(This month, Puck Daddy asked bloggers for every NHL team to tell us The Essentials for their franchises — everything from the defining player and trade, to the indispensable fan traditions. Here's Derek Felska of The State of Hockey News, giving us The Essentials for the Minnesota Wild.)
By Derek Felska
Player: Marian Gaborik
The franchise's 1st draft pick from 2000 was the team's first star caliber player; and the team's fortunes seemed to advance and retreat with his health. Ultimately, his departure as a free agent after the 2008-09 season led to a shift in management with the firing of the General Manager Doug Risebrough and the hiring of Chuck Fletcher. The fact the team was unable to get anything in return for the speedy sniper left a void both in terms of scoring and talent-level that has kept the team out of the playoffs four seasons in a row and counting.
No one expected much of the Minnesota Wild when they started in 2000. The team fielded a roster made mostly of 3rd and 4th liners that failed to stick with other clubs. With a team led by its lone star Marian Gaborik and savvy veterans Andrew Brunette, Wes Walz, and Cliff Ronning the Wild made the Western Conference playoffs with a 42-29-10 record and 95 points as the 6th seed.
Despite the great season which included a number of games where the team pulled off some late-game heroics (especially in overtime that year), many did not expect much in the post-season, especially as it drew perennial powerhouse Colorado in the first round. Instead, they surprised once again and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals where they were swept in four games. This season really raised the expectations of the club and the franchise has been trying to meet those expectations ever since.
Game: Game 7 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in 2003
The upstart Minnesota Wild managed to pull off the improbable comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to earn a 3-2 overtime victory. This victory really put the Minnesota Wild on the NHL map and was the start of magical playoff run that ended by being swept by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the Western Conference Finals who had a 'Cinderella' season of their own that year. This YouTube clip will cause any Wild fan to have a flashback to the pins and needles they felt during this game.
Goal: Andrew Brunette's OT goal to win
In Game 7 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, he not only pulled off a rare feat of rallying back from a 3-1 series deficit, but it also was the last goal scored on Patrick Roy in an NHL game. It is still rated as the top singular moment in franchise history by a poll of Wild fans back in 2010.
Trade: Demitra Trade
At the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the Minnesota Wild traded its 17th Overall pick (who would become Trevor Lewis) and Patrick O'Sullivan for Pavol Demitra.
At the time the Wild seemed to shy away from bold personnel moves and while this involved a 1st round pick and a prospect it was a defining moment the Wild wanted to win now. The Wild were not done there, as the franchise (for the first time ever) really started to open up the pocket book in free agency as they added Kim Johnsson, Mark Parrish and Branko Radivojevic.
Yeah, it is not as big of a deal as signing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise but this was a huge step for an organization that was always amongst the bottom three in payroll until that memorable summer in 2006. The Wild made the playoffs for the next two years but never advanced beyond the first round.
These moves came at a time where some Wild fans were getting ready to bolt for what they saw as cheap ownership so these moves while marginal in comparison of other moves was important in preventing an exodus.
Unsung Hero: Wes Walz
He's a player that is not all that well heralded but in the team's formative years he was the personification of what the Wild were about. He was one of many players who got sort of a 2nd chance at an NHL career with the arrival of the Wild. Walz never scored more than 19 goals in a season for the Wild; but he was a fan favorite for his humble attitude, hustle, two-way play and his knack for scoring in the clutch.
Franchise Villain: Todd Bertuzzi
He is still booed by Wild fans every time he touches the puck. During the 2002-03 playoffs, Bertuzzi drew the ire of Wild fans for making a comment about not having to buy tickets for Game 6 because we'd be golfing. Those words would come back to haunt Bertuzzi since Minnesota pulled off a second miraculous 3-1 series comeback. Towards the end of game 7 with the Wild safely leading the game 4-2, Bertuzzi tried to slam Andrei Zyuzin into the goal post and he has been a franchise villain ever since. Minnesota may have that 'nice' reputation but they seem to have nothing but hate for Bertuzzi.
Fight: Derek Boogaard vs. Todd Fedoruk
The October 27th, 2006 clash between the Wild's Derek Boogaard and Anaheim's Todd Fedoruk was a truly memorable fight. Fedoruk tried to avenge an earlier beating put down by Boogaard, and chased the Wild's enforcer the length of the rink before he finally obliged and one of the single most devastating punches in NHL history was thrown.
Boogaard's devastating right handed punch not only knocked Fedoruk to the ice, but it shattered the right side of his face requiring reconstructive surgery.
The Ducks soon let Fedoruk go that season, and ironically he would end up being picked up by the Wild off waivers a few years later. When asked what he thought of being picked up by Minnesota, Fedoruk quipped, "I know they have a nice hospital!"
Fedoruk was never the same player after this fight and the devastation brought by Boogaard cemented him as one of the most feared enforcers in the league.
Coach: Jacques Lemaire
Without question. The team's identity is still very much tied to the defensive minded coach that made the team perform at a higher level than the sum of its parts. While some loathed his trapping style, it was pretty tough to argue with its effectiveness and his Montreal Canadiens' championship pedigree brought instant credibility to the new franchise.
Broadcaster: Bob Kurtz and Tom Reid
They are the radio broadcast voice of the Minnesota Wild, and they appeal to the fans want for a no nonsense broadcast. Kurtz is one of the best play-by-play hockey broadcasters in the game who not only provides energy but terrific detail for a fanbase that prides itself on its understanding of the game. Tom Reid, the former North Stars defenseman provides just the right amount of insight and occasional humor (often at his own expense) to lighten the mood during games where the team isn't performing all that well. Not to mention, Reid owns 'Tom Reid's Hockey City Pub' just a few blocks from the arena that is one of the most popular hangouts among Wild fans.
Arena Behavior/Tradition/Trend: High School/College hockey
Minnesota is immensely proud of its hockey heritage. The Wild were very quick to embrace this tradition with a series of tributes that have become a signature of what it means to be in the 'State of Hockey'.
Fans can see a ring of hockey jerseys representing all of the boys and girls high school teams around the state as well as those of the five Division I programs that are in the state along with a whole series of other history of Minnesota hockey exhibits.
Other NHL teams have tried to copy the Wild's model by incorporating high school programs but it pales in comparison to what you find at Xcel Energy Center.
Arena Food: Mini-Donuts
A State Fair staple finally made it to the Xcel Energy Center where its a sweet, warm and tasty treat.
Swag: Minnesota North Stars apparel
Even though its been since 1993 since the North Stars left Minnesota, go to a Wild game and you'll see lots of fans sporting hats, hoodies, shirts and jerseys of their beloved former team.
These fans are still 'Wild' fans but they love to give an appreciative nod to the franchise that came before it.
The classic North Stars logo is perhaps the best in Minnesota professional sports history.
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