Iowa’s Veteran Leadership Challenged as Wild Endures 6-Game Losing Skid


In Saturday’s Iowa Wild game against the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Wild struck early in the 3rd period as Tyler Graovac scored on a pretty shorthanded breakaway just 39 seconds in giving his game a 3-2 lead.  His team, having lost its last 5 games seemed to be on the verge of exercising some demons with a much-needed victory at home, but it wasn’t meant to be.  Hamilton tied the game about 10 minutes later and then tallied the game-winner a little under two minutes after that.  Toss in an empty-net goal in the final minute and the Iowa Wild have another painful 3rd period collapse and a losing streak that is at 6 games and counting.  It is the kind of loss that leaves a team; its players, its coaches and fans both angry and bewildered, similar to way things were with its NHL parent club a little over a week or so ago.

"“Veteran leadership in here just not being disciplined or working hard enough. It is that simple. Have to do a better job.  The bottom line is that we lost because we did not compete hard enough.” ~ Iowa Wild Head Coach John Torchetti after Iowa’s 5-3 loss to Hamilton"

It also seemed to get players and coaches to show a little more emotion in their post-game comments.  Iowa Wild Head Coach John Torchetti didn’t mince words as he challenged the team’s veteran leaders to be better, and the need to work harder in order to win tight games.  But haven’t we heard this all before?  Afterall, the team gave Kurt Kleinendorst the axe on November 10th as it appeared the team basically gave up on him.   I wrote this article the day before everything went down.  The day after the axe fell, Kleinendorst gave an amazingly candid interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s Michael Russo that you can read here.  One quote during this interview struck me as cryptic and in light of the team’s current struggles it makes you wonder that much more.

"“I’ve been with these guys every day. I’ve got a good idea of why, but I’m going to keep that to myself. I will say this though: This needed to be done. Now Chuck is going to know it was either the guy behind the bench or it was the players out on the ice. What is it? So at the end of the day, Jimmy, Chuck, they’re in a good situation because they will be able to determine if it was the guy behind the bench or just maybe we’re not as good in Iowa as we think we are. It’s got to be one or the other. I totally understand that. I think the time was right, you just could not let this continue to fester.” ~ Former Iowa Wild Head Coach Kurt Kleinendorst to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 11th, 2014."

Was Kurt hinting at the same lack of veteran leadership that John Torchetti was alluding to his his comments after Saturday’s loss to Hamilton?  Reading a bit farther in that Star Tribune interview provides a perplexing difference.  Kleinendorst lauded the effort and professionalism of veterans Justin Falk, Stephane Veilleux (captain) and Brett Sutter (alternate captain).  Yet Torchetti just called that group out.  So with Kleinendorst it was the kids not showing up ready to compete while the veterans tried to pick up the slack and now the exact opposite appears to be true.  Either way it seems to make one wonder just what that locker room is like.  Do the veterans and younger players despise one another?  Perhaps more importantly, is this harming the development of the Minnesota Wild’s young players?

Iowa is currently dead last in American Hockey League’s Western Conference with a 15-29-1-1 record.  It is rather unlikely they’ll be able to make the playoffs and that is lost potential development time for Minnesota’s young players which is really the main objective of any AHL franchise.  It is not entirely doom and gloom in Des Moines.  The team is still getting reasonable play out of Tyler Graovac as well as veteran Jordan Schroeder and Kurtis Gabriel is taking his chances to drop the gloves and provide energy each night.  Free agents Zack Mitchell and Michael Keranen have provided at least some offense this season, but a disconnect is still evident throughout much of the rest of the team.  Forgive me for saying that Schroeder sounds like Iowa’s version of Zach Parise with these comments below.

"“This is happening way too much as a team. We have to figure out what this is.  It is frustrating because we are there with leads in the third.  We should be winning most of these games.  I am sick of being asked what’s going on.  Something has to change.” ~ Wild center Jordan Schroeder after Iowa’s most recent loss."

Are we finding out that Kleinendorst’s comments about the Wild not being that great afterall?  It kind of seems that way.  Older prospects like Zack Phillips (5 goals, 13 points, -15 in 41 games) and Brett Bulmer (2 goals, 9 points, -8 in 38 games) have failed to deliver much of anything for Iowa the last two seasons.  Phillips, the 28th Overall pick in 2011 as part of the Brent Burns‘ trade has been a healthy scratch from time to time.  The Iowa Wild are not a great team, and they’re desperate for players to step up and lead.  Bulmer and Phillips were already sliding down the Wild’s prospect depth chart going into this season, and both players were not producing much before and after Kleinendorst’s dismissal.  If these two players, who have been in the pro’s for over two full seasons haven’t found a way to be productive its hard to imagine that somehow they’ll push for a spot on the Minnesota Wild even as soon as next season.  Maybe this is who Kleinendorst was referring to in the following statement in the latter portion of the Russo interview.

"“You’ve got a third of your group, your core leaders, you’ve got your middle third and then you’ve got your bottom third.  Your bottom third is generally your young kids, the middle third are the group of guys that could go either way.  What we weren’t able to get to was, we had a really strong upper group, but we just couldn’t get the middle group to come up and join them, and because of that, you can’t get the bottom third to get pulled to the middle.” ~ Kurt Kleinendorst"

This team has already fired one coach, I don’t think its going to fire another.  I think Iowa has lacked quality finishers and some of that can be attributed to their drafting.  Mario Lucia, currently in his junior season with Notre Dame is the closest player the Wild have to a pure sniper in its prospect pool.  So barring a trade, there is no immediate scoring relief on its way.  So the players will likely have to solve its issues on its own.  Maybe its time to start shipping out some of those middle pieces that can’t seem to raise their game.  Like Jordan Schroeder said, it’s time for a change.