By Larry Fitzgerald
When I walk into Xcel Center and sometimes after finishing a sports update, I get calls, questions, emails and text messages asking why I talk about hockey. Perception is not reality. Many assume that Black people don’t like hockey or don’t know the game. Wrong.
I grew up in Chicago where the Blackhawks were the dominant sports team in a great sports town. They played at the old Chicago Stadium on the Westside and had Hall of Fame stars like Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull and Glen Hall. I saw the Blackhawks lose the Stanley Cup game seven in 1970 to Montreal 3-2. It broke my young heart, but I was hooked on hockey.
Here we come down the stretch the last two months of the regular season of the greatest season ever for the Minnesota Wild. Not only are they good, they are real good, best in the Western Conference and leaders of the Central with 84 points. Chicago is number two with 83 points.
The Wild have two games in hand. Six Wild players this season have scored 40 points or more. This is an explosive team that attacks. Minnesota fans have been having a blast this season.
Unlike the Vikings who started fast with 5-0 and got everyone in the state excited, then fell on their face not even making the playoffs, the Wild have been consistent. They play hard every night for first-year Head Coach Bruce Boudreau. He was fired by Anaheim last year after several really good seasons. General Manager Chuck Fletcher has built a strong, confident, exciting team. They have been in the playoffs five years in a row.
Minnesota is 39-14-6, the second-best record in the NHL. Washington has the league’s best record, 41-13-6 for 89 points. It’s no secret the Wild are tied with Pittsburgh, the defending Stanley Cup Champions, with 84 points and are one of the top teams. Washington, for example, is number one in the league with the most wins (41), fewest losses (13), and best point differential in the league, +70.
The Wild are tied for third in wins with 39 (after Chicago and Columbus), second with fewest losses (14) in the league, and second in point differential, +60. To win the Stanley Cup you have to get hot at the right time in the playoffs.
It’s not rocket science. It’s the same thing in any sport — whoever plays the best under pressure usually wins. The Wild are tough at the blue line. Their defense men have been solid all year, led by All-Star Ryan Suter, who has a great plus/minus of 35.
Devan Dubnyk is an All-Star goalie. They traded for him two years ago with Phoenix, and now he’s the best in the league. He has the best save percentage average (.943) and goal against average in the NHL at 1.97. You have to be able to stop people, and the Wild have allowed the second-fewest goals in the league, 138.
Where there’s a will there’s a way. This team is among the top scoring teams. They are dominant at home (21-8-7) and outstanding on the road (18-6-5). They can win anywhere; they have won at Pittsburgh and Chicago this season.
Their fans have to be super excited about the big trade acquiring two veteran forwards, six-foot-six Martin Hanzal (16-10-26 points) and 28-year-old Ryan White from Phoenix for 2017 first-round pick and a second pick and a conditional pick.
The Wild average nearly 19,000 fans per game at Xcel Center. This is the deepest team they have ever had, and I have seen all their teams. This is the fifth-straight season they will clinch a playoff spot. Picking up two solid veteran forwards for the stretch drive tells fans this team is serious about winning the Stanley Cup.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.