Greatness Begins Young
Hey hockey fans. It’s damn-near the middle of summer in Minnesota and there has been a boat-load of hockey happenings in the State of Hockey recently. Where to start?
“Cool” news from USA Hockey last week as they announced that Minnesota has broken the state and national record in late June for the number of registered 8U hockey players this year. Over 19,000 kids between the ages of 5-8 are set to begin hockey later this summer, including 5,448 girls (also a state record). Of those 19,000+ kids, an amazing 7,912 will be hitting the ice for the very first time.
Overall, 58,666 boys and girls will be playing hockey this season in the State of Hockey. That number represents more than 1% of the entire population of Minnesota. More than one percent of the 5.6 million residents are ages 5-8, and are playing hockey. That is ridiculously awesome. You know there will be future NHL and PHF starts will be starting their hockey career this summer right here, in the Land of 10,000 Ice Rinks.
Minnesota Whitecaps Gearing Up For Another Great Season
The Whitecaps have recently signed and re-signed many players as they prepare for another season of PHF hockey. Notable signings as of late are two-time Goaltender of the Year, Amanda Leveille, former Minnesota Gopher, Olivia Knowles, Chechnian Olympian, Denisa Krizova and All-Star, Jonna Curtis – who, by the way, married over the summer!! Congratulations to Jonna and her new hubby!! The Whitecaps are a fun team to watch, if you haven’t seen them. The beautiful Tria Rink, which is also the practice facility of the Minnesota Wild, sits high above downtown St. Paul on the fifth floor with big ol’ picture windows to peer out of in between periods, unless of course you just want to watch the Zambonis circle the ice, which would be understandable as well.
Kaprizov Future Uncertain, Trades, Re-signings, and more Wild News
Well, it has been a busy summer already for GM Bill Guerin and the Wild. As expected with the foreseen salary cap crunch, Kevin Fiala was an offseason casualty and was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in late June. Fiala was a fan favorite in Minnesota, but with other needs and a promising core of young forwards, it was most likely decided long ago, that this was his last season in Minnesota. He quickly signed a new contract with the Kings for seven years and just north of $55 million, including a $16 million signing bonus.
Disturbing and frightening news out from Russia, as Wild star, Kirill Kaprizov is wanted in his home country of Russia for allegedly buying a fake military I.D. in 2017. Kaprizov has since tried to enter the United States and has been denied, due to not having a work visa. Other players have met the same obstacles, now that the waiver for work visas into the U.S. during COVID-19 has expired. However, of primary concern is the safety of Kaprizov and others including Ivan Fedotov, who recently signed with the Philadelphia Flyers and is now being held at a Russian naval base in northern Russia.
As for Kaprizov, he tried entering the U.S. via Dubai and the Caribbean Islands and was denied both times. You never know what the hell the Russian government will do, but all we can do and pray for at this point is a peaceful resolution for every Russian player and that the war with Ukraine will come to an end soon.
If the situation with Kaprizov wasn’t enough for Wild Bill, he also negotiated a new contract with defenseman, Jake Middleton this week for three years and $7.35 million. Middleton was acquired last season in the Kaapo Kahkonen trade with the San Jose Sharks. He is a solid blue-liner and he already had Minnesota ties with his fiancé, who is a licensed nurse in the state. Known for his impressive moustache and a couple of missing front teeth on display with his big smile, Middleton is a hard-nosed defenseman on the ice, a great teammate in the locker room and a fun guy to follow for fans.
Last re-signing for now of course, is The Flower (a.k.a. Marc-Andre Fleury.) Perhaps Bill Guerin talked Fleury into a pal/former teammate discount, as The Flower re-signed with the Wild this week for two years, $7 million. Guerin said at the beginning of the offseason that he wanted Fleury and co-goalie, Cam Talbot back next year and his wish has now come true. However, it will be interesting to see how the Fleury/Talbot relationship develops over the course of the upcoming season, the last of which in Talbot’s contract.
After Talbot’s agent, George Bazos heard of the Fleury re-signing, he told Pierre LeBrun of TSN that “Billy has a lot to think about” in terms of Talbot’s future with the Wild. Guerin responded in a “not-so-Minnesota-nice” way with this little ditty, as reported by Michael Russo.
I mean, Guerin isn’t wrong. However, I hope this doesn’t affect the locker room when the season rolls around. Perhaps, Talbot will hold out or request a trade, if he hasn’t already. I would be stunned if he doesn’t request a trade, if he hasn’t already. I can’t really blame him for being mad. He was 32-12-4, with a 2.72 GAA last year. Respectable numbers for a starter, but he obviously wasn’t the number one goalie going into the playoffs last year. He is not going to want to sit behind Fleury as a backup this season. It goes without saying that Guerin isn’t going to let an agent bully him around and Talbot may not be able to either. More to be seen on this situation in the coming weeks and months.
The NHL Draft
As nine native Minnesotans were drafted in the 2022 NHL Draft on Thursday night, the Wild were busy in their own camp. In the trade for Kevin Fiala, the Wild got back former Minnesota Gopher, Brock Faber and the 19th pick in this year’s draft. With that pick, the Wild chose forward, Liam Ohgren from Sweden. While he doesn’t have amazing speed, he does have a sick wrister. In 69 games played last year in two European leagues, he had 45 goals and 43 assists (and a Plus/Minus of +49). He also tallied just 16 PIM, so he knows that staying out of the penalty box will help him boost his stats.
The Wild’s second choice in the first round at number 24, was Danila Yurov, a forward from Russia. There was legit concern and wonderment about how the events in Russia regarding Kirill Kaprizov and other players would affect the draft and its Russian stars. So many great things have been said about this kid and even comparisons to Nikita Kucherov, which is pretty good company. The only possible drawback was that he didn’t get a lot of playing time in the MHL or KHL leagues last year. Hopefully, he is able to get to the states and play some hockey in Des Moines soon.
The remaining draft picks for the Wild were as follows:
- Hunter Haight, forward from Canada chosen 47th
- Rieger Lorenz, forward from Canada chosen 56th
- Michael Milne, forward from Canada chosen 89th
- Ryan Healey, defenseman from the USA chosen 121st
- David Spacek, defenseman from the USA chosen 153rd
- and Servac Petrovsky, forward from Slovakia chosen 185th
Overall, I would say the Wild had a pretty decent draft this year and it will remain to be seen how the new guys adapt to the NHL. I’m excited to see Brock Faber return to the State of Hockey. Middleton and The Flower are back. Kaprizov though, you gotta feel for the guy. Not just from a hockey perspective, but everything. Having family at home in Russia, being targeted by the government for some lame excuse about fake military IDs, not being able to come into the U.S. Everything. Prayers to all.
Cripes!! This article is a long one (that’s what she said), but it has been a while. I apologize for my recent radio silence, if you will. Between family, my career and college, I’ve been a very busy little bee. However, two weeks left of summer semester and you know I will be talking hockey more after that!!! If there are any further developments during that time regarding Kirill “The Thrill”, you know I will pass that news onto you. Until then, stay cool Minnesota. Only 75 more days until fall is here. I’m out.