The list of teams in the NHL that can draw 13096 fans for an intra-squad game is a short one. That many fans came out on a cold, breezy winter evening to watch a meaningless scrimmage between the Minnesota Wild‘s Red and White squads. Wild fans got a good look at the 2013 team. While some fans are still bitter about the lockout and vow to boycott the Wild’s games and merchandise there seem to be plenty willing to take their place. Those in attendance were treated to three full periods, a five minute 4 on 4 overtime and a shootout. Fans began lining up around 3:00 pm, the doors didn’t open until 6pm and the action didn’t start until 7pm. Lining up 4-hours early for a scrimmage? That’s hard core. That’s fans in THE STATE OF HOCKEY!! When the Red and White Squads came out of the tunnels they were greeted by a thunderous ovation from thousands of hockey starved fans. Finally NHL caliber hockey was back at the Xcel energy center. The players wore smiles during warmups, soaking in the positive energy from the crowd. Dany Heatley provided a special moment for one young fan. Olivia Larson was celebrating her 12th birthday at the Excel holding a small sign asking for a puck. Dany Heatley saw it skated across the ice pointed to the excited youngster and tossed a puck over her glass to her. Talk about a day she will never forget and a classy move by one of the Wild’s superstars as well.
The game itself started off a bit slow with lots of neutral zone play and defensemen staying out on the point. The lone goal came on a power play for the Red squad Nick Palmieri flipped in a rebound of a Matthew Dumba shot form the point. The Sceond period opened up a bit more with the pace picking up. The lone goal of the period went to Jake Dowell with the assists going to Jared Spurgeon and Carson McMillan. Even though their efforts didn’t produce a goal the #1 power play unit of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Dany Heatley, with Ryan Suter and Pierre-Marc Bouchard on the point was scary good. That group is going to strike fear into opposing penalty killers and goaltenders. Power play after power play the puck rarely left the offensive zone giving defenders little time to change personel.
Suter and his defensive partner Jared Spurgeon looked solid throughout the evening with heads up play and smart first passes out of the defensive zone. This pair seems to be Minnesota’s to defensive tandem. Spurgeon was the 1st star of the night totaling 2 goals and an assist. His first goal was a beauty from just inside the blue line that sailed through traffic finding the twine behind Niklas Backstrom. The underrated Spurgeon also had a goal in the shootout that was absolutlely sick. He skated in on Backstrom deked left, right, left then flipped a backhanders high in to the upper right corner.
The third period ended after Steven Kampfer potted the lone goal for the White squad. Jared Spurgeon added an empty netter after flipping the puck puck out from deep in his own zone. The two teams the played a 4 on 4 5-minute overtime session highlighted by a Pierre-Marc Bouchard highlight reel goal. ”Bouch” looked great all evening not shying away from contact while displaying his amazing puck handling skills. He is reported to be symptom free from the concussion problems that have plagued him the last few seasons.
The evening ending with a shootout that went five rounds. Parise and Spurgeon scored for the Red team while the wiley veteran Matt Cullen picked up the lone tally for the White. Cullen skated in on net minder Josh Harding slowing to a crawl before firing a snap shot over Harding’s right shoulder. The final score was 4-1 Red after regulation, 5-1 after the overtime session, and 6-1 after the shootout.
The 13 thousand fans in attendance all seemed pleased with the nights events. Head Coach Mike Yeo was not as happy with the results saying ” There are some things we need to work on.” Coach Yeo didn’t provide any specifics but sloppy passing, turnovers in the neutral zone, and miscomunication between players were evident throughout the night. Of the 40 players on the ice 26 were in training camp for the Wild while the remaining 14 were from the Houston Aeros. Thursday is cut day and we’ll see who shows up on the waiver wire or heads down to Houston. The lone injury of the evening was Tom Gilbert tweaking his groin in the first period. He sat out the rest of the night as a precaution, so hopefully it’s not serious. With the fast paced compressed schedule this season groin injuries are going to common place through out the league.
All in all it was a fun night for the fans and players alike. This was as close as the Wild are going to get to a preseason game before the season opens on Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche. Starting the season with three straight in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center should benefit the Wild as this 48 game sprint of a season begins. NHL Hockey is back in The State Of Hockey and most fans are excited to get the season started. GonePuckWild will have all your Minnesota Wild news and information through out the regular season and the playoffs as well! GO WILD!!