The Minnesota Wild held their now annual free training camp scrimmage Sunday, at the Excel Energy Center, in front of a few thousand hockey starved fans. The White team took the victory by a 3-2 final over the Green team. The split squad scrimmage allowed the players to play three full periods for the first time in training camp. The Wild play their first exhibition game of the new season Tuesday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets in St. Paul. Sunday’s scrimmage allowed the public a good look at some of the players new to the Wild and those new to the Wild’s system who will most likely spend the majority of their season playing for the Iowa Wild, the Orlando Solar Bears, or the Quad City Mallards. For a complete Minnesota Training Camp Roster click HERE.
One of the Wild’s free agent acquisitions and probably the most controversial factored in both goals for the Green team, yes Matt Cooke put one in the back of the net and assisted on another today. Love him or hate him, he’s had a great camp so far and looks to be well on his way to securing himself a spot on the third line. Now if he can just stay away from the stupid stuff that has earned him his thuggish reputation the Wild may have picked up a steal in free agency. Only time will tell. Sunday however he pulled a spin move heading down the right side sending the puck to Torrey Mitchell who beat Niklas Backstrom midway through the second stanza for the Green Squad’s first goal. Later, in the third period, Cooke pulled his team to within a goal of the lead firing a screen shot that found the net behind Johan Gustafsson.
The stars of the game for Team White were who you would hope they would be. Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville combined for two goals and are showing some great chemistry just 4 days into training camp. The first White goal came from speedster Jason Zucker, another of the Wild’s young wingers who is having a superb camp so far, line mate Mikael Granlund hit Zucker with a pass in the right circle that number 16 flipped past net minder Josh Harding for the score. Speaking of Harding how great is it to see him in action and poised to challenge Backstrom for #1 goal tender. Harding’s hard work, perseverance and has been amazing in the face of multiple sclerosis. The work of his medical team is also amazing and should give athletes everywhere, stricken with the debilitating disease, hope that they can play on. Harding looked solid today, moving laterally well and flashing a quick glove. Harding held the Green team scorless until Zuckers goal that came with just 1:01 left to play in the first period.
The first goal from the Koivu, Parise, Pominville line came on a slick pass from Parise down low that found Pominville out front, he gathered in the pass and went up high beating Harding for the White squad’s second gola of the game. The second goal from the trio came in the third period as highly touted defense prospect Mathew Dumba gathered in a rebound and made a good decision. He slid the puck to Koivu, who flipped it past the Green team’s current goal tender Darcy Kuemper, to make the score 3-1. To this point in camp the line of Koivu, Parise, and Pominville seems to be clicking. Throughout the scrimmage this trio looks to be comfortable with one another. The trick is going to be keeping them together long term this season. Last season it seemed that every time a line got comfortable together the injury bug would rear up and two lines would be thrown into disarray. Having a consistent top line, a top line on a par with any #1 line in the league, will go a long way into changing some losses into wins and some prevent some overtime games from ever getting to that point. Yes, I do think that a healthy, consistent top line would make that much of a difference. We saw some flashes of brilliance from Pominville last season after the trade that sent him from the Buffalo Sabres to Minnesota for prospects Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett. Pominville missed the team’s last two regular season games after taking a cheap shot elbow to the head courtesy of the Los Angeles Kings Dustin Brown on April 23rd. That elbow earned Brown a two game suspension. In addition to the regular season games Pominville also missed 3 of the Wild’s five game against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Several other players had good performances in today’s scrimmage. As I previously mentioned Mathew Dumba had an assist and showed his speed, keeping pressure on opposing skaters consistently. As with any inter-squad scrimmage there wasn’t a whole lot of big hits but, it was clear that several of the younger prospects were making there presence known. Those included Jon Landry, Brian Connelly, and Kyle Medvec. Free agent acquisition and Minnesota Native Keith Ballard played well and should be a real asset on defense this year bringing his aggressive, stay at home defensive style of play. Speaking of defense, the Wild’s #1 defensive pair of Ryan Suter and rookie sensation Jonas Brodin didn’t appear to have missed a beat heading into the 2013-14 campaign. Perhaps the biggest defensive question to start the season is who will be paired up with Jared Spurgeon. Jonathon Blum, who spent last season with the Nashville Predators and Ballard are two names that jump to mind.
All in all the scrimmage was a nice treat for the fans and a chance for the players to escape the training camp routine of drills, diagrammed plays on the white board, and short scrimmages. There is always hope and optimism as our favorite team heads into their first preseason match-up on Tuesday and the regular season opener on October 3rd draws closer. GonePuckWild.com will be with you every step of the way as the Minnesota Wild charge headlong into the 2013-14 NHL season. This is Scott Drain shouting with anticipation, “LET’S GO WILD!!”