Thursday, May. 13, 2021



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Kirill Kaprizov Gives Wild “Hope”


It’s only been two games, but what an extraordinary beginning for 23-year-old Kirill Kaprizov of the Minnesota Wild. An NHL authority told Sports Headliners Kaprizov could be the difference maker the Wild has been searching for and his presence might be vital in a shortened 2021 regular season.

The Wild has struggled with offensive production for years, including in the playoffs. In Minnesota’s opening game last Thursday, the rookie Russian forward scored the game- winning goal against the Kings in Los Angeles. Two nights later he made a dazzling play again, passing to teammate Marcus Johansson for the winning goal as the Kings lost a second straight game in overtime. He is the first player in NHL history to have overtime points in each of his first two career games.

With NHL teams playing 56-game regular season schedules because of the pandemic, instead of the usual 82, early season wins are more important than ever, including on the road. “This is the kind of player that will help them not falling too far behind,” said the authority, preferring to speak anonymously. “He gives everyone hope. It’s somebody that can score every time he is on the ice.”

No. 97 causes a stir.

The Wild remain in California and play the Ducks in Anaheim tonight. Expectations are for the Ducks and other NHL teams to assign aggressive defensive forwards against Kaprizov, trying to push the 5-9, 200-pound newbie around. “They’re just not going to let him free wheel and do whatever he wants,” the source said.

While tough tactics and adjustments are coming, Kaprizov certainly didn’t look frustrated in his first two games. He showed all the attributes (and perhaps more) that were expected during his debut, including darting around the ice with quickness and speed impressing even casual NHL observers. The authority quoted here gushed about Kaprizov’s hands that deftly allow him to control and shoot the puck, and also his vision.

Because of his exceptional vision, Kaprizov was able to secure the puck and pass to Johansson on a play that others cannot make. “Go back and look at that play, it’s amazing,” the source said.

The Wild drafted Kaprizov in 2015 and for years anticipation has built about his arrival in Minnesota. The curious included his new teammates who had to wonder what this gifted young talent would be like as a person. Kevin Gorg, the Fox Sports North analyst, told Sports Headliners that Kaprizov is anything but a prima donna.

“This kid has come in here without any expectations on his part,” Gorg said this morning. “He’s worked his tail off. He has been out there spending extra time before practice, extra time after practice. He’s been breaking down film.

“He’s been working like he’s a guy that might not make it, even though we’ve known…that this kid was going to be a star. He hasn’t had that star attitude. He’s come in with that fourth line grinder attitude. …I think he’s gained an awful lot of respect from his teammates with the work ethic.”

After spending his life in Russia, Kaprizov now finds himself in a new country and during a pandemic. Veteran Ryan Suter has hosted the rookie at his home that includes an outdoor rink. Kaprizov lives alone and uses his limited English to make his way around the Twin Cities, including to Kramarczuk’s, the famous eastern European deli in Minneapolis. “Kramarczuk’s has been his favorite spot to get some cool food,” Gorg said.

Gorg believes Kaprizov is enjoying his early times in America. “If you watch him at the rink he’s always kind of laughing and having fun. I think that’s a big, big part of that comfort level he’s starting to feel coming over from Russia. I think there were a lot of unknowns when he made this move. He doesn’t speak the English great yet—something he’s trying to work on.”

Worth Noting

Gophers center Liam Robbins was named the Naismith Trophy Player of the Week today after leading No. 23 Minnesota to a 75-57 win against previously unbeaten No. 7 Michigan on Saturday. The Davenport, Iowa native had 22 points and eight rebounds in only 22 minutes. He made a season-high eight field goals and a season high three 3-pointers for the Gophers. He also blocked two shots and limited Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson to five rebounds and a season-low nine points.

The draft out this morning has the Vikings selecting Miami defensive lineman Gregory Rousseau with the No. 14 selection of the first round. He had an ACC-best 15.5 sacks last season for the Hurricanes. “He would be a great fit with Mike Zimmer,” writes Vinnie Iyer.

It looks like former Gopher Rashod Bateman could end up fretting about being selected in the first round of April’s NFL Draft. The wide receiver talent is deep with several talents perhaps more likely to go ahead of Bateman including ex-Purdue playmaker Rondale Moore. predicts Bateman going to the Jaguars at No. 25 in the first round where his coach would be Urban Meyer and his QB likely Trevor Lawrence (Jags have No. 1 choice and are expected to draft the ex-Clemson QB).

A former NFL executive recently said in this space the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins is a top 10 or 12 quarterback. Jim Carter, the former Gopher fullback and Green Bay linebacker, emailed he differs with that, although he doesn’t claim to be an expert on quarterbacks—“I’m from the Murray Warmath school of erring on the side of big heart and toughness over talent, even quarterbacks!”

Here is Carter’s list of quarterbacks he prefers over Cousins: “(Aaron) Rodgers, (Patrick) Mahomes, (Philip) Rivers, (Josh) Allen, (Tom) Brady, (Lamar) Jackson, (Russell) Wilson, (Drew) Brees, (Deshaun) Watson, (Matt) Ryan, (Kyler) Murray, (Ben) Roethlisberger, and probably (Baker) Mayfield, (Matthew) Stafford, and (Ryan) Fitzpatrick, too.”

Welcome news for Gophers football fans: Ohio State’s great quarterback Justin Fields declared for the NFL Draft today. That means the Buckeyes, expected to be a preseason top five team nationally, will have an inexperienced QB for their opening game next September in Minneapolis against Minnesota.

Juancho Hernangómez, Ricky Rubio and Karl-Anthony Towns will not play for the Timberwolves in today’s game (1:30 p.m. start) in Atlanta against the Hawks. They are ruled out for “health & safety protocols.”

Jay Meyerhoff, Braemar’s head PGA professional, has been named a “Golf Range Association of America Top 100 Growth of the Game Teaching Professional.” For the third consecutive year the GRAA has recognized both the Braemar Golf Course Driving Range and Braemar Golf Dome as being among the top 50 ranges in the country.

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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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