ask from a player? The only reason the Wild accomplished what they did last season was due to Zucker and his brilliance. How dare anyone question his game? Wild fans know this. That's why we're the State of Goddamn Hockey. Fletcher? He's not one of us. Yeo? Please. Mere carpetbaggers hoping to glean a flash of our incomparable hockey wisdom by association or osmosis.

But, they made their bed, now they have to lie in it. It will be interesting to see how they pick up the dry, befouled husk of a roster they're now left with and try to nurture it back to some semblance of life. And Wild fans? Consigned to yet another season of indignity and losing. Our collective hockey acumen wasted on another fatally flawed roster of ne'er do wells and malcontents.

While the brilliant and tortured Jason Zucker travels to Iowa, of all places, to serve out his purgatory.

What has this world come to, Wild fans?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

And so it begins

I want to begin by saying that following Nick's blog post is a bit like trying to go on stage after Celine Dion.

Wait. That doesn't make sense. Either way, I'll do my best to honor Nick by trying to write about Wild hockey and not make a total fool of myself.

Hold up. Too late for that too.

Oh well. Onward.

Today marks the beginning of training camp in the NHL and hopeful Wild fans across the State of Hockey welcome something to watch that isn't the trainwreck otherwise known as the Vikings.

Giving a prediction of the Wild is really hard this year. There are key losses on the team, but there are also signs of hope. The most glaring is the loss of Matt Cullen, leaving big skates to fill at second line center. Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, and Kyle Brodziak, are vying for the job (and, if you're imaginative, so are Erik Haula and David Steckel).

Here's the thing that's getting to me the most:  Given the acquisition of Nino Niederreiter, the Wild arguably have 8 top-six forwards: Parise, Koivu, Pominville, Heatley, Granlund, Coyle, Zucker, and Niederreiter. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as competition helps push players. With a number of youngsters vying for spots and knowing that they can spend time in Houston, I think that provides an additional level of motivation. Given that four of those guys can go to Houston Iowa, there's a lot of flexibility and depth of the team up front.

Heatley and Brodziak had good chemistry last year with Clutterbuck, so I can definitely see those two with one of the kids, be it Niederreiter, Zucker, or a center moved to wing (Granlund or Coyle). Then again, Mike Russo reported that Heatley has been working out this summer, so would he still fit with Brodziak or would he need a talented center to be effective?

Other questions at forward: Does Niederreiter need to play a top-six role to be effective? What of Konopka? Mitchell? Rupp? I think one or more of those guys gets traded or goes through waivers.

What I would like to see is Brodziak step up and play a top-six role as the third line center.

What I think will happen is that Coyle or Granlund grabs the job of #2 center and doesn't give it up. The other guy plays wing:

Parise - Koivu - Pominville
Zucker - Coyle - Niederreiter
Granlund - Brodziak - Heatley
Cooke - Konopka - Mitchell

or maybe:

Parise - Koivu - Pominville
Zucker - Granlund - Coyle
Heatley - Brodziak - Niederreiter
Cooke - Konopka - Mitchell

or perhaps:

Parise - Koivu - Pominville
Parise - Koivu - Heatley
Heatley - Parise - Pominville
Heatley - Koivu - Pominville

But all that conjecture is straight out of my ass. Take it in, folks.

On defense, I keep hearing that Dumba will get a long look. Personally, I hope that it's not too much of a look. I'm a huge fan that kids should remain in Juniors or the NCAA unless they're far too talented for that level. Considering that the Wild replaced Tom "JarJar" Gilbert with Keith Ballard and added Jonathan Blum, the number of players that Dumba has to jump has grown.

I think we're set with Suter and Brodin, Scandella/Stoner and Spurgeon, and Ballard and Blum.

Clearly, there's no room for a D-man whose last name doesn't begin with S or B. Corollary: Sorry, Mrs. Prosser. Clayton Stoner or Marco Scandella will probably be on the popcorn machine. You might want to go house shopping in Des Moines.

There are so many questions about this team this year. Who plays #2 Center? Who plays on Defense? How much do we rely on Darcy Kuemper?

The biggest of these is the number 2 center. If a young player steps up or if Brodziak takes the next step and solidifies the position, then the Wild will be looking good.

If Coyle, Granlund, Haula and Brodziak prove unable to infuse the necessary talent up the middle, this team will be in trouble. With the cap where it is, there's not much room (any?) to acquire a centerman, so an internal solution will be sought. Who steps in if the already identified players can't? Zack Phillips? Jason Pominville? Zach Parise? Good solutions, they are not, and I fear the Wild will take a step backwards.

If someone steps into the gap, then I predict the Wild to be second or third in the new division.

My expectation is that Wild finishes the regular season second in the division. Would I give the Wild a pass if they take a step back? I'd be hard pressed to do that. Would I call for anyone's head? Tough to say, but a lot depends on how they go out. If they go out like a punk, heads must roll.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Broken-Hearted Son's Thank You to Mike Russo and the Game of Hockey


This is a tough one to write.

My dad and I bonded over hockey. We mutually liked other sports and other teams, but hockey, in its various formal Minnesota iterations, was our "Wanna go have a catch, dad?" sport. Neither of us was very good at playing hockey, although we did - and I have wonderful memories of playing pond hockey over at the Edgcumbe Rec Center park in the winters - but he dutifully took me to countless practices, games and tournaments until my abilities crested relative to my age group.

But we watched a lot of hockey together. My parents shared North Stars season tickets with a couple other couples during a period that happened to coincide with my formative years both in terms of hockey appreciation and critical father-son bonding time. My mother eventually tired of going at about the time that my desire to go was peaking, which worked out well for me. As a result I have a wealth of memories of going to games, wearing my Ciccarelli jersey, holding my dad's hand walking into Met Center, wondering aloud if Dino would score that night, if Meloche/Beaupre/Casey/Takko would play well, if Plett would get in a fight. For a kid from Minnesota with the hockey bug growing up in the 80s, there can be no finer amalgamation of memories.

My father was an alumnus of the U, and so we were a Gophers family. We also had Gopher pigskin season tickets for a number of years, but both of my parents tired of that experience (the Dome and a lot of losing will do that to you) so those tickets also fell to me, but with my buddy, Pete Mayer, as my #2.

Gopher hockey was the thing.

We went to countless games at the old barn, my dad and me. Obstructed-view seats, Goldy entertaining from his perch above the goal line, Pitlick, Stauber, Olimb, Hankinson, Bischoff, Klatt, Snuggerud, Gernander and Woog... And then into the new building and Lucia and championships and that list of Gopher standouts.

We also did the high school hockey tournament together for many years. My school did not have a hockey program back then (and only sort of does now - which basically means it still does not have one). But I recall games at the old Civic Center with the clear boards, and Met Center, and cracking jokes and the wonderful atmosphere of the tournament, and in those collected memories, my dad is right there next to me, a beer and a hot dog for sustenance, showing his kid how to cheer, how to harangue the opposition, the refs and even your own team, when warranted.

I loved every minute of it.

After the North Stars left and I moved away to college and beyond, our immediate, in-person shared experiences with hockey came less-frequently (although we did manage to go to at least one Gopher game every time I would come home during the season). But the conversations continued. Dad and I talked daily, sometimes multiple times per day, just to catch up, share a funny story, BS with each other. We never had a period where we could not speak to each other - me in the throes of adolescence, him in some kind of male discomfiture with emotions - we always communicated just fine. So hockey never represented that surrogate context of a relationship for us that I think some fathers and sons go through.

Instead hockey was something simpler and therefore, for us, more powerful. We were just fans: of the same thing at the same time, and on the same level. I am also a musician, and, while my dad enjoyed music, I understand it on a different level than he did. And, when that's the case, there is a deference from the one who is more the lay person to the one with more expertise that qualifies and confines the interaction on that topic. But, with hockey, we were just a couple of fans watching and talking about the game.

My dad was my best friend until I met my wife, and was still my best friend, albeit obviously of a non-spousal type, after that. Hockey was where we hung out and did our thing. We had the same syntax and dialect when talking about hockey, distinct from even the syntax and dialect we used when talking about other things. It was comfortable, easy to fall back into when the season came around again, familiar, ours.

Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four years ago. If you know anything about the pancreatic flavor of cancer, you know it is particularly nasty. But, despite that, we got four more years with dad.

Over the past four years, his hockey consumption declined from watching most Wild games and all Gopher games and discussing them in detail with me the next day during our general daily chat, to trying to watch some Wild or Gopher games, and then our general chats. And, more recently, as the cancer started gaining momentum, our conversations became less-frequent and were held primarily in the context of Mike Russo, of the Star-Tribune.

"Hey," dad would say, by way of greeting. "I see Russo thinks the Wild's power play is a disaster. What do you think?"

Or, "I heard Nanne on the radio saying the Wild could get one of those outdoor games in a year or two. What does Russo have to say about that?"

The lightning rod for our shared hockey experience shifted from both of us watching the same game and then talking about it, to me watching the game in New York and him falling asleep in Minnesota during the first period but then both of us reading Russo and then talking about it. It was just easier for him to read or talk about hockey via Russo than it was to stay up late for those late starts in Vancouver, Calgary or Anaheim.

Last year I wanted to try to get to one more game with my dad. We had gone to the Wild's inaugural season home opener (3-3 tie vs. Philly) together, me flying back to Minnesota and us scoring tickets right before the game, plus a few other Wild games, the World Cup of Hockey and the World Juniors in Buffalo over the years. But the Wild has been my primary hockey team since they were born (with the Gophers in a close second). The lockout, however, put a major crimp in that plan, as dad's health began to wane while Fehr and Bettman were beating their chests at each other. The moment the lockout ended, which coincided with dad receiving a pretty grim update on his prognosis, I talked to him about me coming into the Twin Cities to go to a Wild game and he thought that would be fun, but needed to hold off on picking a date as he awaited the decision about his treatment. What I didn't know was that my wonderful wife was herself conspiring - with my dad - to get me there to go to a game with him. And her partner in crime was Mike Russo, who put her in touch with someone with the Wild who would help find tickets to buy (that were selling out like hot cakes) to the game that would work best for dad and me. She took me out to dinner and unveiled her plan, which also included greasing the skids with my boss at work to make sure I could take a couple days off - she's good, ain't she? - in the form of a narrative weaved around the email trail she had blazed on this journey. I was stunned and humbled and moved to tears.

I had to drive through a blizzard to fly out of Pittsburgh to get there, but I did, and everything from that point on was perfect. It was the 2-1 OT win against Nashville, with Setoguchi netting the game winner from the slot. I wanted to take in and remember everything from the game, from walking in the building, to the sounds and smells of the game, and I did. I've got them tucked away in my memory in a pretty little file that I will only open when I really need it. That game now means the world to me.

Because that was the last game dad and I would see together.

Dad died Friday afternoon, at home, in peace, surrounded by his family. And I now have a gaping hole in my heart and soul because he is gone. I have yet to be able to reconcile that I will never again get to see a game with him, or pick up the phone and shoot the shit with him about the game last night. From where I sit tonight, it feels like I will never be able to reconcile that loss.

But I am comforted by the memories. This incredible, rich body of memories that I have of nights spent next to him watching hockey, that is mine alone.

And I am grateful. I am grateful for my wife, Emily, for understanding how much that facet of my relationship with my dad meant to both of us to the point that she went to such ends to continuously facilitate it.

And I am grateful for Mike Russo. He does his job so well; but, in my case, he also became the glue that held my hockey relationship with my dad together. I cannot fully explain what his being that glue means to me. But it is huge. Because I would give a lot to answer the phone right now and have dad say "So, what does Russo think about your Wild's chances this season?"

And I am grateful for hockey. I don't think God cares who scores a touchdown, hits a home run, or wins the Cup. If you do, that's great. It's just not my bag. I do not ascribe any meta-physical or spiritual significance to the execution or the consumption of sports. And, in my case, I do not need to, since hockey allowed my dad - my best friend - and me to connect in a perfect, simple, shared experience for so many years.

I will be a hockey fan for the rest of my life. Because it is the best damn sport in the world. But also because it's a way to keep the memory of my dad alive.

I will miss you, dad, and think about you every time I go to a game, every time I watch a game. I'm really not looking forward to those moments when I'll be watching a game, or reading Russo's article or blog, and reflexively reach for the phone to call you to dissect, or joke, or just chat - and remember that you're not there. I'm guessing those moments will be a kick in the stomach. But, with the season drawing near, I know those moments are coming. And, if they allow me a chance to be that much closer to you, and the memory of you, again, I will welcome them.