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Blackhawks Still Target for Wild

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February 7, 2017

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It will be interesting to see how the Minnesota Wild plays this week and throughout the month.

The Western Conference leaders are a confident team and have made fans wonder if this could be the best club since the franchise’s inception in 2000. Tonight the Wild play in Winnipeg against the Jets and then players won’t have much time to rest before they go on the ice at Xcel Energy Wednesday against the Blackhawks, the team tied with the Sharks for second most points in the Western Conference. Tomorrow night’s game is the first of eight consecutive at home and despite fatigue the Wild should be full of adrenaline facing the rival Blackhawks.

The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 in Chicago last month and Minnesota has won eight consecutive games against the famous franchise. The two teams also have remaining games in St. Paul on February 21 and in Chicago March 12. More wins over the Blackhawks can only add to the Wild’s collective confidence and momentum.

But the Wild has a history with the Blackhawks that makes some fans anxious. Chicago has often dominated the Central Division during the past several years and has been a playoff pest to the Wild and other teams. Just two years ago, on their way to winning the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks swept the Wild 4-0 in their best of seven games playoff. In the second round series the Wild scored just seven goals.

Bruce Boudreau

However, this doesn’t look like the 2015 Wild team. New head coach Bruce Boudreau has brought leadership, including a calming presence, to his players. That leadership has helped make for a remarkably consistent team group that so far has been able to avoid long losing streaks while also winning close games.

Boudreau has a team playing effectively as a unit. That togetherness is exemplified by the Wild’s balanced scoring. The club has nine players with 10 or more goals. Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal and Jason Zucker are tied for the team lead with 16 goals each.

This is a roster with depth and Boudreau is able to use four lines. That fourth line sometimes steps forward to make big plays and take pressure off the other units. Every game the Wild can count on depth and it’s something that distinguishes the roster from rivals.

Goalie Devan Dubnyk is among the NHL’s leaders at his position. He ranks first in the league in wins with 28. He is second in save percentage at .932.

The Wild has made a fast start without a lot of help sometimes from Zach Parise, the 32-year-old forward with the 13-year, $98 million contract. Maybe Parise isn’t right physically but even if that is a problem expect him to contribute to the team’s success by mentoring younger players.

The Wild could get another psychological boost with an impressive win tomorrow night. Are they better than Blackhawks? “I think right now they are,” a hockey authority told Sports Headliners. “But the Hawks are battle-tested. They have so much experience playing in big games in the past and are proven winners.”

The Wild hopes in a couple of years people will be saying the same about them.

Worth Noting

Gophers goalie Eric Schierhorn has been named Big Ten First Star of the Week. Schierhorn held the nation’s top-ranked offense to three goals on 69 shots last weekend when Minnesota swept Penn State at Mariucci Arena. Schierhorn, a sophomore, was Big Ten Goaltender of the Year last season, and currently leads the Big Ten in wins with 17. That total is tied for second best in the NCAA.

The Wild’s TV deal with FOX Sports North ends after this season. Ratings are impressive and the two organizations are likely to make a new deal.

New Gophers coach P.J. Fleck will do the “Let’s Play Hockey” call at Friday’s Wild-Lightning game.

For those who missed or couldn’t get enough of Lady Gaga’s halftime show at the Super Bowl last Sunday, she is performing at the Xcel Energy Center August 21. Tickets go on sale Friday.

Rivals ranks the Gophers football recruiting class No. 51 nationally. That compares with a No. 51 ranking in 2016 and No. 53 in 2015.

P.J. Fleck

Among the best Gophers recruits in this year’s class is Marshall offensive tackle Blaise Andries who has known since seventh grade he wants to be an actuary, according to Fleck who joked about not knowing what the noun means.

Another recruiting prize could be tight end Jake Paulson from Louisville, who turned down a visit to LSU and has special parents in two former Navy pilots, per Fleck.

Fleck believes the “sleeper” of the class could be under recruited defensive lineman Austin Schirck from Carroll, Iowa. “He is special,” Fleck said. “I don’t know how he got out of that state.”

Fleck headlines the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Clinic March 30-April 1. Other prominent speakers will include Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi, North Dakota State’s Chris Klieman and San Diego State’s Jeff Horton. More information is available by clicking on the MFCA advertisement on this page and visiting the organization’s website.

Look for the Gophers athletic department to host members of the 1967 football team later this year as part of a celebration for the school’s last Big Ten championship.

The 1967 team will be honored with the Murray Warmath Legendary Team Award at the Minnesota Football Awards event May 7. The event is organized by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Football Foundation and will be at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Gophers basketball team could get its second home sellout of the season Wednesday night against Iowa. Minnesota’s win last Saturday over Illinois, combined with the Iowa rivalry and an 8 p.m. start, puts the Gophers in a potential sellout situation. The Wild and Timberwolves also have home games Wednesday night so there is box office competition.

Boys high school basketball fans could hardly find a more fun start to the week. Last night the state’s best team, Champlin Park, defeated (70-60) arguably the second best club, Maple Grove. Tonight prep powers Apple Valley and Lakeville North play at Apple Valley.

Mike Max said on WCCO Radio this morning that NBC TV’s Harry Smith is planning a feature story on Sid Hartman, the local radio and newspaper personality who turns 97 next month.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers.

Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section.

A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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