While ice hockey went dormant in Minnesota for 7 years in the 90s after the North Stars moved away (which is quite shocking really), the wonderful game returned in the new millennium with the creation of the Minnesota Wild! Beginning play in 2000, the Wild have delighted the fans in St. Paul as well as the entire state. Though they’ve had to endure many of the struggles and hardships that typically encompass the early years of any NHL expansion franchise, it seems as if the current team has turned a corner and is well poised for success in the future. Who knows, the Wild might be winning a Stanley Cup sooner rather than later…
But in the early years, the hopes of the team fell upon the skates of Marian Gaborik, a talented right winger from Slovakia, whom the Wild selected with their first draft pick. In the 8 seasons in which he played for Minnesota, Gaborik became the team’s all-time leading goal scorer and was responsible for many of the bright memories of the team’s early years.
The first true success for the Wild came in just their third season, 2002-2003. They finished 3rd in the Northwestern division thanks to Gaborik and Andrew Brunette and earned a trip to the NHL Playoffs. There, they performed marvelously beyond expectations, winning thrilling series against the Colorado Avalanche and the Vancouver Canucks, recovering from early 3-1 deficits to win both times in 7 games! However, the Stanley Cup dream would fall short in the conference finals with a sweep by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
That tremendous playoff run has yet to be repeated, and the Minnesota Wild has unfortunately been a perennially average hockey team ever since. Disrupted by several key player holdouts and a NHL player strike in 2004, the team was unable to build on their early success and have had to struggle in earning wins.
Nevertheless, there were playoff appearances in 2007 and 2008. 2008 was an especially good season for the Wild as they finished atop the Northwest division for their first division title! Key players that year included Gaborik, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Brian Rolston. Unfortunately, a first round exit would end the season in disappointment.
Gaborik would eventually leave the Wild, and the team suffered 4 seasons without a postseason appearance. But that would change in 2013, and it bodes very well for the team’s future. Behind Koivu, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Matt Cullen, Minnesota finished second in their division and returned to the playoffs. In 2014, the Wild snuck into the playoffs as a wildcard team and were bolstered by the veteran leadership of Jason Pominville. They managed to win a first-round playoff series but eventually fell to the Chicago Blackhawks, the premier team of the Western Conference.
The Minnesota Wild now seem well poised to contend for the Stanley Cup in the upcoming years. Their core is both experienced and talented, and they added another solid player in Thomas Vanek this offseason. While any hockey season is still a grind, there is definitely reason for optimism that this latest hockey franchise in Minnesota is ready to start contending for a Stanley Cup title!
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