Dane Mizutani / St. Paul Pioneer Press
ST. PAUL -- There have been flashes of brilliance. No doubt about that. It’s so obvious that Wild winger Kevin Fiala, at the ripe age of 22, boasts a skill set most common folk can only dream of. He can carry the puck like a yo-yo through the neutral zone and just as quickly unleash a blistering wrist shot that even the best goaltenders would struggle to stop. His biggest weakness? He’s constantly doing too much when he has the puck on his stick.
RALEIGH, N.C. — A couple of months ago, Wild general manager Paul Fenton put everyone in the locker room on notice, flipping fan favorite Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes for Victor Rask, straight up. “We are looking for consistency,” Fenton said at the time. “It shows players that nothing is forever. It gives them an alert that if they want to be here, they’re going to have to play and play the way we want them to play and be successful.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Matt Read woke up in Tucson, Ariz. Thursday, March 21, ready for a game as a member of the Iowa Wild later that night. Then his phone rang. Just like that, Read, a former star at Bemidji State, was headed to the airport to meet up with the Minnesota Wild in the nation’s capital. He had been recalled under emergency conditions in advance of Friday night’s game against the Washington Capitals.
MINNEAPOLIS -- It’s hard to believe that longtime Gophers women’s hockey coach Brad Frost is a couple of favorable breaks away from still being a P.E. teacher in the Twin Cities suburbs. What’s even harder to believe? He says he would be perfectly content if that was his reality right now. “No doubt,” said Frost, whose first job out of college was as a physical education teacher at Northview Elementary School in Eagan. “That was great for me. I was living my dream. I didn’t realize that coaching at a level like this was even something that was possible.”
ST. PAUL -- Jason Zucker lamented his missed opportunities following a frustrating 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, March 19. He replayed each moment in his mind after the game, recalling some of the most minute details. There was the backhander he sent wide left with a yawning cage in front of him. “In the moment I’m thinking there’s no way I can go to my forehand,” Zucker said. “Maybe I could have.”
ST. PAUL -- Not long after the puck squirted past him in overtime in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament last weekend, Gophers goaltender Mat Robson sat quietly in the locker room, perhaps realizing to himself that it was the last time. As a highly coveted collegiate free agent, Robson has been courted by NHL teams all season, trying his best to keep all that talk on the back burner.
ST. PAUL -- It’s uncanny how Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon always seems to find a way to stand out. Though the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Spurgeon is one of the smallest players on the team, he’s one of the biggest in terms of impact. You could make a legitimate case that Spurgeon has been the team’s MVP this season, netting a career-high 14 goals and dishing out 27 assists, while serving as a stabilizing force on the blue line.
ST. PAUL -- Let’s just say if the Minnesota Wild make the playoffs at the end of what figures to be a sprint to the finish line, they will have earned their spot. They entered the weekend three points behind the Arizona Coyotes and two points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche in the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot. In other words, the Wild had some work to do over with 11 games left in the season, including Saturday’s contest against the New York Rangers.
MINNEAPOLIS -- There’s a tattered piece of white tape in the bowels of Ridder Arena. It has worn out over time, and remnants of the leftover adhesive are now more visible than anything else. What’s left is a subtle reminder to the members of the Gophers women’s hockey team before they step onto the ice. “We leave all the crap that we have to deal with back in the locker room,” senior winger Taylor Williamson said. “As soon as we step over that piece of white tape, it’s about having fun and choosing joy, as (assistant coach Joel Johnson) always says.”
EAGAN, Minn. -- After what general manager Rick Spielman called a one-year vacation, defensive tackle Shamar Stephen is back with the Vikings. Both sides agreed to a three-year, $12.45 million deal on the opening day of the NFL’s legal tampering period. “We used to call him ‘The Big Fundamental’ when he was here because he did everything right,” coach Mike Zimmer said, giddy about getting Stephen back in the mix. “He worked hard. He helped in the running game. He worked every single day on his craft of trying to rush the passer.”