Myers: Wild still searching for the next Dino
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- We didn't see any inflatable dinosaurs at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday night, but that didn't make the ovation for Dino Ciccarelli any less sincere. Perhaps the biggest star of the Minnesota North Stars' 26-year run in Bloomington was on hand to be honored by the Minnesota Wild and by many of the fans that cheered him on for nine of the 19 seasons he spent in the NHL.
Ciccarelli was an undrafted rookie in the spring of 1981, when the forward captured the hearts of Minnesota hockey fans, averaging more than a point per game in the playoffs as the North Stars made their first run to the Stanley Cup Finals. And because he had the same first name as the Flintstone family's pet brontosaurus, inflatable "Dino the Dinosaur" toys were all the rage at Met Center and throughout the Twin Cities that spring.
He retired more than a decade ago, making stops in Washington, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Florida before hanging up the blades with 608 NHL goals to his credit. It's often said that none of those goals came from more than eight feet from the net, as Ciccarelli was known for hanging around "bloody nose alley" and paying a physical price for finding the back of the net. Earlier this year, Ciccarelli was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and on this cold winter's night in St. Paul, he donned the green number 20 sweater of the North Stars one more time, and briefly reunited with native Minnesotan linemates Neal Broten and Scott Bjugstad to receive another hearty round of applause.
For fans old enough to remember the magical spring of '81, Ciccarelli's appearance on Thursday was bittersweet. It felt great to have their one-time hero back at the rink, and it served as a reminder that since Dino left Minnesota in 1989, they've been searching in vain for the next great offensive star in this market.
Martin Havlat showed flashes on the ice Thursday, setting up a nice goal and making a few nifty rushes to the Ottawa Senators' net, but we're coming to learn that occasional, not consistent, brilliance is Havlat's game. For lack of enough offensive punch or a true offensive star in the mold of Ciccarelli on this night, the Wild fell 3-1 at the hands of the Senators, and have now won just one of the past six home games.
The Wild led 1-0 after the first period, which was a "good news, bad news" situation of sorts. Yes, they were happy to have a lead, but with Ottawa taking three penalties in the first 20 minutes and playing some amazingly sluggish hockey, the Wild had failed to build a much bigger advantage on the scoreboard.
"You look back at the game and the missed opportunities," Wild coach Todd Richards said. "Maybe if you can come out of the first at 2-0 or 3-0, but it didn't work out that way. Then in the end, we got what we deserved."
And once again, the Wild spent much of the last period trailing by a goal, looking for that offensive hero to tie the game, and failing to find him once again. After the game, Richards fondly recalled being a kid during the height of Ciccarelli's popularity.
"Being a Minnesotan and a big North Star fan, you love watching the players you remember get honored like this," Richards said.
Mike Modano was supposed to be the next Dino - a pure scorer that captures the hearts of Minnesota hockey fans. And he would have been had he, and the franchise not bolted for Dallas in 1993. The first and probably only Dino-like figure the Wild has produced is Marian Gaborik, but like Havlat, his flashes of offensive brilliance were tempered by long stretches when he was injured or otherwise ineffective, before he bolted for a lucrative deal with the New York Rangers.
So on Thursday the fans cheered for Ciccarelli, then waited in vain for another goal scorer to bring them to their feet. That mystery man did not arrive, and the Wild fell a little further back in the race for the playoffs.
Jokingly, Richards was asked if he considered getting a stick and jersey for Ciccarelli in the third period to try to give his team a spark.
"I hadn't thought of that," the coach said. "That's a good thought."