TRH GAMEDAY 6 – MINNESOTA WILD: A Glimpse into the Darkness

DISCLAIMER: Being from the state of Minnesota, the subject matter of this game preview hits pretty close to home. There is a good chance this will be darker and more visceral than the majority of TRH Gameday posts. You have been warned.

Let’s start with a lesson in meteorology: Minnesota is cold this time of year. Like weeks below zero cold. The winters are long, brutal and can suck every shred of happiness right out of someone’s soul. Try to keep a smile on your face after brushing off two feet of snow from your car with your bare hands, scraping off an inch of ice off of your windshield with your drivers’ license, and then driving to work while fishtailing as if you just hit a banana peel in Mario Kart.

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Except in real life this guy isn’t there to pull you out of the ditch.

Now repeat that hellish sequence five-to-six days a week from late October to mid-May and you have summed up what it’s like to live through a Minnesota winter. I have had to deal with this just about my whole life, and there is no end in sight. That is unless someone would pay me to work somewhere on the west coast (or offer me suite tickets to a Kings game *cough*).

The next lesson comes in anthropology: the Minnesota sports landscape is more depressing than the weather. Before you feel sorry for me, know that I have found a loophole here. In the two years I lived in California I found a temporary reprieve from the snow and ice, but when I returned to the midwest a Kings fan I gained a lifetime reprieve from the abyss that is Minnesota sports. Most others here are not that lucky.

“But Knick,” you say, “the Kings just beat up on Edmonton and St. Louis last week. It’s cold there too and their teams also suck, why are Wild fans any different?”

Well inquisitive TRH reader, let me begin. St. Louis fans have the Cardinals to win them championships (as well as the Royals), and Oilers fans can look up to the Rexall Place rafters and see this to remember when life was good.

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That is if they are old enough to remember.

Minnesota fans, on the other hand, only have this to see when they scan the ceiling at Xcel Energy Center:

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Hey, at least it’s a nice sentiment.

However, “The State of Hockey’s” perennially-underachieving hockey team is just one part of the puzzle that makes Minnesotans resent the place they live.

Few teams in any sport or any city have trampled on the hearts of their fanbase more than the Minnesota Vikings. The Purple have an 0-4 record in the Super Bowl, and have been dealt some devastating losses in NFC Championship games. When it comes to playoff collapses, the Vikings were the San Jose Sharks before the San Jose Sharks were the San Jose Sharks.

To get a feel for just how cruel fate has been to the Vikings, listen to their radio play-by-play guy Paul Allen, a guy who when it comes to hiding his true rooting interests, makes Brian Hayward look like Doc Emrick.

…and my personal favorite.

#NOOOOOOO

Add on to their on-field incompetency a recent litany of off-the-field troubles and life is tough for the Vikings fan. Even the guy widely known as “Purple Jesus”  has been accused in the past four months of child abuse, sexual misconduct and drug abuse. Adrian Peterson is only an arson and tax evasion allegation away from becoming the most versatile criminal of all time.

The once-proud Minnesota Twins have gone from being on top of the Major Leagues in the early 90’s to being out of the pennant race by early July each year. They can’t even get one of their best pitchers their yearly bonus without screwing things up.

However, Minnesota’s basketball team is actually really good, with recent titles in 2011 and 2013.

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Wait we’re talking about the NBA? Yeah that team is awful too.

So Twin Cities sports fans don’t just have one bad team to contend with, they have several, and it gets to the point where the sports calendar just seems like one continuous beating. But in all of this doom and gloom, the Wild stand as the beacon of hope. The Wild are the proverbial Batman coming to rescue the smouldering cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. And at least on paper, the hype surrounding the squad might be justified.

In 2012 they picked up a couple of local celebrities and decent hockey players in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The duo has helped turn the Wild from Western Conference also-rans to a team that pretty much outplayed the Blackhawks in the West semis last year.

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Find a more midwestern couple. You can’t.

While Minnesota has to find a way to replace the offensive catalyst, fan favorite and crazy-agile Dany Heatley, they took another step in the right direction in adding local college hero Thomas Vanek. Coming over from the Sabres Islanders Canadiens, he has just as much of a chance to replicate Heatley’s offensive potential (50-goal scorer!?!) as he does replicating Heatley’s incredible decline into irrelvancy during the second half of his career.

But as always, while there is the possibility of things looking up for the Wild and their fans, seasoned Minnesota faithful are conditioned to always expect the other shoe to drop. They are deep up front, have plenty of young talent on the blue line, and a composed coach in Mike Yeo. What is keeping this Wild team from challenging the Kings and Blackhawks for Western Conference supremacy?

The common and easy answer is their goalie situation, which in the past couple of years has been as volatile as it gets. Their pre-season No. 1 and Masterton-winning Josh Harding is out of commission because he kicked a wall. That leaves young pup Darcy Keumper and living dinosaur and walking abdominal injury Niklas Backstrom to hold down the fort. Things were so bad the Wild even considered keeping their big trade deadline acquisition for crease stability.

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Come on Bryz, smile… Ok that’s better.

While Keumper started the season with a franchise-record shutout streak, can a team honestly hope for a netminder in his early-twenties to put a team on his back in the playoffs?

Nevermind.

Now even though I have seen the horror story of Minnesota sports unfold from the inside, the Kings have helped pull me away from the Titanic. However, I still can understand with what Wild fans are going through, and that is what I am hoping to share with you.

Of course I want the Kings to win today, but maybe it’s the ingrained Minnesota Nice in me that feels like it wouldn’t be the worst thing if the game fell the other way. I am completely cautiously optimistic at LA’s ability to make another deep run when all is said and done, so why not give the Wild’s tortured fan base something to smile about? The Vikings sure as hell won’t. Because the bottom line is, at the end of the 2014-15, two things will be true:

1. The sports gods will unleash their wrath on Wild fans in a new and merciless fashion.

2: These will be on display at Staples Center:

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Yes, those are two different pictures.

Also keep in mind that in three weeks that you live here:

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And they live here:us-winter-weather-man-with-snowblower-in-duluth-minnesota.jpg@protect,0,0,1000,1000@crop,658,370,c

Take it easy on them.

TENDER GOALIE SWIPE TO VICTORY™

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Knick Rickle was a former junior and college goaltender and is a current aspiring journalist and mediocre adult league goaltender. While growing up in Minneapolis, he learned how to play by attending Robb Stauber's goalie school, which unbeknownst to him at the time was the first step in becoming a Kings fan. The rest of the steps came when became probably the first person ever to move to California from Minnesota to play hockey. He currently is unemployed, holds an English degree, while contributing to #TeamTRH, so you be the judge how his hockey career turned out. You can follow KnickRickle on Twitter @KnickRickle.