Powers: If the Wild are nervous, they’re not letting on
By Tom Powers
St. Paul Pioneer Press
It quite literally was the calm before the storm. Except the Wild were so serene it was almost as if they had arrived at Pepsi Center straight from yoga class.
The Wild were unruffled as they went about their business Tuesday. They appeared to be at peace with their station in life and skated through practice without a hitch, even though those dastardly Avalanche tried to mess with their feng shui.
As the players entered their dressing room, they discovered that the nameplates over the lockers had been switched around. Instead of getting ready at their usual spots, they had to settle into unfamiliar stalls. It was a diabolical attempt to upset the karma cart. Or, as someone suggested, it might have been an attempt to confuse the Minnesota writers.
There might be something to that. I spent 10 minutes thinking I was talking to Mikael Granlund. Then I looked up at the nameplate and saw that Mike Rupp now resided in this location. No wonder he was being self-deprecating about his speed. A bit later, I thought I was asking Jared Spurgeon about the perils of being a little guy on the blue line. Turns out it was Clayton Stoner. And then I understood why I was getting such an odd look.
Still, I’m convinced it was an attempt to mess with the players. Yet the Wild seemed almost tranquil on the eve of Game 7.
“Of course it’s bigger, of course it feels bigger,” coach Mike Yeo said. “It’s still the same game. The players do seem to find another level to the battle, to the urgency. It’s kind of making sure that you embrace that moment and all those things you need to do to ramp it up another level. But just make sure you don’t go overboard, too.”
Yeo is planning an inspirational speech that would make Vince Lombardi, Red Auerbach or Toe Blake proud.
“I’ve got a few things in mind,” he said coyly.
In fact, there probably will be quite a bit of speechifying before the opening faceoff. A Game 7 needs to be acknowledged before anyone can proceed. It is considered the hockey pinnacle. So someone has to say something memorable. But the truth is that the Wild don’t appear to need much motivation. They seem to have everything under control.
On Tuesday, they spoke rationally yet enthusiastically about the task at hand. No one was frothing. No one was hitting himself in the head with a stick. Yes, Game 7 is a big deal. But what are hockey players supposed to do, explode?
“I don’t know. For me, all of these games have been intense and with a lot on the line every game,” said either Clayton Stoner or Jared Spurgeon. (I’m kidding. It was Stoner.) It’s almost like just another playoff game but with more on the line. You have to have your wits about you.
“Obviously, the hockey has been pretty good all series, but it will probably be ramped up even to another level.”
Darcy Kuemper laughed when I asked him if he was nervous before Game 7. Not only is he not nervous, but he can remember to the day the last time he actually was. It was 14 months ago when he made his NHL debut against the Canucks in Vancouver.
“First NHL game,” he said. “A league you’ve dreamed of playing in, and you’re not sure how it is going to go. I was nervous for that one. That’s probably the last time I’ve really had a lot of butterflies.
“I think it’s going to be a lot like Game 6. Every play, every minute, every second of your season depends on it. Your urgency gets ramped up a bit when it’s your last chance.”
If I were Yeo, maybe I’d just let them go out and play without delivering any sort of histrionics.
“The biggest speech is to just lay it all on the line,” Matt Cooke said. “Winner goes on; loser goes home. Pretty basic concept. Fortunately for me, I won two Game 7s in the year that we won the Cup — one being in the finals. What an experience. How many times as a kid have you been there, playing Game 7? I think you embrace those emotions and at the same time you do the job at hand.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to grasp the concept.”
Cooke was a member in good standing of the 2008-09 championship Pittsburgh Penguins. Some of the younger players have been peppering him with questions about what that was like.
“A lot of the young guys like to ask questions,” Cooke said. “I’m here to answer them. They can draw on my experiences, but at the end of the day, they have to experience it themselves.”
They appear to be in the proper frame of mind to do so.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.