2-8-09: Sports Take Running Game Commentary IV

Hello again everybody...

Welcome back to another week in the salt mines. The upshot is that highs here in the upper Midwest are supposed to be in the 40's. The downside is that we're going to mix in some rain, sleet, snow and perhaps even some thunder with those above-normal temps. It's rarely a dull weather week here in Minnesota, and this one seems to be no exception.

Today it's time for another Sports Take Running Game Commentary. Yesterday, I went to the Xcel Energy Center to see the Wild take on the Edmonton Oilers. Today, you get to follow along. So let's get to it!

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts."
- Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, advocate for social reform and pacifist.

It's a good thing the guy lived to be 97, he had a lot to do!

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Without further ado, I bring you the Sports Take Running Game Commentary from the Wild versus the Oilers, dated February 8th, 2009:

Pregame: This is the first time I got to bring my new laptop to the X for a hockey game. It's almost like I'm a real-life journalist! I figure that if I'm going to be amongst professionals, I can at least act as if I was one.

As we go through the usual pregame routine, Adam Abrams announces the starting line-ups. Which gives me pause to wonder if there's anything more pointless than "starting line-ups" in hockey? I mean these guys are going to be off the ice in a minute-and-a-half anyway, so what does it matter who actually starts the game?

If you read the Running Game Commentary 3, you'll recall how I described how cool it is to watch the youth hockey player skate the "State of Hockey" flag to center ice. But today I saw something that made it even better. As the Wild players hit the ice, the kid turned to face them and held out his fist. Several Wild players took the cue and gave the kid a fist-bump as they skated by. I'm sure this isn't the first time it happened, but it's the first time I could recall seeing it. And I dug it.

Sara Renner did her usual solid job of singing the National Anthem. And because the Wild were facing a Canadian club, we get to hear "O Canada" as well. Damn the Canadians for having a better Anthem than we do!

First Period: And we're off. Nothing much going on in the first few minutes. Seems like the teams are feeling each other out a tad. I've got the Edmonton radio crew sitting over my left shoulder. So far, the play-by-play guy has butchered at least two names of Wild players. And there are a surprising number of "umms", "ahhs" and awkward pauses for a Canadian broadcaster. I mean given the passion of Canadians for hockey, wouldn't you expect they'd have the highest quality broadcasters as well?

4:15 - I peek down at the laptop for a second and suddenly hear the crowd start to cheer. I look back up and see Cal Clutterbuck skating away from a disheveled Oiler defenseman. This guy is turning into a folk hero in front of our eyes. Only I can't help but think that sooner or later, he's going to take a run at the wrong guy and get clobbered onto the injured list.

4:29 - We get the first penalty of the game called on the Wild's James Sheppard who goes for hooking.

6:08 - Woops. Here's the second penalty of the game. Clutterbuck gets caught reaching with his stick instead of moving his feet and goes for tripping. This gives Edmonton :21 of a 5-on-3. 5-on-3's are crucial in hockey games. They're almost "must-score" situations for the team with 5. But they're also an opportunity for the team with 3 to get a lot of momentum if they kill it off. In an interesting move, the Oilers call a time out, presumably to set up a play.

6:26 - The time out pays off. Some nifty passing around the net results in Oiler D Sheldon Souray lighting the lamp. Assists go to Denis Grebeshkov and Ales Hemsky. And no, "Ales" isn't a typo. Oilers lead 1-0.

9:35 - Derek Boogaard and Zack Stortini do a little pushy-shovy as they get lined up for a faceoff. Unfortunately for the Wild, it escalates after the faceoff and Boogaard takes a whack at Stortini resulting in the third Wild penalty of the night. Derek takes a seat for slashing. The crowd doesn't appreciate it.

9:46 - And here's the make-up call as Souray gets his fists up in Nick Schultz's face and gets whistled for roughing. We're 4-on-4 for the next 1:50... unless someone else gets whistled for a penalty.

12:00 - Nothing comes from the 4-on-4. Now I'm thinking I have to look up who this Edmonton radio play-by-play guy is. It's getting almost comically bad. Turns out his name is Rod Phillips and he's been calling Oiler games longer than I've been alive. You'd think he'd be better prepared, but it just took him 7 long seconds to figure out who Martin Skoula is. And Skoula's been in the league for 10 years.

14:43 - Yet another Wild penalty. This time Stephane Veilleux goes for slashing. He broke Ethan Moreau's stick clean in half. And while that's a neat trick, it'll cost him 2 minutes. Fortunately, the Wild kill the penalty.

17:45 - I just heard Marek Zidlicky called "Zidlitsky". Oof.

18:19 - Out of nowhere, Eric Belanger fires a seemingly innocuous wrister past Dwayne Roloson from the left circle. That's a save Roloson makes 9 times out of 10 and I guarantee you he'd like to have that one back. Assists go to Owen Nolan and Kim Johnnson. We're tied at 1.

End of the first period - Wild 1, Oilers 1.

First Intermission: I didn't see any of the fan festivities during the first intermission because I got caught up in a series of conversations with folks in the press box.

First up, I chat briefly with Wild radio analyst and former North Star Tom Reid... who I accidentally call "Bob". Wild play-by-play wiz Bob Kurtz had just walked by, and somehow the wrong synapse fires when Tom said hello. I feel really cool right now. Oof.

Next up, I chat with John Mikelson who in addition to being a hockey guy, works at the horse track. Hard to top that combo. He agrees that the first period was somewhat doggish.

Then I see that Sid Hartman's in the press box for one of his annual "yes, I go to Wild games too" appearances. Or perhaps he's just looking for a new financial adviser, given that it came out last week that he had money invested with Bernie Madoff. Woops!

After that, I run into Stu Thornley in the press box commissary. You may recall from STRGC 3 that Stu's our local SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) guy. Naturally, our conversation centers on Joe Torre's book and the story that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003. Both of which I'll discuss further on Wednesday.

Finally, I run into Mike Grimm, the voice of Golden Gopher Basketball. I don't bring up the Badger hockey team's sweep of the Gophers, he doesn't mention the Badger Basketball team's 6-game losing streak which was only recently snapped. This is all really for the best.

I barely make it back to my seat in time for the...

Second Period: As sluggish as the first period was, the second starts with a lot of energy. And most of it is coming from the Wild, which leads to...

3:43 - Sheldon Souray goes for hooking. Here's a chance for the Wild to take control of the game with a power play goal. Unfortunately, other than three big slapshots, they don't generate any serious scoring opportunities.

9:30 - I finally hear the Edmonton radio guy make a good point. He explains the Wild's domination on face-offs by pointing out that the Oilers' leading face off winner C Shawn Horcoff is a scratch today. That makes sense.

12:52 - Cal Clutterbuck throws a puck in front of the net from a bad angle. It bounces off a skate and nearly slips by Roloson. Proving once again that in life, as in hockey, sometimes you just have to throw one at the net. You never know what might happen!

14:40 - A good scoring chance for Stephane Veilleux of the Wild as a rebound comes his way. Unfortunately, he has to kick the puck to his stick, and that delay allows Roloson to get in position to make the save. The scoreboard doesn't show it, but the Wild are dominating this period. Wait, the scoreboard actually does show it, since the Wild have a 21-13 edge in shots. Unfortunately, it hasn't translated into goals, which are what count at the end of the day.

15:27 - The Oilers' Sheldon Souray fires a howitzer at Niklas Backstrom. The shot was so hard that Backs couldn't hold it in his glove. It reminds me of trying to catch a baseball that hits you in the palm. It numbs your whole hand and often causes you to drop the ball. Fortunately for Backstrom, his palm remains in tact.

19:00 - The Wild get away with one. Pierre-Marc Bouchard locks up an Edmonton defenseman behind the Oiler net. He loses his stick and his glove in the process and somehow isn't whistled for holding. I fear the hockey gods are going to drop some bad magambo on Butch for that.

19:59 - Edmonton forward Sam Gagner makes a late rush, but can't stop himself from bowling over Backstrom. Apparently that doesn't rise to the level of a penalty. The fist he shoves in Nick Schultz's face after the whistle blows, however, does. So the Wild will start the 3rd period on the power play.

End of the second period: Wild 1, Oilers 1.

Second Intermission: The Wild now run 3 Zambonis during the intermissions. Well, technically it's 2 Zambonis and a vehicle that looks like a Zamboni. The first two are actually tasked with resurfacing the ice. The third vehicle contains the "Target Hot Seats" (Yet another Target sponsorship - with Target Center and Target Field. I know that Target's laying people off, but with all these sponsorship dollars out there, they can't be doing that bad, can they?). Anyway, instead of being a resurfacing machine, the third vehicle allows up to 10 fans to ride around the ice as the real Zambonis do their work. It looks like an interesting vantage point for the fans, even if the ride isn't all that eventful.

Tonight's fan contest is the "Chipotle Challenge". Chipotle is probably the most popular restaurant that I don't like to eat at. What can I say? I'm just that finicky. Tonight's contest requires a couple of fans to identify as many album covers as they can in 30 seconds. The first guy looks at Nirvana, Bruce Springsteen, Journey, Van Halen, Michael Jackson and the Beatles, and gets only 2 right. Not good. The second guy sees Pink Floyd, U2, Guns 'N Roses, Boston, Madonna and the Bee Gees and gets only 1 right. Where do they find these people?! Contestant #1 wins a giant burrito. Seriously? One big burrito? That's all? Oh well, he only got 2 right. He probably shouldn't have won anything!

Third Period: The Wild start the period on the power play. 30 seconds in, Marek Zidlicky puts one off the pipe. Six inches from the lead. Hockey's a wonderfully frustrating game at times.

3:38 - Bouchard gets tangled up with Oiler winger Erik Cole. Cole does a dive that earns a 9.5 from the Russian judge, but Bouchard's the only one who gets penalized. Two minutes for tripping is the sentence, bad karma is the crime. Sorry Butch, but I warned that this might be coming.

4:20 - The Wild score shorthanded! Some nifty passing from Schultz to Koivu to Miettinen who rifles a shot past Roloson on the stick side. Sweet play. The Wild lead 2-1.

7:47 - Wild D Martin Skoula catches a deflected puck right in the mush. Ouch! The refs whistle play dead seconds later, so he must be bleeding. Skoula skates off and heads straight for the locker room.

11:20 - During a TV timeout, they announce that after the game, kids will be allowed to go down on the ice and take a shot on goal. I wasn't aware the Wild did that. It's like the Twins letting kids run the bases after Sunday games. Maybe it's a Sunday thing?

13:56 - Niklas Backstrom gives up one too many rebounds, and Oilers C Sam Gagne finally bangs one home. Assists go to Ladislav Smid and Robert Nilsson. We're tied at two. Dammit. I haven't been to a Wild win yet this year. I was really hoping this was going to be the one!

14:35 - Skoula's stitched up and back on the ice. On his first shift back he gets off a solid slapshot. Must have been some good Novocaine!

19:28 - Bouchard fans on an entry pass at center ice and then proceeds to check the Oiler who steals the puck from him and gets called for holding. The replay shows that it's a pretty weak call. More bad magambo for Butch. Edmonton fails to take advantage in the last :32 of regulation, but will start overtime with a man advantage.

End of regulation - Wild 2, Edmonton 2

Overtime: OT in hockey is 5 minutes of 4-on-4 play. Except in this case, where we have a penalty, so the Oilers will start the period with a 4-on-3 advantage.

0:30 - We get our first "Let's Go Wild" chant of the night. Sadly, I hadn't realized it was lacking.

1:28 - The Wild kill off the penalty. We're back to 4-on-4.

4:00 - Edmonton D Steve Staios falls down giving the Wild a 2-on-1 rush. Eric Belanger makes a nice move, but Roloson shuts down the 5-hole and makes the save. This is actually turning into one of the more entertaining OT periods you'll see.

4:48 - Roloson holds on to a big slap shot from Nick Schultz. Prior to the ensuing faceoff, the Wild call their timeout trying to set up a goal-scoring play of their own. Unfortunately, it doesn't work and time runs out. Time for the...

Shootout: 3 shooters a side. The team with the most goals wins. Here we go!

Oilers' first shot: Sam Gagne gets stoned by Backstrom

Wild's first shot: Antti Miettinen is denied by Roloson.

Oilers' second shot: Robert Nilsson is stopped by a nifty left pad save from Backstrom.

Wild's second shot: Marek Zidlicky tries to go high on the glove side, but Roloson gets a piece of it and deflects it harmlessly over the net.

Oilers' third shot: Ales Hemsky totally rips off Zidlicky and tries to go high on the glove side of Backstrom who copycats Roloson and deflects it over the net.

Wild's third shot: Brent Burns has a chance to win the game on one shot for the Wild. And... he puts it off the pipe. Dammit. Now we trade off skaters til somebody scores and the other team doesn't.

Oilers' fourth shot: Tom Gilbert gets stopped by Backstrom's left pad. Somebody needs to buy that left pad a steak dinner after the game!

Wild's fourth shot: Mikko Koivu goes 5-hole on Roloson and this time Dwayne can't close the door fast enough. Koivu scores. Wild win, Wild win, Wild win!

Final Score: Wild 3, Oilers 2.

Postgame: The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by voice of Gopher hockey, Wally Shaver: 3 - Sheldon Souray, 2 - Mikko Koivu, 3 - Antti Miettinen.

As usual, I head downstairs to catch the "Jacques Lemaire Postgame Press Conference". Jacques comes into the room humming. I guess since the Wild won, that's a good thing.

As we wait for the rest of the reporters to come into the interview room, Jacques breaks out his cell phone and makes a call, during which he speaks nothing but French. Oddly enough, though he speaks English with a heavy French-Canadian accent, he speaks French with a heavy English accent.* Who knew?!

(* - This didn't actually happen, but it would be awfully entertaining if it had, no?)

The press conference itself is fairly uneventful until the end when Pioneer Press columnist, Tom Powers, asks if Jacques thinks the refs should have reviewed a goal by Derek Boogaard which didn't count. It didn't count because Boogard deflected it in a solid 5 seconds after play had been whistled dead. Lemaire looks at Powers with an, "Are you serious?" expression until Powers starts laughing, at which point Lemaire breaks up and the whole room starts to laugh. Not a bad way to finish a fun day at the rink!

And that brings us to the end of Sports Take Running Game Commentary IV. I hope you enjoyed it almost as much as I did.

That's all for today folks. I'm back on Wednesday with some discussion of babbling managers and ratted-out A-Frauds. Until then, stay safe and thanks for reading!


  1. Rod Phillips is a legend (he's in the Hockey Hall of Fame) but his age is definitely showing now. This is probably his last season. I compare him to Rick Jeanneret, ie. you won't understand the appeal unless you're a fan.

    Also, it's Sam Gagner, with an R.

  2. Thanks, I fixed the typo.

    I love that somebody knows who this guy is. Now you just have to tell me who you are!

    Thanks for reading!

  3. See, Canadians are so rabid about hockey, they don't even need announcers, they just "feel" the game through the ether.