Powers: Wild making name for themselves
By Tom Powers
St. Paul Pioneer Press
As we waited for the start of a news conference before Game 1 in Denver last week, a couple of people wandered over to ask: “What time are they bringing Coach Yeow in?”
Not Yeo as in, “Yo, Adrian.” But Yeow as in, “Holy smokes!”
“It’s English,” Yeo once explained to me after his arrival in Minnesota. “For some reason, people think I’m Chinese.”
Well, when pronounced a certain way, it’s easy to envision the name as the start of, say, Yeow Lo Puk. So I can understand the confusion. But the point is that if you crossed the Minnesota state line and asked people to name the coach of the Wild, you very well might be greeted by blank stares.
It’s not a matter of disrespect or anything sinister. It’s just that the Wild are a low-profile group. This team flies under the hockey radar. Why wouldn’t it? It’s been years since there has been any real success here. And heading into this series, the national focus was on the laudable job done by first-year Avalanche coach Patrick Roy.
Roy, a legendary goalie, has one of those worst-to-first things going on with the Avs. Meanwhile, the Wild went from mediocre last season to slightly less mediocre this season. So there haven’t been compelling reasons for people outside Minnesota to pay attention.
A couple of years ago, the hockey world did focus on Minnesota when the organization signed free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to mega-contracts. But then the season started and the signings didn’t appear to affect much of anything. Suter and Parise were sort of folded into the team’s low-scoring, defensive style and, as far as most folks are concerned, have disappeared off the face of the earth ever since.
In fact, the most visible member of the Wild probably is Matt Cooke. And for all the wrong reasons. Incidentally, at Xcel the other night they showed a video of Joe Mauer wishing the Wild luck. The crowd ate it up. But if a savvy marketing staff really wanted to take it to another level, it should have the suspended Cooke do a video.
Imagine Cooke standing there, front tooth missing, wearing that perpetual angelic smile and declaring: “Go Wild!” The building’s foundation might crack from the resulting pandemonium.
Suddenly this image of the faceless Wild is changing. The Wild have given the hockey world a reason to pay attention. For two straight games they have dominated the division-winning Avs to the point of embarrassing them. As it turns out, they have not been mere props in the Avs’ feel-good story.
Instead, they are putting themselves on the hockey map.
“I hope so,” said Yeow. I mean Yeo. “Probably more than anything else what I hope is that we continue our belief in ourselves. You want your team getting better and part of getting better is believing in the way that you’re playing and believing in the guys that you’re playing with.”
It’s fair to say that an international buzz is being created by young Mikael Granlund, even if most casual observers still pronounce his name Grand-lund, with a “D.” Granlund, by the way, is sporting at least one festive playoff whisker. Maybe two. And, oh wait, there’s Parise and Suter. Now people remember. And there’s Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville, and those names ring a bell after all.
“We’re not that big-name team like the Blackhawks,” Kyle Brodziak said. “We’re just kind of the team that is quietly doing their thing. That’s fine, though. It’s never a bad thing to fly under the radar a little bit. I think our expectations in the room here were a lot higher than other people’s expectations for us.”
I hope so, Kyle, because most people had no expectations at all.
“You’re right,” Brodziak said. “I don’t think a lot of people really did. There were a lot of ups and downs in the year and it took us a while to find our groove. Hopefully, we got it dialed in at the right time and we continue on with it.”
So the Wild have made their presence known. Instead of some faceless bunch from Minnesota, they are now known as the team that is giving the division champs all they can handle. They are the team that had become a major pain to one of the favorites.
I don’t know if they’ll win another game. But for a time, at least, they stood up and let people know who they were.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.