This past Sunday brought hockey outdoors in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After a winning sweep through western Canada, the Minnesota Wild were set to host the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, Chicago Blackhawks. This game was the first true test under new interim coach John Torchetti, who was appointed after the firing of head coach Mike Yeo over a week ago.
The Wild scored early and often, leading them to a 6-1 win over Chicago. Obviously, the Blackhawks didn’t play their type of game, considering they are in a fight for first place in the Central Division with the Dallas Stars. Jason Pominville became the star of the night, netting one goal and dishing out two assists. Pominville has been everything but a star up until now. He only scored one goal in his first 21 games this year and went without any goals for 16 straight games in December. But, since the firing of Coach Yeo, he’s put up two goals and an assist through the first three games. If he continues this kind of play, he could land himself an extension for the coming years, with only three remaining on his current contract. Pominville came to the Wild from Buffalo in 2013. Nino Niederreiter also had a good game with a goal and an assist to help the Wild’s effort. And I can’t forget about Goalie Devan Dubnyk, who had 31 saves in the great win.
The Blackhawks came into Sunday’s game on a two game win streak hoping to extend it. It just didn’t seem like they were ready for the fight, as they never really caught up to the Wild’s play throughout the game. This one game shouldn’t be too much of a worry for Chicago, who is in the playoff picture. They created cap space after waiving Rob Scuderi last week in hopes of signing a scoring winger on the left side.
As for the overall end of season picture for each of these teams, they’re still both in it. As I mentioned, Chicago is atop the Central division with 81 points, with Dallas only trailing by one point in second. The top three teams in that division are only separated by a total of two points right now. They have a tough schedule going forward, having to face Detroit twice and Dallas twice, games that have potential to speak volumes to Chicago’s future. As for Minnesota, they look to pick up a couple of wins back to back against Florida and Washington before the month’s end. They only sit two points out of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
Lastly, personally I am a huge fan of the Stadium Series as well as the Winter Classic that the NHL has put together. It is taking the players out of their element and outdoors where anything can happen. The league is taking it back to where hockey started. If anyone hasn’t played pond hockey as a kid, you haven’t lived. So many of these professionals started on the pond in the elements. It didn’t matter if it snowed or the ice was a bit soft or it was simply too cold. You could always find people out there playing the game they love. For the NHL on the other hand, it is probably one of the best marketing strategies they have had in recent history. There have only been two stadium series games, one happened to be this past Sunday, that haven’t sold out. Mix a stadium game with a great NHL rival matchup and you’ve set the stage for a great night. I’m looking forward to this weekend’s matchup between Colorado and Detroit at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado.