I’m not even a big fan of hockey. I enjoy watching the playoffs because the games are intensified by 100 compared to regular season games. Even if the Minnesota Wild wasn’t in the Stanley Cup playoffs, I would still tune in because hockey is a fast-paced, exciting game and you don’t need to be an expert to understand what is going on. With that being said, I’m even more into because the Wild are in the playoffs and advanced to the second round with a thrilling Game 7 overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche. The Wild now faces the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in a series that will begin tonight in Chicago.
Maybe I’m just a hopeless Minnesota sports fan, going to any extreme length to cheer for a winning team. I never played hockey growing up. I played basketball, football, and baseball. I resented hockey. I thought it was a stupid game that only rich kids played. All the money parents pour into skates, pads, sticks, and other equipment can end up being several thousands of dollars each year. Hell, I looked online and found that it costs between $13 and $17 to get your skates sharpened. Good hockey sticks cost several hundreds of dollars. Pads probably do as well. You’ll need a credit card to pay for good skates, while you can pay cash for a basketball and basketball shoes. My point is, I never really liked hockey.
I never liked soccer, either.
Until I got to college. College gets you away from what you were used to as a kid growing up. You meet new people and they influence you completely differently. But no one really influenced me to gain an appreciation and a likeness for hockey. I’ve never been to a professional hockey game and only two or three hockey games in college and high school combined. I will admit that I enjoy professional sports more than college sports, and that goes for all sports. I like watching the best athletes compete at the highest level.
What I saw over the past two week between the Wild and Avalanche absolutely amazed me. Maybe 50 percent of my interest is sparked because a team from my home state is doing well, for once, in the playoffs. Championships are not won in Minnesota, unless you’re the WNBA team the Lynx. Minnesota fans take a passive approach to their pro teams. Even when we sign or trade for good players, or expect one of our teams to have a good season, we are always skeptical when things start go wrong. When the Wild lost six games in a row in early January, people, even I, panicked. I know Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are good (even though I think they hyped Parise too much the previous season and his play reminded me of another Minnesota native who now plays first base for the Twins *cough cough*) and captain Mikko Koivu is solid (even though he takes the most heat on the comment boards of the Star Tribune). They say youngster Mikael Granlund is supposed to be pretty good; just like the Minnesota Twins are saying Byron Buxton is going to be a star. Aside from those players, head coach Mike Yeo said his team is talented.
I didn’t know it, until they showed it the past five games.
Discard the first two games of the series. The last five were amazing. It started with Granlund’s game-winning goal in overtime in Game 3. It continued in game Game 4, when the Wild’s defense allowed 12 shots on goal. They stumbled in Game 5, losing in overtime due to some “questionable” calls. I don’t remember the game because I was pretty out of it. Game 6, Parise proved he was elite, scoring the go-ahead goal in the third period. And in Game 7, erasing four separate leads by the Avalanche, and having Nino Niederreiter score the series-clinching goal in overtime. On the road, nonetheless.
It showed me this Minnesota team is different from the rest. Heart, resilience, and passion is something I haven’t watched in a long time. I enjoyed it; it was refreshing. It was a different experience; a fun experience. The crowd was amazing for the three games at Xcel Energy Center, I could tell on my computer screen. Now I’ll be able to watch the games on my television because they’ll be on NBCSports Network, not CNBC.
A lot of the “experts” are saying the Wild isn’t deep enough, not as experienced, or not as talented as Chicago. A lot of those same experts didn’t give the Wild a chance in the first round either.
How did that work out?
I’ll be watching and I can’t wait.