Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Back on the bandwagon

I was a rabid fan of the NHL's Minnesota North Stars from the time I was in the 5th grade (1979-80) until the franchise relocated to Dallas after the 1992-93 season. It was at that point that I had become utterly apathetic towards pro hockey.

Within the next 5 years or so, it was announced that Minnesota would be awarded an expansion franchise beginning in the 2000-01 season, and they would be called the Minnesota Wild. While there was much rejoicing among many Minnesotans over the return of the NHL, I just wasn't all that interested.....until the club's third season that is. That was when the Wild first made the playoffs, many surmising that the franchise's progression was ahead of schedule. Nevertheless, they upset the mighty Colorado Avalanche in round one, culminating with a dramatic overtime goal by Andrew Brunette in Game 7. Then in the second round, the Wild rallied from a 3 games to 1 deficit to the Vancouver Canucks, winning another dramatic seven game series. So in merely their third year in existence, the Wild were playing in a conference finals! Alas, two seven game series proved to be too much as the Wild scored merely one goal in four games as they were swept by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and sizzling hot goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

After three opening round series losses over the next nine seasons (where I was again firmly indifferent), the Wild broke through last year in the first round with yet another dramatic Game 7 overtime win over Colorado. And while they gave the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks a battle in round two, the Wild were dispatched in six games.

So coming into this season, I was once again on the Wild bandwagon. After a nice start to the season where they won 7 of the first 10 games, the team's goaltending started to go south. The season's low point came on January 13 when the Wild lost 7-2 in Pittsburgh. That was the Wild's sixth straight loss, putting their record at 18-19-5, well out of contention for a playoff spot. Out of sheer desperation, the Wild swung a trade for Arizona Coyotes backup goalie Devan Dubnyk the next day in an effort to shore up their biggest weakness. At the time, the deal was met with a yawn as the journeyman Dubnyk had a career record of 70-82-24 and a 2.88 Goal Against average with three different teams in 5-1/2 years.

But after Tuesday's 2-1 Shootout road win over the New York Islanders, Dubnyk, who has started literally every single game since the trade (32 consecutive games, a Wild franchise record for a goalie) now has a record of 24-6-1 with a GAA of around 1.70 while with the club. The victory over the Isles was the Wild's 10th consecutive road win (also a franchise record).

I'm old enough to remember both Stanley Cup Finals appearances (1981 and 1991) by the North Stars when they were in Minnesota. The ecstasy and exhilaration displayed at the Metropolitan Sports Center (the Stars' home arena) is still firmly entrenched in my mind.

After what looked like a woefully underachieving season in mid January, the Wild look to be in prime position to make a deep playoff run. If indeed that happens, I will gladly divert my attention away from my favorite professional sport (Major League Baseball) for two months while I occupy my front seat on the Wild's bandwagon.


No comments: