Sunday

2-22-09: Running Game Commentary V

Hello again everybody...

Time to kick off another work week and it's one that I'm actually looking forward to. Not the work so much, but the week. It's a short one for me as I've got a 3-day weekend coming. Plus I get to see a concert that I'm really looking forward to. So let the week commence!

Today's column is the 5th version of the Sports Take Running Game Commentary. And this one ought to be a doozy. Not only is it based on the Wild hosting the Red Wings, but it also involves your favorite guest-correspondent, the Hammer. So let's not dilly-dally. Let's get to the commentating!

"Football is a mistake. It combines the two worst elements of American life. Violence and committee meetings."
- George F. Will (1941 - ), American newspaper columnist, journalist and author


I like football, so I can't agree with the sentiment. But it's a damned-clever way of making the point!

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It's time for the Sports Take RGC V. Saturday night, I attended the Wild hosting the Detroit Red Wings at the Xcel Energy Center. And not only was I part of the 18,568 (sort of) who attended, but the Hammer was there too. That's right. Minnesota's biggest Detroit Red Wings fan hung with me in the Al Shaver Press Box. What follows is a Running Commentary of our thoughts and reactions as the Wild battled the Wings.

Pre-Game

This may very well be my last regular season trip to the X for the '08-'09 season. Turns out the last weekend game of the season is the Sunday after I've left for Phoenix. So if this is going to be my regular season swan-song, I hope it's a good one!

The Wild still have the best pre-game festivities in town. I keep mentioning that, but it's the truth. Tonight's are a bit different. During the team introductions, there's a not-so-surprising mix of cheers and boos for the Red Wings. They're not quite the Yankees, but there's no question that there are Red Wings fans all across the country. Including immediately to my left.

Tonight's "Let's Play Hockey" announcement comes from Nick Nelson. You might know him locally from a story on KARE 11 TV. Or nationally, you might have caught him on the Today Show. Thumbnail sketch of his story: the kid chose to have he legs amputated to stop a condition that causes "webbing" of the skin from spreading to the rest of his body. He now gets around on a pair of prosthetics and seems as happy as any kid his age. Phenomenal story. And he does a brilliant job of firing up the fans for a big game. Which leads us to...

First Period

00:01... That's right. We're one second into the game and Hammer's already pointing out that the opening face-off was won by Henrik Zetterberg, a 7th-round pick by the Red Wings. Detroit has an amazing ability to find gems in the late rounds of the draft, and Zetterberg's Exhibit A.

00:54... I look to my right and two booths away is Hammer's personal hockey hero, Steve Yzerman. For those of you not well versed in hockey, Yzerman is a Detroit legend. He played so long and so well for the Red Wings that he became known simply as, "The Captain". I point out his presence to the Hammer who simply smiles and nods. This could get annoying if Detroit gets way out in front.

2:20... Hammer points out that Chris Chelios just stepped out on the ice for the first time tonight. "He's 47 years old and still playing in the NHL. At 47 I just hope I'm still alive." He's the Hammer folks!

2:50... The Wild strike first. A pretty pass from Pierre-Marc Bouchard makes its way through a pair of Wings to the stick of Owen Nolan who slips it by Jimmy Howard to make it 1-0 Wild. Bouchard and Marc-Andre Bergeron get the assists. Hammer points out that Nolan's the best hockey player to come out of Northern Ireland. These are the things he knows that I don't. And it's why I'm happy to have him around.

6:55... After the Wild survive their first penalty of the night, the Red Wings take their first trip to the sin bin as Ville Leino (that's Finnish for Ville Leino) goes for Holding.

8:15... And the Wild take advantage. Owen Nolan gets his second of the night and 17th of the season. Assists go to Eric Belanger and Brent Burns. Hammer notes that there are some eerie parallels between this game and last Saturday's Ottawa game where the Wild blew a 3-goal lead. Suddenly my glee turns to abject fear.

11:03... The Wild fail to take advantage of another power play. Hammer looks to our right and says, "Stevie Y doesn't look scared. If he's not scared, I'm not scared."

The rest of the period passes without incident.

End of the first period: Wild 2, Wings 0. The crowd gives the boys a standing ovation as they leave the ice in appreciation for the energy and effort they displayed. Hammer wonders if maybe the crowd didn't just realize that Steve Yzerman's in the building, resulting in the ovation. Sorry Hammer. I can't give you that one.

First Intermission

Hammer and I travel down to the commissary. On the way, we run into a slew of WCCO people. Sports maven Mike Max is in attendance, as is producer Dan Geiger. And naturally, former CCO morning personality, and current Wild TV play-by-play guy Dan Terhaar is present. But of course, the coup de grace is the dean of WCCO broadcasters, Sid Hartman.

Here's how our conversation went (for the sake of young eyes, and in honor of WCCO weatherman Mike Lynch, I'm going to replace each of the F-bombs which were part of the conversation with "Lynch"... you'll get the idea):

Sid: "What the Lynch are you doing all dressed up?!" (I was wearing a tie and sport coat.)

Me: "I thought it was a good look."

Sid: "Do you Lynch-ing think you're going to get Lynch-ing lucky or something?"

Me: "Well it can't hurt."

Sid: "I wouldn't bet on it."

Me: "But you would bet on Bernie Madoff?"*

(* - I didn't actually say this last line. Mostly because Sid can't really hear anymore and I'd have had to repeat it 5 times. And by then, it would've lost a little something.)

As we get back to our booth Hammer breaks out one of his trusted stand-bys, "It's way too early to panic." Good advice for all you kids out there!

Second Period

2:55... Just like that the Red Wings are back in it. A scramble in front of the Wild net catches Niklas Backstrom out of position. Tomas Kopecky is able to bang a loose puck home. Assists go to Ville Leino (Finnish for Ville Leino) and Kirk Maltby. They say that a 2-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey. Now it's a one-goal lead and I'm forced to believe them as my sense of, "Oh God, here comes Detroit" is rising.

6:16... We reach the first Media Time-Out of the second period. The key to the second period for the Wild is to not be as over-confident and flat as they were against Ottawa. Hammer and I discuss and concur that even with the early Detroit goal, the energy still seems to be there for the Wild.

7:31... Hammer speculates that Yzerman could be scouting Brent Burns for Team Canada's effort in the 2010 Winter Games. The way that Brent's been playing as of late, I hope Yzerman takes more than just tonight into account.

7:50... As though that thought was made manifest by the hockey gods, Burns takes a "Holding the Stick" penalty. The crowd doesn't like the call. I can't argue with it. Fortunately the Wild are able to kill off the penalty and maintain their lead.

10:05... During the second Media Time-Out, Hammer and I debate the "Mount Rushmore" (copyright Bill Simmons, not ESPN) of websites. He starts with YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia. All solid choices. But I point out that Google has to be at the top of the list, since it's the only one of the four that's been turned into a verb.

14:49... Third Media Time-Out. This time we discuss how nice it would be to have digital cable at work instead of the standard cable set-up we have now. First of all, it would give us the MLB Network. And secondly, it would give Hammer and me the opportunity to campaign for the various sports packages. I'm thinking MLB Extra Innings. He's thinking NHL Center Ice. We agree to meet in the middle and ask for both! Can you tell there's not a lot happening in the game right now?

17:13... Suddenly that changes as my man, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, collects a nifty pass from Owen Nolan, beats the Detroit defense and goaltender Jimmy Howard to put the Wild back in front by two goals. Bouchards 14th goal of the year, and Nolan's third point of the night come at a crucial time as the second period is nearly finished. Hammer would just like to point out that Stevie Y still appears unconcerned.

18:13... After the Wild's Eric Belanger was whistled for slashing, Detroit's Jiri Hudler goes off for holding leaving us 4-on-4 for the rest of the period.

18:44... And the Wild take advantage of the open ice! Martin-freaking-Skoula gives the Wild a 3-goal lead and takes the starch out of Detroit. A brilliant pass from Mikko Koivu gets him one assist, Antti Miettinen gets the other. Hammer acknowledges that at this point, Stevie Y looks a little concerned.

End of the second period: Wild 4, Wings 1. The Second was a tale of two periods. The Wild had little to no sustained offense for nearly half the period. Then suddenly, bang-bang (copyright Cactus Jack), it's a 3-goal lead for the Wild. Wow.

Second Intermission

Hammer and I head off for refills again. And again we're cornered by Sid. This time he spends most of the conversation ripping Dark Star. We're happy to let him. Hey, at least he's not giving us grief!

A few more conversations with work folks follow. Nothing terribly entertaining however.

Which leads us to...

Third Period

1:27... Hammer says that if the Wild stay within themselves and play their game, they should be able to win. I say that if Detroit stops whiffing on scoring opportunities, this game's a long way from over. As we discuss, Vancouver's Mats Sundin scores the game winning shoot-out goal against his old mates from Toronto. Did I mention we get the Center Ice package in the press box? Yeah, I like my job.

7:17... Lots of good back and forth action. Detroit's getting their chances, but so are the Wild. I'm feeling pretty good until the Wild's Stephane Veilleux takes a Tripping penalty. The Wings are 0-4 on the power play up until now. I say it's critical for Detroit to take advantage if they're going to get back into the game. Hammer won't concede "critical", but he says it'd certainly help their chances. Fortunately for the Wild, they kill the penalty.

14:45... Still going back and forth when out of nowhere, a shot from the blue line beats a screened Nik Backstrom. As I'm trying to figure out who got the goal, Hammer stands up. I wonder why until I realize that the Center Ice package is showing the Calgary/Edmonton pregame where they're playing the Canadian National Anthem. What can I say? The man loves his Canadian culture.

After Toronto reviews the circumstances around the goal, it turns out Ville Leino (Finnish for Ville Leino) got the goal. Brian Rafalski and Dan Cleary got the assists. Hammer says, "Stevie Y agrees with the call." Thank heavens for that.

It's 4-2 Wild with a little over 5 minutes left. Can they hang on?!

18:30... The Wings pull their goaltender leading to a sustained offensive flurry. Somehow the Wild manage to keep the puck out of their net leading to...

19:58... Stephane Veilleux intercepts a pass and fires a shot from his blue line to the dead-center of Detroit's net. The empty-netter makes it 5-2 Wild. I can't believe they're going to do it!

Final Score: Wild 5, Wings 2. Hammer's clearly upset, but he's maintaining an impressive outward calm. He attempts to comfort himself by saying, "It's only fitting that the game ends with #19 scoring." (Steve Yzerman wore #19.) How can I argue with that?

Post-Game

Down we go to see the unforgettable "Jacques Lemaire Post-Game Press Conference". As Hammer and I board the elevator, I look up and see Yzerman getting on immediately in front of Hammer. I pat him on the back and he just nods. It's clear that the presence of his hockey hero is a salve upon an otherwise annoying loss.

The press conference itself was rather uneventful until a magazine writer asks if Jacques found himself looking for Andrew Brunette on the bench at any point during the game. Tonight was the first game in the last 510 that Brunette has missed due to injury.

Jacques deadpans, "Well, since we knew he was going to be out, that gave us a chance to set-up our lines and special teams with that in mind before the game started. So no, I wasn't really looking for him."

Translation: No, and that was a dumb question.

Hammer adds, "It would've been really cool if he'd sworn at the guy in French."

So as I mentioned at the beginning, this very well could've been my last regular season game for the '08-'09 season. And if it was, it was a hell of a way to go out.

Hammer would like to quote hockey guru Barry Melrose at this point, "At this time of the year, your best players have to be your best players." And tonight, Detroit's best players weren't their best players.

What can I add to that except: Wild win, Wild win, Wild win!!!

That's all for RGC V. I hope you enjoyed it. At least more than you enjoyed Rocky V!

These are always fun for me to write, but the presence of the Hammer made it all the more enjoyable.

I'll be back on Wednesday with more of the Sports Take goodness you've come to expect. Until then, thanks for reading!

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