Living in Denver in the late 90s meant watching those great Avs teams wend their way through the Western Conference. Sakic, Forsberg, Roy, Bourque, Foote, Drury, Hejduk, Tanguay, Lemieux...the list seems to go on forever.
Living in Denver in the late 90s as a kid from Minnesota also meant educating the fine people of the Mile High City on the game of ice hockey. Because, though they loved their new team, they were not the most savvy hockey consumers.
There was a lot of consternation at things like icing the puck on a penalty kill "Why didn't he try to take it down and score?" to deal with.
When Martin Skoula broke in during the 99-00 season he was a bright young two-way defenseman. Smooth skater, good size, decent vision, good hands. But, like all young defensemen, it seemed that for every scoring chance he created or contributed to FOR the Avs, he would give one up AGAINST the Avs. But again, young defenseman, chipped in 3-13-16 in the regular season, we'll cut him some slack.
The thing is, while his offensive production more or less stayed the same, his defensive game didn't really come around. Many of us quickly developed a less-than positive opinion of him.
Moves to Anaheim and Dallas would follow (with a semester abroad, as it were, in the Czech Republic sandwiched in the middle) and then he arrived in St. Paul with Shawn Belle as part of the Willie Mitchell trade at the 05-06 deadline.
The Wild has suffered a dearth of offensive production from the blue line since it was born. The words "Filip Kuba" and "Norris Trophy Candidate" were never uttered in the same breath unless "ain't no" was between them. So Skoula's offensive potential, former first round draft pick status (which Risebrough loves), and relative inexpensiveness was certainly alluring.
Furthermore, if he could learn the art of defense anywhere, surely it would be under the tutelage of the Voldemort of the NHL: Jacques Lemaire.
Would that it were.
Minnesotans generally, and Wild fans specifically, are a warm, accomodating breed. And certainly a subset of us has embraced Skoula. But presume that the Minnesota hockey fan gives a free pass to any team, or it's players, at your own peril. We may not feel the need to pound our chests about it, but we are fiercely proud of our accumulated hockey appreciation skills. Well, as fiercely proud as we can be for a bunch of Lutherans. So there is a group of us that has reviled Skoula for his mistakes rather savagely.
And I have been as vocal as any about my distrust of him.
Alas, no more.
You see, the Wild are about to kick off their second playoffs in their brief history. And we're going up against an Anaheim Ducks team that yours truly picked to win The Cup before the season started. We throw several kids with little NHL (let alone NHL playoff) experience out on the ice for regular shifts. And we have precious few players with NHL playoff experience to help shepherd said youth.
Koivu, Burns, Backstrom, Veilleux, Smith, Nummelin and Boogaard are all players who will/could see ice time over the next four-plus games, but have not had any NHL playoff experience to date.
They will be mentored by Carney, Rolston, Demitra, Walz, Gaborik, Schulz, Parrish...and Skoula. In fact, Skoula has the second-most playoff games (68) under his belt on the team.
No, he's not Chelios with his 4,005 playoff games. But he's the Wild's equivalent. And we need him. Not just to produce, not just to not get carried away with the excitement and make mistakes (God help us), but to exhibit the kind of poise that comes with experience. We need our youth, who will report to the Honda Center tonight flying like rats on crack, to see Skoula preparing the same way he has all season. Not changing his routine. Not getting too high.
So I've laid my shoes down at the edge of the mat.
Martin Skoula: you're my guy. In Skoula I trust.