Powers: For Wild, a deep breath is much appreciated
By Tom Powers
St. Paul Pioneer Press
When the Minnesota North Stars made their unexpected run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1991, they left nothing to chance. On the road, for example, management would commandeer a meeting room in the team hotel and stuff it with tubs of iced-down beer.
The theory was that the players could stop by for a cold one after practice or after a game and, as a byproduct, not be out roaming the streets.
To the best of my knowledge, no player ever set foot in one of those rooms. After all, roaming the streets was half the fun. And the players preferred to gather at a place with a bit more atmosphere. There they would tell stories, jabber away and get welcomed relief from the playoff pressure-cooker.
At home, there was no need to order up a room. The players naturally gravitated to preferred local watering holes. It was a traditional if somewhat sudsy way to unwind from the playoff grind.
Of course, those were the days of the dinosaurs, and those creatures now are extinct. Today players are handed protein shakes and, I don’t know, dried berries or something after games and practices. The mere thought of downing something as unhealthy as an alcoholic beverage can cause them to cramp up.
Still, the pressure in these playoffs can be unbearable. There is more media coverage than ever and more demands on a player’s time. The Minnesota Wild prepped for Game 4 of their second-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks tonight with a free day on Wednesday and an early practice Thursday. The hope is that they were able to put hockey aside and mentally refresh themselves.
“When I get home and see my family and my daughter, that’s the best way for me to get my mind off the hockey,” Mikko Koivu said. “I enjoy that.”
Yes, but having had plenty of experience with young daughters, I know that they are good for about a 30-minute diversion. Then they will spit up (or worse) and re-enforcements are needed. In fact, former Wild coach Jacques Lemaire, who was very old-school, thought that being around family during the playoffs was a bad idea.
Jacques put his players up at a hotel, even during home games. His fear, which he elucidated many times, was that his players might be run ragged trying to take care of a honey-do list. He did not want them hauling out the trash or changing diapers.
“Every individual has his own way,” Koivu said. “Everybody is a little different. But I do think it really helps if you can get your mind off it for a little while. But, obviously, it’s still in your mind. Let’s not kid ourselves. You’re starting to prepare.”
“I get home, watch movies, do groceries,” said Marco Scandella. “You can’t be ‘on’ all the time. You just have to shut your brain off. It’s not that easy. You’ve got friends that try to text you. I mean, I answer all my buddies. But when I leave the rink I just want to clear the head.”
Zach Parise says he has been taking walks, sometimes with his wife, Alisha, and their young twins.
“Keeping the babies entertained,” he said with a laugh. “It was good, it was fun. I like to watch the games at night. But you try to take the day with no hockey at all. We’re in the back of a pretty secluded neighborhood. The last think we’re talking about is hockey. It’s nice.”
“Sometimes it’s nice to get out of the house and go for a walk,” agreed Clayton Stoner. “The weather is starting to get nice. I’ll walk around the lake. At home, we find other things to talk about. And if you’re getting phone calls and stuff, you’ll text them and let them know you’ll call them back once things slow down.”
The longer a guy can go without getting amped up for the next game, the better off he is. It conserves energy.
“It’s an intense time,” Koivu said. “You try not to bring the hockey home.”
And then there is Nino Niederreiter, who pretty much has the entire country of Switzerland following his every move. His playoff success has his homeland very excited.
“It’s great to see it with the country, the Swiss, and they’ve been great with the NHL coverage there,” Niederreiter said. “But … when you are away from the rink you just have to focus on going away for a little bit. You need a little down time.”
They’ve gone from beer and teammates to barley-grass shakes and family. Either way, the goal remains the same. Everyone just wants to take a deep breath before the pressure is ratcheted ever higher.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.