Myers: Wild fans finally get chance to overdose on fun in season opener
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Having spent all of his pro hockey career, until now, on the East Coast, opportunities for Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise to see his alma mater, the University of North Dakota, play hockey have been few. So one might have thought he wouldd be in attendance at Mariucci Arena on Friday when his old team came to town for its last WCHA series versus the Gophers.
Instead, Parise spent the night before the Wild opener at home, getting some extra rest in preparation for the 48-game grind of an NHL season that began on Saturday night. It may be a long time before peace, quiet and extra rest are again part of the lexicon for Wild fans.
On his first shift for his hometown team, Parise tipped a shot by Jared Spurgeon that almost eluded Colorado Avalanche goalie. On the game's next shift, Colorado scored, and so dominated the first period that by all rights, the visitors should have had a 3-0 lead or worse.
In retrospect, let's consider that first 20 minutes the "preseason" in this abbreviated campaign that has featured precious little time to prep. Because after that early hiccup, stuff got real for the Wild in a 4-2 victory.
"It was awesome," Parise said, of finally working toward fulfillment of his 13-year, $98 million contract, for his hometown team, before an army of Minnesota fans. "It was electric right at the beginning of the game and then unfortunately in the first period, we didn't give them much to cheer about. But then once we broke through and understood the way we need to play, it really got fun."
The Avalanche, after doing so much good work for 20 minutes, decided to explore the Xcel Energy Center's penalty box in the middle period.
"We knew this was going to be a tough building to come play in, especially with the hype in the offseason," said Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, the former Gopher who spent much of the lockout skating with Parise and others in Minneapolis and the western suburbs. "We (quieted the crowd) in the first but got in some penalty trouble in the second that ultimately did us in."
The Avalanche notched a dozen penalty minutes in the second period. The Wild's top power play unit - Parise, Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu up top, Ryan Suter and forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard on the blue line - took that as their cue.
Twice, Parise got loose in the corner, feeding pucks to Heatley, who was camped at the top of the crease, and who quickly got them past the Colorado goalie. It was then that six months of stored-up emotion began to erupt.
"This was a long time coming, this game," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "With the summer that we had and the excitement that's been around here, it was real nice to get a win for our fans tonight. They were instrumental. We weren't giving them much to cheer about early, but once we did the place was rocking."
By the time it was over, normally monumental achievements, like prized Finnish rookie Mikael Granlund scoring his first NHL goal, or Bouchard getting the capper after two years of concussion-related misery, were all but forgotten. As they are apt to do all season, Parise and Suter, controlled the game, and will control the headlines.
Suter played 27 minutes. Parise had eight shots on goal. The Wild won, and are 1-0 in this sprint to the playoffs.
"I was smiling the day we signed these guys, and I'm still smiling," said Heatley. "They've added a huge element to our team."
It's one game. There are 47 more to play before the playoffs begin. And aside from several thousand Wild fans, ESPN analyst Barry Melrose is about the only hockey expert of any renown that has picked this team for the Stanley Cup Finals. But if Saturday is any indication, it could be an entertaining ride.