When the Minnesota Wild looked all but beaten at the United Center, the team needed a confident presence between the pipes to get back into the game. With a seven-year veteran and a rookie just three weeks out of the AHL on the roster, you could probably guess who’d be making way for whom.
Well, Tuesday night in Chicago, it was the rookie, Darcy Kuemper that got the call from Wild coach Mike Yeo to come on after the first intermission. Veteran Nicklas Backstrom was lifted from the game after giving up four goals to the ‘Hawks in the opening 20 minutes.
It’s a risky move by a coach, bringing on an inexperienced goaltender in an already lopsided game. If Kuemper showed his 22-year old nerves, the Wild could have been on the wrong end of a disparaging loss to the league’s measuring stick Blackhawks.
Or at least it could have been a risky move, if Kuemper possessed any nerves. After watching him take over the crease at the UC, I’m not convinced the kid has one single nerve to speak for.
Kuemper faced down the red-hot ‘Hawks like he’d done it a hundred times before.
To their credit, the Wild defenders and back-checkers saw their rookie netminder take the paint, and they stepped up in front of him with little to no regard for personal wellbeing. Their shot-blocking was absolutely dedicated. (Anybody miss Greg Zanon? I don’t. Heck of a beard, though.)
For his part, Kuemper played it cool, feeding off the support in front of him. When a sloppy neutral ice turnover transitioned into a Patrick Sharp blue-line-in breakaway, the rookie hardly dropped his pads; he saw Sharp in the whole way and flashed the glove. He hardly flashed it, in fact. It was a good enough read on a veteran goal-scorer that it looked like Kuemper had talked Sharp into tossing that puck into the basket.
Later on, Sharp looked for vengeance on a high –circle wrister, but Kuemper stood tall (6’4” by the tape) to deny him again, this time on the blocker side.
Kuemper’s rebound control was excellent. The only time he looked out of place during his 40-minute shift was when he was, well, out of place. A little scramble behind the cage, no harm done.
And while the youngster made his goal line stand against the NHL’s fourth-highest producing offense, the Wild seemed to calm down in front of him. They pulled back two goals early in the third to claw back to within one of the ‘Hawks.
The Wild’s confidence to attack the Chicago net while Kuemper hunched between the pipes shows the team’s faith in the young talent. It certainly showed Yeo’s.
Keep an eye out for a follow up on Hackett, but for now, let’s hand it to Kuemper. The young man came to play, and if the ‘Hawks don’t faze him, no one will.
Also, check Russo’s link above for some encouraging news on another of Minnesota’s brightest puck-stoppers, Josh Harding. That young man has the team of 18,000 pulling for him.