I was reading a post on the Wild Message Boards titled Why don't the Wild have any good fan blogs? and I thought to myself: Why don't I create one? I'm a die-hard Wild fan and have been ever since the State of Hockey was blessed with the return of an NHL franchise. I remember back in the summer of 1997 sitting out on Lake Mille Lacs with my family. fishing and listening to the radio, as it was announced that pro hockey would be returning back to Minnesota. It was a feeling of nostalgia. A feeling of excitement. The hard part though, was waiting nearly three years to finally see the team take the ice.
When the fall of 2000 rolled around, I was only 14 years old. I grew up in a family where I was the oldest of five kids. Being in such a large family meant that there wasn't a lot of money to go around so my dream of being able to attend a Wild game at the X was pretty slim. Since I realized that I wasn't going to be able to go, I figured that watching them on TV was good enough so I felt that I should appreciate what I had.
And that's how it was for about 3 years until I got my first job. Not because I was lazy and didn't want a job, but because I couldn't. With both of my parents working to provide for my family, I had to be the third parent, so to speak. I helped my four younger siblings with homework after school, sometimes had to make dinner, and occasionally put them to bed. Being an adult when you're still a teenager is pretty tough work. Once I got my first job though, my oldest brother then took over the reins of helping the younger three out. It was shortly after that I was able to attend my first Wild regular season game.
January 12th, 2004. The Wild were facing the Nashville Predators. Coming into the game, the Wild were struggling, winning only one out of their past eight games. Driving down to the X with my mom I was trying not to get my hopes up realizing that they weren't a playoff contending team even though the year before they had went on their memorable run to the Western Conference Finals after coming back twice in each of the series against division rivals Colorado Avalanche and the Vancouver Canucks. I remember trying to hold in all of my excitement as we were waiting to cross Kellogg and then waiting to cross 7th Street. Once we were inside the X, I felt like I was in heaven.
During the game, the Wild weren't doing so well on the power play, going 0 for 5. Defenseman Filip Kuba ended up tying the game 2-2 shortly after the start of the third period on a shorthanded goal. He had dumped the puck into the Nashville zone from center ice and it was going wide of the net. As it hit the ice, it quickly changed direction and beat an out-of-position Tomas Vokoun. Seeing a crazy goal like this live was awesome. People were riding Vokoun for a few minutes after the fact and kept doing so until Nashville regained the lead midway through the third period. After Nashville took the lead, the Wild were scrambling to tie the game all the way up until the final 60 seconds where Wild PA Announcer Adam Abrams made his recognized announcement "one minute remaining in the third period, one minute!"
I remember standing up watching the play but at the same time watching for the Wild bench to motion for Manny Fernandez to get off the ice to get the extra attacker on. With about 30 or so seconds remaining, Manny headed off. The Wild were buzzing in the Nashville zone but couldn't convert. Then, with about 20 seconds left, Andrei Zyuzin fed a pass through traffic to Sergei Zholtok who ripped a wrist shot from just behind the right circle that glanced off of the right goal post and into the net. I swear that I was the first one in the X that night that had my fists up in the air celebrating. I remember screaming my lungs out and jumping up and down in pure bliss. It's a memory that will never leave me even though that no one else ended up scoring that evening and it ended in a tie.
That night was the first of many great nights that I've gotten to experience down at the Xcel Energy Center cheering on the Minnesota Wild. Since that night, there have been many great moments. April of 2007 where the Wild were trailing the hated Anaheim Ducks three games to zero, but were completely dominating the Ducks in the third period and the entire arena was chanting "Boogaard! Boogaard!" after Brad May sucker punched Kim Johnsson. The following season where Marian Gaborik scored five goals versus the New York Rangers just two days before Christmas. Spring of 2008, where the Wild ended up winning the division against the Calgary Flames at home. A week later where the Wild's Keith Carney ripped a shot from the boards that got deflected into the net in overtime of Game Two of the quarter final playoff round versus the Colorado Avalanche to tie the series at 1-1. The following season again two days before Christmas where the Wild kill off a full 2 minute 5 on 3 versus the Carolina Hurricanes. I swear to this day, that night was the loudest I've ever heard the X. It was deafening.
There have been some great moments for me off the ice too. This September will be the fourth year in a row where a bunch of friends and I will go down to the Xcel Energy Center days before single game tickets go on sale and camp down on the lawn along Kellogg for a couple nights. We go down there early each year so we can get the tickets to the games that we want before everyone else grabs them. I also have great memories of the past couple years going down to various Hockey Unplugged and Call of the Wild events where you are able to ask Wild players various questions and then get autographs from them before you go home.
All of these memories however pale in comparison to the news that many die-hard Wild fans had been hoping for and, finally got on Thursday, April 16th, 2009. General Manager Doug Risebrough was fired by new owner Craig Leipold just days after Jacques Lemaire stepped down as head coach of the Wild. I was a die-hard Lemaire fan, but couldn't stand Risebrough. Finally after years of him trading away draft picks like they were candy, he was gone.
With Risebrough and Lemaire out of the picture, Wild fans have the start of something new. A new GM. A new coach. A new direction. I believe that I can speak for many die-hard Wild fans in saying that we are all excited for what the future holds for this team. After years of watching Dr. Lemaire surgically dissect better opponents and frustrate them with suffocating defense and sound positioning, we get to look forward to high-octane play and aggressive forechecking. After years of watching Doug Risebrough throw away assets for nothing, we get to watch Chuck Fletcher, a GM who has stated repeatedly that "draft picks are like gold," and that he wants "this team to be a Stanley Cup contender" year after year.
How can one in the State of Hockey not be excited? We all have helped sell out the X with every pre-season, regular season and post-season game; something that is unmatched in all of the NHL. With the new regime in town, I don't see how it won't continue. But above all else, we in the State of Hockey want and certainly deserve more than what we have witnessed over the past eight hockey seasons. While there have been some awesome memories, we all know that even better ones are to come.
I couldn't be more excited.
Article Courtesy of: The Wild State of Hockey Blog