1-18-09: Sports Take Game Commentary 3

Hello again everybody...

We're back at it again, at the start of a new week. But at least those of us in the upper Midwest can look forward to a week solidly above zero. And perhaps even near freezing? Dare we dream?!

As you'll recall, last week was a week of "comebacks". After the fun, yet sometimes painful slog that was Bowl Mania, both the Sports Take Open Letter and the DFTU made their triumphant returns.

It's in that spirit that I bring back yet another classic Sports Take feature: the Sports Take Running Game Commentary. This past Saturday night, I ventured to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to partake of Hockey Day in Minnesota as the Wild clashed with the Anaheim Ducks. And today, you can relive the experience with me. Off we go...

"The artist doesn't have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don't have time to read reviews."
- William Faulkner (1897-1962), Nobel Prize-winning American author

Who wants to be a writer? I just want to write!

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Looking back through the archives, it's been since August that I wrote my last Game Commentary. So it's high-time that I bring the feature back.

And what better time to do it than on "Hockey Day in Minnesota". For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, FSN North, the Minnesota Wild, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State High School League have come together for the 3rd year in a row to schedule a day full of hockey games in the "State of Hockey".

So without further ado, I bring you the Sports Take Running Game Commentary from the Wild vs. the Ducks, circa January 17th, 2009:

Pregame: One of the best perks of my job is access to media passes to local sporting events. This includes a season media pass to the Wild games. My work schedule prevents me from taking in weekday games, but I try to take advantage of the privilege as often as I can on the weekends. Which brings me to the X tonight for the Wild and the Ducks.

Checking out the "Game Notes", it shows that Jonas Hiller is starting in goal for the Ducks instead of Jean-Sebastian Giguere. Whereas most teams would enjoy getting a shot at Anaheim's #2 goaltender, the Wild have often been stymied by #2's. I hope that's not a bad omen for tonight!

The Wild still have the coolest pre-game routine that I've ever seen. When it's time to announce their starting lineups, the lights dim, the laser light-show hits the ice and the crowd goes crazy. And then, at the height of the frenzy, a spotlight shines on the Wild's goal crease, where each game a youth hockey player is picked to skate the "State of Hockey" flag out to center-ice and plant it on the face-off dot. Once accomplished, the Wild are introduced, the fog horn bellows and the teams hit the ice. I get goosebumps every time I see it, and tonight's no different.

But we're not done. Completing the wonder of the Wild pregame is the "Let's Play Hockey" announcement. Immediately preceding the opening face off, the Wild have a local celebrity, sports figure, or corporate partner lead the fans in kicking off the game. Tonight's announcers? A group of Minnesota National Guardsmen and women, currently stationed in Iraq. Good stuff.

First Period: And we're underway. The Wild take the initiative early on. Near the 2 minute mark, Wild rookie Krys Kolanos finds himself alone in the slot with the puck. He hesitates just a moment - seems even he's surprised to be so open - and the hesitation allows Ducks G Jonas Hiller to be in position to make the save. Though he did have to do the "Did I Really Stop It" peek over his shoulder to make sure.

At the 8 minute mark*, Derek Boogaard makes his first appearance to a chorus of "Booo's " from the fans. That's the good Boo, not the bad Boo mind you. Havoc ensues as Boogaard mucks it up behind the net. Why does Boogaard receive such adoration from the fans? This might explain it:

One punch, fight fin. That's why.

(* - Why does hockey insist on marking time counting forward? I always thought this was just a way to make the announcers' lives more difficult. Not only do they have to keep track of 10 guys zooming around the ice, changing at frequent intervals, but now, any time they want to mark an event in the game, they have to quickly do math to convert 7:10 on the game clock to "at 12:50 of the period". Can't we cut these guys a break?)

At 9:07, the Wild get the first power-play of the game as Corey Perry of the Ducks is escorted off for Goaltender Interference. For shame Corey, for shame. One of my long-time favorites, Pierre-Marc Bouchard (we share the same barber) finds himself open on the back side, but can't settle the puck and his backhand shot sails wide. The Wild have 4 solid scoring opportunities with the man advantage, but can't knock one home. So far, the offense is looking good though.

One of the fun things about being at a hockey game live, is that you can see things developing behind the play. It's stuff that TV just can't show you in real time. At 11:31, the Wild's Antti Mietteinen gets caught reaching at neutral ice rather than moving his feet, resulting in a 3-on-2 break for the Ducks. Wild G Niklas Backstrom makes a huge save to pick up Miettinen.

At 15:50 of the first, Wild C Eric Belanger (pronounced bell-AHN-jay... oh those wily French Canadians) whiffs on a pass from next to his own net. Sure he could've dumped it to D Brent Burns behind the net, and let the breakout proceed as normal, but where's the fun in that? Instead, let's whiff on a pass, turn it over to the Ducks in front of the net, and force Backstrom to make yet another wonderful save. Thanks, eh!

At 18:45, Wild W Cal Clutterbuck* takes a run at Ducks D Bret Hedican**. Hedican objects and returns the favor a few moments later. A sign of physicality to come? We shall see.

(* - Through deep philosophical discussion, Hammer and I have determined that Cal Clutterbuck is the 3rd greatest "hockey name" in Wild history. Though we've agreed to disagree on the order they should appear in, we've designated Lubomir Sekeras (or as Dark Star pronounced it: Lubomir Succotash) and Sergei Krivokrasov as the two best.)

(** - Hedican is married to
Dancing With the Stars champion Kristi Yamaguchi, making him the only player in NHL history to have his fame eclipsed by marriage to a reality TV star. Congrats Bret!)

First Intermission: Wild and Ducks scoreless after one. Time for me to go get a hot pretzel. The fare in the Al Shaver press box isn't what it once was, but times are tough all around. And the pretzels are damned tasty!

Whilst collecting my pretzel, I run into local SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) guru, Stew Thornley. Anything you want to know about Minnesota Baseball History, Stew's your guy. And it turns out he's jonesing for Spring Training just as much as I am. February 15th Stew... Twins Pitchers and Catchers report February 15th...

Second Period: Back underway with teams skating in the opposite directions from the first period. Only fair, right?

At 3:50, my man Pierre-Marc Bouchard (did I mention we share a barber) slips behind the Anaheim defense and moves in alone on Hiller. Hiller gets the best of the confrontation as Bouchard is unable to get his shot over Hiller's glove. Remember when I said that the Wild struggle against #2's? I'm getting that feeling again.

At 4:33, Wild W Andrew Brunette crashes awkwardly into the boards behind the Anaheim net. He got tangled up with Ducks C Ryan Getzlaf, and his legs sort of went the way of a wishbone. Speculation is a right knee injury, but it looks like a groin tear to me. Either way, it's not good.

At 6:31, Wild D Marek Zidlicky is sent to the sin bin for hooking. Thanks to the magical scoreboard over center ice, I'm informed that the Wild have the best penalty killing unit in the NHL. 88.1% of the time their opponents go on the power play, the Wild shut them down. Thanks Mr. Scoreboard!

At 8:13, the Ducks score on the power play. Corey Perry gets the marker, assisted by Andrew Ebbett. Screw you, Mr. Scoreboard!

Over the next two minutes, the Wild turn the puck over in dangerous areas twice. The momentum has clearly shifted to the Ducks. The Wild need a break. Backstrom needs a little help from his defensemen.

At 10:49, we get a TV timeout. Thank God. I notice the shovels they use to scrape the snow (hockey term, not mine) off the ice are sponsored by Ace Hardware. That makes sense. The large, red, plastic garbage bins they dump the snow into? Sponsored by Schweigert Hot Dogs. My friend Lon, who hasn't been able to stomach a hot dog since he spent a summer at a Scouting camp eating nothing but, would delight in the pairing.

At 12:19, Ducks G Jonas Hiller takes a Brent Burns slapshot straight off his mask. Those things offer some protection, but not that much. In the immortal words of Pepper Brooks: "Ouchtown, population: you, bro!"

At 13:23, Zidlicky fires a slapshot flush off the Anaheim crossbar. The rebound comes loose and is eventually knocked into the net. Referee Steve Kozari emphatically waves the goal off, saying that he'd blown a whistle prior to the puck crossing the line. In the ensuing scrum, Wild W Owen Nolan faces off against Ducks D Steve Montador. Nolan has 10 penalty minutes on the season. Montador? 87. Who won the fight? Nolan of course! Who doesn't love hockey?!

At 14:25, Clutterbuck delivers another huge hit. This time to Ducks W Chris Kunitz. Careful Cal, Kunitz is a hair-puller!

Second Intermission: Anaheim leads 1-0 after two periods.

In the second intermission, the Wild like to hold trivia contests with a couple of fans vying for various fabulous prizes. Tonight's contest is "Guess the TV Theme Song". Unfortunately, the Wild have found the only two guys in the building home-schooled on PBS. Fan #1 wins 3-1, but his 8-year-old son gave him two of the three.

Third Period: Off we go for the final stanza. If the Wild can just get one goal, it feels like the floodgates will open.

At 2:27, the Wild get their first chance as Ducks W Rob Niedermayer is penalized for holding. Unfortunately it takes the first 1:15 of the 2:00 penalty for the Wild to establish possession in the Anaheim zone. Brent Burns' slap-shot is stopped by Hiller and the penalty expires. That bad feeling returns.

At 4:45, Annti Miettinen's shot at a wide-open net somehow finds the knob of Hiller's goalie stick and bounces harmlessly away from the net. Now I know the Wild are screwed.

At 6:04, Ducks W Bobby Ryan confirms my knowledge burying a rebound past Backstrom to make it 2-0 Anaheim. Assists go to Montador and Rob Niedermayer.

At 10:26, the Ducks give the Wild another chance with the man advantage as Ryan is sent off for hooking. There's still time for the Wild to tie it up if they score here. Just over a minute in to the power play, Wild C Mikko Koivu takes a stick to the face which would've given the Wild a 5-0n-3 power play had a referee been doing his job. Am I upset with the officiating? Just a touch. No call. No power play goal. No chance the Wild are getting back into this thing. Ugh.

At 14:12, the attendance is announced at 18,568, the Wild's 348th consecutive sellout. I like the Wild. I love what they do. But this sellout streak is ridiculous. If there were 18,568 in the building, then at least 750 of them were wearing "green seat cushion" costumes. We are the greatest fans in the world!

At 19:36.3, Corey Perry twists the knife in the Wild's back by notching his second goal of the game to make it 3-0 Anaheim. Assists to Ryan Getzlaf and Drew Miller (not the proprietor of, which I highly recommend!).

Post-Game: Ducks defeat the Wild 3-0. The 3 Stars of the Game as determined by some guy I don't know from "Let's Play Hockey" magazine: 3 - Annti Miettinen, 2 - Niklas Backstrom, 1 - Jonas Hiller.

Backstrom? Really? Over the guy with two goals in the game? Oookay.

One of the other benefits of having a media pass is that it allows me to attend the "Jacques Lemaire post-game press conference". Listening to Lemaire talk hockey is like what I'd imagine listening to Einstein giving a physics lecture must have been like. You don't understand half of it, but you can easily tell how much more he knows about it than anyone else in the room.

Asked about the officiating, Lemaire skirts the boundaries of getting fined by the league by suggesting they had a "bad demeanor" early on, indicating to him that it was going to be a rough night.

Surprisingly he's happy with his team's effort overall. He says that the missed chances in the first period led the team to "think rather than skate".

See? I told you he knew more than we did.

So there's your Sports Take Running Game Commentary. Sure my team got shut out, but it's never a bad time at a hockey game! Hope you enjoyed it too!

That's all for today. I'll be back on Wednesday. Until then, stay safe and thanks for reading!

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