NHL interest no longer slim [UPDATED]Published 8:30am Monday, July 9, 2012 Updated 12:32pm Monday, July 9, 2012
I haven’t been the biggest hockey fan over the years.
On one of the hottest July 4 holidays we’ve had in some time, I became one.
Despite playing it until pee wees (first year checking was allowed, shortest player on the team, you figure it out), hockey has always taken a back seat to other sports – basketball, football, baseball, golf – when it came to watching them on television and in person.
As a lifelong Minnesota resident – it was once said by someone in the South that I sound like I haven’t left the border – I certainly have tried. I’ve seen the movie “Slapshot” a few times (a must-watch, even for non-hockey fans). In recent years, I have played my share of “huff and puff” hockey at the Fergus Falls rink. I even went as far as buying season tickets to the St. Cloud State University Huskies with my buddy while attending there.
Of course, I know the rudimentary stuff. There are five guys trying to shoot the puck into the net. If one player scores three goals, they call it a hat trick. The puck has to cross the blue line before any offensive players can, or they call offsides.
But I have to tell you, on some of the finer points of hockey, I’m lost.
Terms such as “playing the point,” “backchecking” and “the neutral zone trap” are foreign to me in that if such things happen during the game, I wouldn’t know it.
I also have a hard time distinguishing between the really, really good players in the NHL (Pittsburgh’s Sydney Crosby and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin, according to a web site) and the average ones.
Oh sure, if one of those guys makes a breathtaking move that makes it on ESPN, I’ll notice it. But it’s not like those guys make such moves all the time.
So with the exception of a couple of playoff runs by the North Stars and Wild, and a decent amount of college hockey, puck for me has been more of a passing interest (as in, stop my remote control on a hockey game for a few seconds, and then move on to the next channel).
All of that said, I was still excited when the Wild signed wing Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to identical $98 million contracts Wednesday.
As a lay person, on the list I found of the top 50 NHL players, the Wild previously had no players on it (although another listed center Mikko Koivu and wing Danny Heatley on it). Parise and Suter are both on the list, which means they are likely automatically the Wild’s two best players.
In addition, the Wild had three prospects – center Michael Granlund, winger Charlie Coyle and defenseman Jonas Brodin – among the top 30 in the NHL. The Wild also have three above average goalies in Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding and prospect Matt Hackett.
What all this means is that, barring injuries or unforeseen circumstances, the Wild have overnight gone from a team that has failed to reach the playoffs (a relatively easy thing in the NHL) since 2003 to one which should be competing for a Stanley Cup for many years.
Between the Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, and Gopher football and basketball teams, Minnesota sports fans have been living in loserville a long time. We need something. So if the Wild turn out to be as good on the ice as they are on paper, those of you hockey fans who know a neutral zone trap when you see it are going to have to accept that, this year, you will be joined by a bunch of greenhorns.
I count myself among them.
Joel Myhre is The Journal’s publisher. Email him at email@example.com