Zack Phillips And Brett Bulmer Named To 2012 Canadian Selection Camp Roster

Two Wild prospects, Brett Bulmer and Zack Phillips, were named today to Canada's 2012 World Junior Championship Selection Camp. They are two of forty-one players invited to next month's camp and look to join other Minnesota prospects like Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Johan Larsson and Johan Brodin playing in the 2012 World Junior tournament December 26th - January 5th in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta.


Forward Brett Bulmer (photo from Zimbio)

Bulmer has played well since being sent down from the NHL club to Kelowna and has 15 points (6G - 9A) in ten games for the Rockets. The 2010 second round pick picked up his first career WHL hat trick Saturday night against the Victoria Royals and is making a good case.

As good as Brett Bulmer has been, Phillips has been even better on the junior level. The 2011 first round pick is on a 19 game scoring streak with Saint John and is doing it without 2011 third overall pick Jonathan Huberdeau. Zack currently has an astounding 46 points (16G - 30A) in 26 games and is improving on many of the deficiencies like skating which dropped him to 28th overall.

Neither prospect has a guarantee to make this year's 22 man Canadian squad. The defending Under-20 WJHC champs are constantly stacked with talent despite having the top `18 and 19 year-olds in the NHL and making the Canadian team is very hard (especially if you go the college route). In fact, a second team of Canadian players could hang in there with the best teams.

However, it is good to see two prospects which weren't on Hockey Canada's radar in September play their way into the selection camp. That says a lot about what kind of players Minnesota General Manager Chuck Fletcher has been drafting. As great as stats or rankings are, the best barometer for judging a prospect is their development from year-to-year and both Phillips and Bulmer (along with other Wild prospects) continue to improve upon weaknesses and strive to reach their peak.

Dennis Endras To Join Mikael Granlund In Finland

According to Iltalethi.fi, HIFK is signing Houston Aeros goalie (and Minnseota Wild contracted player) Dennis Endras. Endras, who played Germany's national team in last year's World Championships, is in his first season over in North America and has played six games for the Aeros as Matt Hackett has had the majority of starts between the pipes.


One Wild player scoring on another... (Photo from AFP)

While no one in the Minnesota organization or Twin Cities media has confirmed Endras' move, it would make sense. Wild prospect and 2009 sixth-round pick Darcy Kuemper, who currently in the ECHL playing goalie for the Ontario Reign, posted this on Twitter earlier today:

Called up to Houston, doing some last minute packing


This new is interesting on multiple levels as HIFK is the Finnish team which top Wild prospect Mikael Granlund currently plays. In addition, Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom owns a part of HIFK which would mean that the top Wild goalie's team signed away a player currently under contract to the Wild.

Either way, I'm not torn up about the news as Minnesota is stacked with goalie prospects and Endras' stock has dropped since being signed in 2010. With Hackett, Kuemper, Johan Gustafsson and Stephen Michalek all playing well behind Backstrom and Josh Harding in St. Paul, there's not enough room for every goalie.

Derek Boogaard Tribute Video

The Bro Code is going to need updating after watching this Derek Boogaard tribute video.

The video, which the Minnesota Wild unveiled before their game Sunday against the Calgary Flames, is a touching montage of the late Wild and Rangers forward by his teammates, family members and the entire Minnesota organization.

Boogaard spent six seasons in the NHL and was a beloved cult figure for fans in the State of Hockey. Although he left for New York to sign a four-year contract in July 2010, Minnesota remained his home and the 6'7", 250 lbs passed away in his Minneapolis apartment in May from a mixture of alcohol and Oxycodone.

Regardless of how Derek died, last night's pregame ceremony focused on his life. The Boogaard family and Wild organization donated $16,750 to the Defending the Blue Line charity (which gives veterans and their families seats to hockey games)and the team unveiled a portrait commissioned by artist Robert Blehert.

In addition, a memorial to Derek Boogaard was set up near Gate 3 which already houses a similar memorial to late Wild player Sergei Zholtok.

The entire tribute is below and yes, it is acceptable to shed a few tears.

Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving



Things that First Round Bust is grateful for:

- Savvy Drafting

- Advanced Stats Proponents and the term "regression."

- Fans of a Divisional Rival that use Advanced Stats to harsh our mellow. We'll just let John Cullen sum it up best.



YOUR PDO IS BRUTAL!!!

- The Marek Vs. Wyshynski Podcast. Do yourself a favor and listen to this everyday. And Twice on Sundays.

- A First Place Hockey Team.

- Stories like this. It actually made Sportscenter, but there was nary a mention of Minnesota's standing in the league.

- "Let Sidney Crosby do his thing, and we'll do ours"

- Our readers. All six of you.

From all of the writers for First Round Bust, we wish you a grand Thanksgiving and the ability to reach deep down inside for that third plate of food today.

Are The Minnesota Wild The NHL Version Of Tim Tebow?

If you, the amazing reader who is not being sucked up to at all by this writer, haven't noticed (or read Dan's blog yesterday), the Minnesota Wild are the top team in the NHL points-wise for at least a couple days. And if you, you super-awesome reader, haven't heard that fact then that's okay too. It's not like NHL.com or any other national media have brought up this fact or gone in-depth on their great start (or at least until today).

But while the lack of respect and attention towards the team has been a source of frustration for many fans and bloggers in the State of Hockey, it's not for me. For one, today is Rex Manning...err Sidney Crosby Day and no one can be upset on Sidney Crosby Day. Stars run the NHL and while somehow Dany Heatley went from the A List to the CU Later List after being traded, beggars can't be choosers.

Second, while it is easy as fans to focus on the negative all the time maybe we should be more positive. I'm not saying that everyone should be a complete homer but as my friend John wrote ever so nicely, hockey is a game played for our enjoyment and sometimes we let it run our lives. It has been a while since the team has been winning consistently and that should be enough. Enjoy the moment.

Finally, respect is earned on the ice. If winning was all that mattered, fans outside of Denver would love Tim Tebow's 4-1 play right now.



The Wild, like Tebow, have found ways to win games in the last minute or when all hope seemed lost. They've come out with some gaudy stats which aren't up to par with everyone else like having scored 24 less goals than Chicago yet have the same number of points. It's no 2 for 8 passing and still win like #15 did but it's hard to find anyone who would disagree that first-place Minnesota wins ugly games (the Wild, not the Gophers)

However like Tim Tebow has a coach in John Fox who knows how to use his strengths, the Wild have the same in Mike Yeo. This is an organization which has stressed youth lately and is 2-3 years away from having its best prospects wearing Iron Range Red (or hopefully just green). A perceived weakness in the defense has become the team's strength like the read option and players in the doghouse before the season (see: Matt Cullen) have overachieved.

It's been said before and will be said again, but Mike Yeo is a good coach worthy of our respect. He, along with general manager Chuck Fletcher, have a plan and while Minnesota may not have the talent other NHL teams do, like Tebow this isn't a long-term situation. If this is what Yeo does without the top prospects and free agents, imagine what happens when reinforcements arrive. The fundamental base coupled with the freeing of reigns due to increased ability and talent in the long run will lead to the organization getting the respect fans want.

After all, it will be earned on the ice.

The first 20 games for the Wild have been great this season but there are still 62 to go before being in first place is rewarded with a shiny trophy. Even then that trophy means nothing without a good playoff performance. It's too early to get excited about the team or demand respect - no one remembers the Avalanche two seasons ago now - but the way a team wins says a lot about them.

And if the Minnesota Wild are like Tim Tebow, they are using this "respect" issue as motivation.

Apreciate that NHL.

20 Games In- So What Do We Know?

There's an adage in the National Hockey League that a General Manager doesn't know his team until Thanksgiving- that the space between Opening Night and Turkey Day (the proper one, the AMERICAN one) is meant for the assessment of the current roster and its place amongst the landscape of the other 29 teams. Things are meant to play out to a degree; strengths and weaknesses are noted, trends in game time situations identified, and a game plan moving forward to rectify the things detrimental to the team's success is materialized.

Its not Thanksgiving yet- despite the fact that there are Christmas ads everywhere, but we have reached the 20 game mark, meaning we're 1/4th of the way through the 82-game grind, with the 3-2 shootout win over the St. Louis Blues.

Let this marinate in your soul for a minute; last night's win, coupled with a spectacular trouncing of the Chicago Blackhawks by Edmonton, has put your Minnesota Wild atop not just the Northwest Division, not just the Western Conference, but the entire National Hockey League.

Think about that. So- at this point of the season, the end of the observation and assessment period, what do we hold to be true about Minnesota?

Mike Yeo Is Legit:
There was trepidation about the Yeo hire coming into the season; "Fletcher taking another chance on a guy with no previous NHL Head Coaching experience rabble rabble rabble..." All Yeo does is win ([national media jab]and have a non-functioning power play [/national media jab]) with what he has- he turned a decently-talented Houston Aeros team into a Calder Cup Finalist, and now has Minnesota, a decently-talented fusion of speed, grit, on top of the NHL heap.
Yeo pushes the right buttons, pulls the right strings, says the right things, and He disguises drills as fun scrimmages; he has shown the ability to get a team which can get a bit haywire at times (see: LA last week) and get them to reset, not just for the next game, but even in-game. He's managed to use the timeouts by other teams to Minnesota's advantage.
In short, 20 games in and roughly 4 months into his tenure here, Yeo has managed to instill his personality and will onto this team, and now has the team willing to run through walls for him.
A quick anecdote- I talked to Bryan Reynolds of Hockey Wilderness about Yeo's hiring at the Draft in July; he told me what sold him on Yeo was a brief exchange when Yeo was just starting with the Aeros. Reynolds asked him about winning the Calder Cup, and Yeo replied with a politically correct, cliche-driven answer. After the exchange ended, and went off-record, Yeo came back to him and said "goddamn right we're going to win it."
How can you not love that?
2.35 Goals a Game Is a Good Thing:
You look at this team's top 6-8 players, and on paper you'd presume that this team would have more explosive scoring potential; yet they've topped 4 goals a game just three times, twice against Columbus. Disappointing yes, but discouraging no- the frequency of these tight games has accelerated the "process", and encouraged the growth of intestinal fortitude and a calm about participating in one goal games, where the margin of error is razor-thin. Plain and simple, the tighter the game is, the better the team has gotten- even if the scoring doesn't increase exponentially, this team knows not only how to win close games, but that it doesn't panic even if they are down a goal with the clock against them.
See: Tying Goal in Edmonton with a second left. Also: last night against St. Louis.
1.95 GAA Is Even Better:
Immediately one could point to Niklas Backstrom (7-4-2, 1.97 GAA, .935%) and Josh Harding (5-1-1, 1.79 GAA, .945%) and say those two are playing out of their minds- which they are- and that inevitably there will be "regression toward the mean." While there is some truth to it, that both goaltenders are white-hot and that the chance of them sustaining those numbers all season long are somewhat slim, it goes beyond that.
Its about how everyone has not only bought into Yeo and his system, but how its executed- the willingness to block shots, and despite some paltry offensive numbers, its about how the pro-forecheck north-south philosophy not only breeds turnovers, but also puck possession and prolonged shifts in the offensive zone- the best defense there is.
Essentially, Minnesota is built to be able to grind opponents down and pounce on their mistakes (even if there is just one mistake a game) when they aren't playing great team defense in front of the two goalies, who for the time being, are playing great.
This Is A Team Effort:
This ties into the last bullet point- its a team effort so far, not only defensively, but also offensively. The Wild are getting scoring from Matt Cullen's line, Kyle Brodziak's line, and even though they are getting ripped for the lack of explosive scoring, clutch efforts from Mikko Koivu's line- 6 goals in clutch situations, 4 of them game winners.
It isn't just a one or a two line team; seemingly someone new is stepping up every night, which is key since there is still a bit of a feeling out process going on with the Big Three.
Yeo can seemingly roll all of his lines and D with full trust that they'll execute his system, and at points you can connect the dots- a good transition from the D leads into a good shift by the 3rd line, which leads to momentum that culminates with a goal from the 1st or 2nd lines.
Everybody is playing for everybody.



The Younger the Defense, The Better They Are:
Almost universally panned coming into their season because of the lack of NHL experience, the kids on the roster have shown up; and when guys like Greg Zanon, Clayton Stoner, and Marek Zidlicky (and even Marco Scandella) have gone out with injury, kids like Justin Falk, Nate Prosser, and now Kris Fredheim have stepped in almost completely seamlessly- all of whom cut their teeth under Yeo last year in Houston.
Its almost to the point where this team is better off with the kids in the lineup; which may have sealed Zanon's fate as a member of the Wild, and maybe someone else too. Now that Nick Schultz has turned his game around, he may be the only veteran leadership this blueline needs- Mike Lundin, now healthy, will get a chance to play, but do you really want to mess with a good thing?
1st Place Isn't Good Enough:
Despite a big win, a dominating effort, first place in the Division, or now the role of Top Dog in the League, the message remains the same; That this is a "process", and that this team isn't a finished product in spite of its success. There is work to do, and that it can't afford to rest on its laurels; there is work to do. Yeo's done a great job not only just saying this to the media, but to the team as well, and it shows on the ice and in the players' reactions afterwards.

Its not just lip service, its well, looking legitimate. This much we know.

Powe Makes a Great Wingman; or We Got A Good Thing Goin'

Admittedly I knew little about Darroll Powe when Minnesota traded a 2013 3rd round pick to Philadelphia for him; his name would be heard in passing during Flyer games on tv, and occasionally when the topic of grinders was brought up in terms of the best league wide.

A quick google search revealed that he did own Maxim Lapierre though, which bodes well considering Powe's new zip code was now in the same neighborhood as the Vancouver Canuck.



Initially Powe was set to play wing on a line with Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak, which would have been a real pain in the ass of a checking line- and shortly before the season began, Minnesota claimed Nick Johnson off of waivers from Pittsburgh, and Powe slid down to center the 4th line.

And basically disappeared- here we are, told of Powe's speed and grit, and how those elements of his game made him a real honey badger, the kind of prototype that Mike Yeo wants in his bottom-six; even Justin Bourne, head cheese of Backhand Shelf, commented how unscary a player Powe was.

The reality was that the centering the fourth line essentially neutered Powe's effectiveness- playing eight to ten minutes a game while having the responsibilities of a pivot rendered Powe's capabilities null and void, for the most part. Alas, injury breeds opportunity- Guillaume Latendresse suffered a concussion, and with the recall of Warren Peters, there was a shift from top to bottom in the lineup card- Devin Setoguchi, Cal Clutterbuck, and Powe all went up a line. Now we now why Darroll Powe was brought in- his line with Johnson and Brodziak has been may be the best line on the team since its inception, and may have made an argument that it is the best checking line in the league. Now, on the wing, Powe can freely fly up and down the ice, plaster defensemen into the boards, and create havoc on the forecheck. Instead of just getting fourth line minutes and penalty kill duty, he's got more presence on the ice as that line is essentially Yeo's pet line.

(Getty) Ok, I guess Powe owns Chris Higgins too.

So then in the name of premature speculation (and trying to add to our post count) what does Minnesota do in terms of roster moves when (and I hope its not an "if") Guillaume Latendresse comes back?

If I had to guess, it doesn't involve Warren Peters going back to Houston and Darroll Powe going back to the 4th line.

Tidbits: The "Fell On Black Days" Edition




Guillaume Latendresse is out indefinitely with a concussion.

No doubt it is awful news; Latendresse has been a key cog in this most recent string of victories, and seemed to have found a home on the top line with Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley. Now, the loss last night to San Jose, in which Minnesota kept giving The Sharks power play (which if you hadn't noticed, isn't too shabby) chance after chance after chance, is a secondary focus.
Its not that Latendresse is out of the lineup- if anything we as Wild fans are probably a little accustomed to it, considering he played just 11 games last season- its that there is no timetable for his return, thanks to the lingering ambiguity of head trauma. He is expected to be out of the lineup for at least a week- a sort of loose and unofficial protocol now, but the gambit of concussions is similar to Russian Roulette.
Take Ryan Murphy, Carolina Prospect and Kitchener Rangers Defenseman, for exhibit A; Murphy was absolutely steamrolled by Niagara Ice Dogs forward Tom Kuhnhackl last week, but recently came out and said there's been no ill effects from the aftermath of the check.
Then you have Exhibit B, James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs Goalie and Saviour to some. Reimer hasn't played since October, after Montreal's Brian Gionta clipped his head crossing through the crease. Well, god bless the Toronto media, because they "over the helmet" of the team and went to Reimer's mom, who discussed her concerns as her goalie son's condition hasn't improved in the time since he last tended goal for the Leafs.

I wrote about the importance of Latendresse's presence in the lineup a while back, because he is unlike any forward we have; as much as I hate the nickname, the bottom line is that he is a Big Bear out there- a guy who can go around and through you, a mix of finesse and power. And now he's out, and nobody knows for how long, not even Latendresse himself.


- While we hope Latendresse can come back sooner than later, I think its important that we take his health into account. Take your time Gui.
- What I love about Mike Yeo; that even after their best games, Minnesota never did enough good things. Great at pulling the strings, and I'd imagine there was some string pulling after the Bataan Death March to the penalty box at the Shark Tank.
- Just how savvy a waiver pick up was Nick Johnson?
- I'm surprised Jarome Iginla even felt the phantom head butt, considering he was fighting WITH HIS VISOR ON.
- Its really impressive how seamlessly Nate Prosser (another savvy signing by Fletcher's regime) has played since he was called up. Kinda weird when you have more faith in the kids and their play instead of veterans like Nick Schultz and Marek Zidlicky.
- Hindsight is 20/20, we should have traded Marek Zidlicky instead of extending him. He's a hot mess of a player- he just doesn't do enough on the power play (his forte) to really warrant a roster spot, much less his contract. That being said, I don't know if he even has value.
- Good to see Mike Lundin is on the mend.
- Good on Casey Wellman for his play so far in Houston; 9 goals in 14 games. He had a bad camp, and took that down with him and elevated his play. We'll see him in a Wild sweater sooner than later.
- Finally, this is out this week, but this is just too good. Also fun to see guys like Brent Flahr and Chuck Fletcher show some personality.

"It's Up To Him...But We Really Have To Look At This"

From Mike Russo's excellent piece sitting down with GM Chuck Fletcher, most of which centered around the dealings with San Jose this Summer:

Fletcher on trading Burns: "The players you could readily move, he had by far the most value. People might find this strange, but the decision actually has no reflection of what we felt about Brent Burns. It was more a reflection on the status quo had to change and we had to aggressively add a lot of young assets. To get three top assets for one at this stage of our franchise's evolution was really important."

Admitted Fletcher: "As soon as you traded Brent Burns, you know you're one day closer to looking for the next Brent Burns. You're blowing a big hole in one area to hopefully fill multiple areas of weakness knowing you're going to have to go back and address that other area again."

Fletcher will closely monitor the development of Brodin, 18, skating in Sweden, and Marco Scandella, 21, who has been arguably the Wild's best defenseman during an 8-3-3 start.

Could Scandella be that budding No. 1 or 2 defenseman to replace Burns?

"When you look at Scandella's size, skating and skill, he has the talent to be a top defenseman in this league. It's going to be up to him," Fletcher said. "If he wants it badly enough, he has a chance to be a top guy. But we have to really look at this."


Hmmm.

I don't know what to make of what Fletcher said; it almost sounds like an indictment of Marco Scandella on a couple levels. On one hand, the quote almost makes it sound like Scandella's work ethic is questioned (despite the work he put in over the Summer (see #20) and what we all saw on Becoming Wild- this is a kid who worked his ass off to improve- he seemed aware of what he had to do when it came to becoming in NHL regular, based off what I had seen and heard from him.

So what is it that Brent Burns has in his game that Scandella doesn't? I'll freefly admit that Burns is a more dynamic player and has the size, but I think Scandella, so far this season playing #1 minutes, looks to be the steadier presence and looks to have better hockey sense. Both can move the puck by pass or by rush, both can shoot the puck, both have the reach and strength to defend players on a physical level.
Ya, they aren't the same, but can effectively anchor a blueline- i.e. "horse minutes" in the same manner. But apparently there is a distinction in there somewhere- unless all of this was lip service from our GM.

This one's open for interpretation folks- what do you got?


*EDIT* And I'm an idiot.

The Patron Saint Returns!

Lost in tonight's Minnesota Wild game with the San Jose Sharks is one thing.

The Patron Saint of First Round Bust, James Sheppard, returns!


2006-2011. Never Forget.

I don't need Burns (despite what he may have said). I don't need to watch that Havlat character. Lets be honest, for a leader he disappeared for stretches and Havlat didn't really want to play for this team. But James, well you represent the combination of Havlat and Burns: someone who wanted to play here, enjoyed his time but wasn't able to reach his full potential with the Wild.

Just look at this Michael Russo tweet:
James Sheppard reuniting with #mnwiId buds by MiN locker room. Was a popular teammate

This San Jose-Minnesota game won't be the same without you James. Sp much so that with apologies to Devin Setoguchi, Dany Heatley, Burns and Havlat, I'm going to have to pass on watching tonight's game. It's just hard to care about San Jose without San Jaime.

How can you not miss Sheppard?

Oh yes, he did nothing. And continues to recover from an ATV accident. And is no longer Wild property.

Lets reiterate: no longer Wild property. That's important and I needed to get it out of my system. Whew!

Sorry but it's time to get over former Wild players and focus on the present...like this five game winning streak by the Minnesota Wild. They've played well enough where the play of the team should not be lost in the "players returning" hype train.

If someone can talk about Niklas Backstrom matching Josh Harding between the pipes against Calgary Tuesday, I'll be a happy person. How about the second line stepping up? That's an interesting topic and one which involves Guillaumne "Big Bear" Latendresse.

But no, we're stuck in the past talking about "former Wild or Shark (insert traded player)" and forgetting about a top-five team responding to a rookie coach's system. It's not like tonight's game is being played between two top-five teams.

The past is the past. It's great to enjoy the good times those players have given us but now it's time to look at the body of work the present players and teams have given.

And that should not be lost on anyone.

Your Obligatory Brent Burns Post

Biggest freaking non-story and I'm gonna write about it. Jeez.

(Getty)

Generally when there is somewhat of a "landmark" game, like when a former player returns to play with his new team, there will be some attention given to that >occasion. So yes, this is a post that will be Brent Burns-centric, not so much for the nostalgia factor, but because of his comments made today to Mark Emmons of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I want them to lose every game...You think I want them to do well?...I’ve been watching how they’ve been doing, hoping that they would lose every game, You have to be competitive to reach this level and I’m a pretty intense guy. And when a team doesn’t want you, you sure don’t want them to go 82-0...I have a lot of friends there and you want them to score six goals and lose."


There's more fodder in the Emmons blog post, including some sort of weird analogy to a country music song. It was noted that Burns was smiling the entire time, so there was no perceived bitterness, but it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to tell that he's mad about...being traded to a perennial playoff team and possible Stanley Cup contender in sunny California from a team who is finally starting to build upon a now-explicit vision.



Ok, I get it, you're kinda owly about being traded from a place you adore, a place you wanted to play your entire career. But come on Brent...do you really believe that Chuck Fletcher and his merry band of hooligans didn't want you in a Minnesota sweater? Since I never heard or read one confirmed report of the reason you were traded was because you wouldn't or couldn't be extended, I'll tell you why you are now in San Jose with your snakes and tattoos- business.

Sorry buddy, but you were the sacrificial lamb. In order for Minnesota to get better, you had to be made available to the highest bidder. And Doug Wilson, your current General Manager bid the highest- and while you probably don't care, Minnesota got quite the boatload in return, which, in a way, shows how highly Minnesota AND San Jose valued you, with all your talents and shortcomings, as a player. Its not like Chuck Fletcher gave you away for "future considerations", or put you on waivers, or buried you and your contract in some Austrian beer league.

"and when a team doesn't want you..." pfffffffffffft. What a load of sheep dip.

Guest Blog: Looking At Zack Phillips Against Russia

Editor's note: This blog written by Felix Levesque, who is best known for being the world's best Youtuber. Seriously, he has hockey plays uploaded faster than the team itself. A native of Quebec, Felix is able to watch the QMJHL and other Canadian coverage which those in the State of Hockey are unable so he has been nice enough to write a quick blurb on 2011 Wild first round pick Zack Phillips' play in the 2011 Subway Super Series.

As always, First Round Bust has an open-pulpit policy.



(Photo from zimbio.com)

Tonight was the first chapter of the 2011 Subway Super Series in Victoriaville, Quebec.

Minnesota Wild prospect Zack Phillips is playing with the QMJHL team. He played tonight and will play on Wednesday night in Quebec City.

Phillips had a good first period despite the face-off he lost leading to the eventual game winning goal for team Russia at the end of the period. Around the middle of the period, he shot the puck from an impossible angle and hit the post before hitting the Russian goaltender. Phillips didn't have any options on that play so that was the right decision. Also, he had good positioning especially during the power plays.

In the second period, Phillips had some good chances. In fact, he had a lot of chances during the game in general. Zack was on the ice when Team Russia scored their second goal of the game though.

In the the third period, he had a couple of good shifts and he made a nice hit on a Russian player. He played more physical in that period.

Zack Phillips finished the night with 0 point, 5 shots on goal and -2. Overall, he created chances most of the time he was on the ice. He was probably one of the most notable players for the QMJHL team tonight. I liked his skating and I thought it was better than the last time I saw him play last season in Quebec City. However, he definitely needs to work his face-offs and it's not only because of the first goal of the game.

Finally, another prospect who played 9 games with the Wild this season, Brett Bulmer, will also play in this series with the WHL team. He will only play one game though.

Thanks for reading my first FRB article. Hope you enjoyed it!

The Process of Belief

With last night's 2-1 victory over St. Louis, Minnesota pushed its winning streak to four games- FOUR! and moved for fourth in the Western Conference, trailing Chicago, Dallas, and the Northwest Division leading...Edmonton Oilers?!?
In this little run The Wild has going, its not like they've rolled through the Blue Jackets or Calgary- we're talking quality competition here; Vancouver, Detroit (twice, freaking Bizarro World,) and St. Louis. Make no mistake, strong goaltending from Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding is obviously been the backbone to Minnesota's success, but there are signs that The Wild are beginning to buy in.
Much like the word "compete" (which somehow became a noun) was the key word of the Todd Richards era, Mike Yeo uses the word "Process." As in, "its a process to get where we want to go as a team", or "the process of weaning Guillaume Latendresse off of poutine." Its the baby steps, the lessons learned, the programming until the desired reactions and movements become instinctive. Unfortunately for all the parties involved in these games; players, coaches, Brass, fans, Owner- there isn't a definitive timeline as to when the proverbial transmission clunks into gear. It could be five games, ten games, hell even Dan Bylsma told Mike Yeo that it could take 30 games.

Now, I'm not about to say that we're a well oiled machine at 13 games in, but there are tangible signs of progress that this team is getting it- there is belief in the process.

But what about us, the fans? There is still a heavy amount of skepticism about the team, and rightfully so- the last Head Coach was a dud (lack of talent and assets on roster and in pipeline notwithstanding) and lest we forget, we are in a sports market with very little to cheer about- Twins sucked, Wolves are locked out (they suck anyways,) The Vikings suck, and while there is some good vibes coming from a few other teams (Lynx and Gopher Hockey,) the "wait and see because I don't want my heart ripped out again" feeling permeates the sports scene in Minnesota. The tiresome feeling of being on the losing end just dominates.

Attendance numbers of 14,000+ show this; its not that we're unconvinced, its that some (namely the casual fan) just isn't ready to take that leap of faith and invest themselves in the team whole-heartedly. So when will that happen, that the process of belief becomes so that the collective imagination of the local sports fanbase is captured? There are good things going on with this hockey team, on and off the ice- does it have to become great things? The Division lead? A firm entrenchment into the playoff race? Scoring more than 2.3 goals a game? A power play that finally comes around? I mean, for me, you look at the fact that this team has lost outright just three times in the first 13 games of the season- "process" territory if there ever was such a thing, and now they're winning games outright in regulation. My opinon, however, isn't gospel.

You see the progress on the ice but sometimes it takes more- the same process of belief that comes from the fans may not be as quick to materialize tangibly, if at all.

Cal Clutterbuck Punches A Ref

It's Movember, which means that the Minnesota Wild are going to add to their usual badass selves with mustaches. The most famous mustache on display of course is Cal Clutterbuck, whose 'stache has its Twitter account with 1800 followers.

Apparently the mustache has a mind of its own because tonight against Vancouver Clutterbuck punched a referee.


Video courtesy of Felix Lavesque

While it was an accident and Maxim Lapierre ducked, it's hard to think the NHL and Brendan Shanahan will be kind to someone who punched one of their referees. We'll see what happens in the coming days but for now the State of Hockey can be content with the Wild beating the Vancouver Canucks (without Roberto Luongo) 5-1.

And that's a 5-1 win without getting a point from Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu or Devin Setoguchi. Matt Cullen scored two goals and the often invisible second line showed up for Minnesota against a sievetastic Cory Schneider.

11/4 UPDATE: According to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, Clutterbuck won't face punishment from the league.

Seven Years Ago Today

I was alerted to this by Jen (@NHLHistoryGirl) that it was seven years ago today that former Minnesota Wild player Sergei Zholtok died in Darby Hendrickson's arms in the dressing room of the arena where HC Riga, the team they played for, was playing a game.

(photo courtesy of The Third String Goalie)

For me Zholtok was one of my favorite players ever in a Minnesota Wild sweater; I thought he had great hands, and there wasn't any doubt about his importance to the team in their magical Conference Final playoff run in 2003, which still serves as the high water mark for the franchise.

It was sad to hear of his death (it broke on KFAN radio, ironically as Paul Allen and Jeff Dubay were talking to former Wild play by play guy Mike Goldberg) because of who he was to me as a fan, but also as a person because of all of the loved ones he left behind in tragic fashion.

I thought it was fitting to honor him and his memory with this post. Let's win tonight against Vancouver for Sergei Zholtok, eh boys?

RIP #33


11/2 Brett Bulmer, Mario Lucia & Zack Phillips Updates

In lieu of a full update this week, here are some quick pieces on Brett Bulmer, Mario Lucia and Zack Phillips. Obviously Wild prospects are hot right now (THN agrees - just look at the top two names) and if you want the full stats check out the latest Wild.com prospect report.

Brett Bulmer was returned to Kelowna this week and while First Round Bust and other blogs and papers (HW, Wild Nation, Russo)commented on the strange events (Bulmer playing nine games before being scratched and sent down so the first year of his ELC wouldn't start), Regan Bartel was able to talk to the man himself.

The post is an audio interview and it sounds like Bulmer says all the right things and is now looking forward to trying to make Team Canada's World Juniors team. He's happy with the opportunity the Wild gave him and enjoyed every game. However, Bulmer was shocked with being sent down.

"I was playing really good hockey," Bulmer said. "I thought things would work out, I might get back in the lineup. It's hard when there's only nine games to make a decision."


Speaking of making Team Canada's World Junior team, Zack Phillips is looking to make his own bid for the squad. With 25 points in 14 games for Saint John, the 19 year-old would be a worthy pick.

And finally, Mario Lucia made the US squad for the World Junior A challenge November 7th - November 13th after a terrific start (10G-19A in 14 games) to his Penticton Vees career. Chris Peters, former PR guy for USA Hockey who runs the terrific United States of Hockey blog, wrote on Lucia's inclusion and his forthcoming leadership role.

Mario Lucia, the Minnesota Wild second-round pick and son of University of Minnesota Head coach Don Lucia, is likely the headliner of the forward group. He’s one of two players from the BCHL to make the U.S. club (Mike Reilly is the other).

Lucia has lit up the BCHL, and sits second in the league with 29 points in just 14 games for the Penticton Vees. He could be a focal point of Team USA’s offense with his great size and developing skill.


It should be interesting to see how Lucia fares in international competition. The Notre Dame commit did have a brief stint with the US Under-18 development program last season but doesn't have much experience on that end (unless being an American playing in Canada counts).

Mikko Koivu Kronwalling Niklas Kronwall

One thing to take from the Wild's remarkable come-from-behind 2-1 overtime win is the third period play of Mikko Koivu. After being snakebitten for most of the first eleven games, the Minnesota captain put the team on his shoulders (after the Wild played somewhere between struggling and abysmal for 58 minutes)and tipped in the tying goal with a minute left.

Of course, one goal wasn't enough for Kaptain Koivu - he needed blood. From Felix Levesque:



Now it's safe to say Koivu's hit overshadowed Devin Setoguchi's game winning goal. Some say it's dirty, some say it's interference and Justin Timberlake says "what comes around goes around."

Now is it dirty? No. Here's the impact pic courtesy of First Round Bust writer Dan Shrader:
Koivu/Kronwall moment of impact. Mikko flattened him with his... on Twitpic
Click on picture for larger image

Was it interference? No. It's a puck battle between two players and one Mikko Koivu won. He was able to protect himself and the puck by initiating contact with Kronwall and it paid off for the Minnesota Wild.

Did Kronwall, who signed a $33.25 million, 7-year contract yesterday, deserve the hit as karma? Probably not.

Don't get me wrong, Niklas Kronwall is known for those types of hits...



...but hockey's a physical game and no one should know that better than Kronwall. Next time he'll watch out for being Koivued.

Shanaban's Slippery Slope

As an introduction, I have to state that I have no pony in this show. Andy Sutton plays for the Edmonton Oilers and Landeskog plays for the Avalanche. Two teams in the Wild's division and two teams which I would prefer to fall from their current position in the standings.

During Brendan Shanahan's video explanation of Sutton's suspension, he said the following statement;
"Although Sutton is not a repeat offender as defined by the CBA, we can't ignore his history of illegal hits."
Actually, Mr. Shanahan, not only can you ignore the history, but by the rules of the CBA, you should ignore the history.

Andy Sutton was last suspended in October of 2005, six years ago.

From the Collective Bargaining Agreement on the definitions of "repeat offenders":
Article 18.3c:
Status as a "first" or "repeat" offender shall be re-determined every eighteen (18) months, on a rolling basis, i.e., where a Player does not have another suspension for eighteen (18) months, his next suspension will be treated as a "first" offense.

Exhibit 8
Section 1;
A recipient of such a fine will not be treated as a "repeat" offender for disciplinary suspension purposes. However, such a disciplinary fine will carry consequences for the balance of that season. Any further discipline imposed in that season will take into account the offense for which the Player has been fined.

Section 5d:
Status as a "first" or "repeat" offender shall be re-determined every eighteen (18) months. For example, where a Player is suspended for the first time, he is a repeat offender if he is suspended again within eighteen (18) months of the first incident.

If he is not suspended a second time within this eighteen (18) month period, he will no
longer be treated as a repeat offender for disciplinary purposes;

In case you forgot what Mr. Shanahan stated in his video explanation:
"Although Sutton is not a repeat offender as defined by the CBA, we can't ignore his history of illegal hits."

With this Sutton suspension being treated as if he were a repeat offender, the League has added more ammunition for the Players Association arguments in the next CBA negotiations.

For the most part, I have agreed with every suspension that Shanahan has handed out. As a Wild fan, I even agreed with giving Bouchard two games for his high stick incident. Bouchard basically set his own table by stating that it was his intent to slash at the hands. He basically said to the League that he intended to slash and cause harm. If Pierre Marc Bouchard would not have admitted to that during his initial hearing, I imagine there wouldn't have been a suspension at all.

For James Wisniewski, his suspension for two games was not for an illegal hit, however this would be a grey area because technically, it resets the 18 month repeat offender clock. His head hunting hit in April of 2010 was just over the 18 month mark, but again, his two game suspension in October of that same year would have reset his clock. The language is vague enough where if I were arguing it, the type of suspension wouldn't really matter.

I love this game and I don't want to see another lockout. The way that the league has been handling discipline pre-Shanahan, was already a sticking point for the Players Association. Now that there have been questionable called in the Shanahan era, the Players Association has a lot more ammunition to hold their ground on the topic of an independent discipline board.

If the NHL fights the union on this?

It could very well spell another NHL lockout.

This sport has just recently fully recovered from the last lockout. It absolutely cannot have another.

6 Things We Can Take Away From Minnesota's October



It's November (or Movember for those fighting against prostate cancer like our old friend Erik Nystrom)and almost a month into the season. There's still plenty of hockey to be played and the pages of the season remain be to written, but there are a few things to take away from the first ten games.

1. We are who we thought we were
So far Minnesota has played to expectations. The Wild have been inconsistent beating some good teams, losing to some bad teams and not knowing what effort the team will give on a game-by-game basis. The defense, which after losing Brent Burns was considered to be the weak link of the team, has been shaky at times and shows the lack of depth on the blue line. And the offense has been struggling to score goals with the worst goals per game in the league (at 1.90).

That's to be expected by a team which came into the year with question marks on the blue line and at best sneaks into the playoffs. While the offense needs to step up, there's a lot of new pieces and speaking of a lot of new pieces...

2. Chemistry takes time *cough* Mikko Koivu *cough*
One of the assumptions this off-season was that the acquisitions of talented scorers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi would finally allow captain Mikko Koivu to break out. After spending most of the last few years with Andrew Brunette and Antii Miettinen, this is his chance to show his talent with real first liners (sorry 2010 Bruno). That hasn't been the case so far as the captain hasn't scored a goal this season (or in the last eight games of last season) and has had issues being on the same page with Heatley.

Despite the three having some good preseason games, there were signs that Koivu was forcing plays and in fact Dan and I were commenting on the number of giveaways and bad no-look passes Mikko was doing against Columbus (when the Setoguchi-Koivu-Heatley line scored eight points).

On one hand, the top line's start is alarming because the importance of having a top-six who can score more than last year is one of the keys to the Wild's success. It would also mean we're paying a captain top money despite being proven twice (with Martin Havlat being the first) to be unable to center and improve the play of elite players. On the other, it's a limited sample size. As Mikko Koivu becomes more comfortable with his linemates, the play of the three (or two if Setoguchi continues to play with the second line) picks up.

We've seen some positive signs in the last couple games but needless to say, the next month will be important.

3. Goaltending is not an issue
As bad as the defense has been at times, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding have been a rock between the pipes for the Minnesota Wild in October. Backstrom has made some amazing saves off of bad giveaways and Harding is second in the NHL with a .961 save percentage. Hell, Backstrom has even won shootouts this season!

Regardless, it's easy to get down on goaltending due to the number of goals given up, soft goals or even Backstrom's contract size. Bias aside, the fact remains that for a team which has been depending on defense to make up for the least amount of goals, Backstrom has been on par with Ryan Miller and Cam Ward with goals given up.

3a. Josh Harding can only play against Detroit
I don't know if it's in his contract but Josh Harding apparently can only play against Detroit. His only two appearances this season have been against the Red Wings and his last regular season appearance in the 2009-2010 season was also against Detroit.

The bad news: Minnesota plays Detroit tonight but only have one more game against the Red Wings this season. Obviously Harding's play this season creates discussion for a "goalie controversy" (it always does) but at the very least two good goalies are better than none.

4. Where art thou Marek Zidlicky?
Before the season, my big thought on the defense was that it would live and die with Marek Zidlicky. Zidlicky, the offensive defenseman who has scored 40+ points 3 consecutive seasons before missing half of last season, seemed to be the player who would step up in minutes and defensive play. If anything, he's been more of a liability despite leading the team in TOI with 23:09.

No one would ever mistake Zidlicky with a shutdown defenseman but his defensive play seems to be getting worse. For a player who should leading by example, it feels like at least once or twice a game he gets beaten badly or gives away the puck. Other players have the same issues but when it also affects his strengths and Zidlicky's on the ice more than anyone there is a problem.

Here's a scary thought: Zidlicky is tied for the lead in points by a defenseman with Jared Spurgeon. Both have 2 points. Two! And if that's not enough, Nick Leddy has 7 points in 11 games (which would be tied with Dany Heatley for the Wild team lead...that's how bad the team has been with scoring).

Basically if the team is going to live and die with Zidlicky, he better improve in November or this is going to be a long season. When an offensive defenseman isn't adding to the scoring - his play on the man advantage has been abysmal with controlling the puck and creating offense (in fact he's being replaced on the first PP unit) - he better be doing something else to help the Wild out.

5. All these overtime games are a good signs

Although Minnesota has been frustrating at times under new coach Mike Yeo, there are some positive things to take away from the team. One of the most important is the amount of times Minnesota has spent in overtime - half of the Wild's ten games have gone past sixty minutes.

In many cases, the team has not given up and found ways to keep themselves in games. There's no better example than Dany Heatley scoring with less than a second left against Edmonton and then the Wild winning in a shootout. It's easy to say that neither of those two things would have happened last year and honestly it's a bad sign when you're amazed at Minnesota's 2-1 shootout record. Throwing in overtime losses to elite teams like Vancouver and Detroit these extra points and experiences will pay off as the Wild become more and more acclimated with the Yeo system.

Then again, they have blown 3 third period leads.

6. Youth Is Not Yet Served
Dan touched on this yesterday but it goes without saying that General Manager Chuck Fletcher made the right choice in sending back Brett Bulmer to Kelowna. Despite all the talk over the summer and the anxious awaiting of "Finnish Baby Jesus" Mikael Granlund, this year's team is not about the future. The waiver wire pickup and play of Nick Johnson should go to show that.

Other than Marco Scandella, no other top prospect has a chance to impact the roster and that even extends to some of the middling prospects. Casey Wellman came into the Wild pipeline with a lot of hype but is blocked by Johnson, Brad Staubitz, Darrol Powe and others. Their time will come - it's great to see the Wild picking up depth for the eventual injuries of an 82 game season - and making players earn their spots on the team is the way to go.

Although some players holding spots on the team will not be around by this time next season, the more the organization can get away from using short-term fixes at the expense of long-term gains, the better.