The 4th of July was a great day for hockey in Minnesota. The Wild's signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter is a great thing for The State of Hockey, whether you're a fan of the Wild, Gophers, one of the other 4 D1 programs, or just hockey in general. It's an opportunity for increased exposure to this wonderful game for more Minnesotans and, hopefully, for the media as well. More people talking and interested in Parise and Suter and the Wild absolutely trickles down to interest in the Gophers- as long as they win. Which shouldn't be a problem when you're (supposed to be) "the Yankees of College Hockey", but nonetheless the opportunity is here.
I will say though, as excited as I am for that signing, it still stings a bit- yeah we brought home a home-grown MInnesotan in Parise and one of the NHL's best defenseman (whose wife is from Bloomington dontchaknow!), but let's call it what it is- we have to get excited, and cheer for, a
Sioux AND a Badger?!?! Come on! If someone could explain this to me- and I'm being serious here- on how Parise, who was born and raised in Minnesota and played his high school hockey at Shattuck's, ended up in Grand-Fing-Forks, it'd be appreciated. I mean Suter I get- he's from Madison, and his dad Bob (who was on the 1980 Miracle on Ice team) and his uncle Gary (a long-time NHLer. I remember as a kid him winning a Cup with the Calgary Flames) went there before him and Ryan only stayed a year in college hockey anyway. That makes sense.
But Zach to North Dakota? I thought maybe his dad had gone there, but nope, JP played juniors in the OHL. So not sure how or why it happened, but it makes it a little bittersweet knowing that under that Wild sweater is a black heart with an outlawed
Fighting Sioux logo. F***ing UND. At least the Gophers beat them in the NCAA tourney. Remember that? That was fun.
Anyway, my bitterness- and their terrible choice of where to play college hockey- aside, the signing, and hopeful/pending success that Parise and Suter brings does nothing but help Gopher hockey...
First and foremost, it should get more people talking about hockey in this state, and especially on the radio. It is maddening to me that this is supposed to be "The State of Hockey" yet across two so-called "sports" radio stations (I...yeah ok I'm not even going to get started on how you could listen to either station from 3-6 and not hear anything about sports. ON A SPORTS STATION!!!) Judd and
Fun Phunn on AM 1500 is the only live show where the hosts not only know the game but enjoy talking about it. The others it's like pulling teeth (I really enjoy the Power Trip but hearing them even attempt to talk hockey feels like MY teeth are being pulled), and while they have some solid regular guests like Lou Nanne and the best beat writer in the business Michael Russo of the Strib, none of the others seem willing or able to break into serious hockey talk on their own.
Hopefully, if the Wild win and do it with a couple of stars (and American stars at that. And Charlie Coyle is on his way too. Good lord I'm excited for the Charlie Coyle Era. And he played where? BU. Frick. At least it's not BC I suppose), it'll force the talking heads to learn and understand the game a little more because hopefully they'll be prompted to talk about it. And if the Gophers can get back to being a perennial championship contender (you know, like they're supposed to be), it should put them back on the sports media radar too. I don't want to jinx it, but it's July 8 and Nick Bjugstad still hasn't announced he's turning pro (I realize he also hasn't officially announced anything, but I'm pretty sure he'd be the first college hockey player ever to leave school in July, so I love the chances now that he's coming back), so with him back and if they can figure out a goaltender, we're looking at Frozen Four or bust for the upcoming season. And that is AWESOME for everybody involved. Not trying to set the bar too high, but wouldn't it be nice for the final season in the WCHA for the Gophers to win the MacNaughton Cup and the Final Five and go to the Frozen Four? Good, I think so too. Doing that alone will help draw more fans back to Mariucci, but the Wild having success only helps that too.
The other thing Parise, Suter, and a Wild playoff run will give Gopher hockey is an outdoor hockey game. At least it'd better. With the onslaught of outdoor hockey games in both college and the pros in recent years, Minnesota has hosted a grand total of...ZERO games played in the snow and cold (I know the high school kids have played outdoor games but this is different). Wait what? Yeah explain that one to me. None. The state of Michigan has held like 17 so far (or at least is seems that way) and will be hosting what I believe will be the "coolest" game yet (pun totally intended. Sorry, too much coffee): on New Year's Day The Big House plays host to the Red Wings and Maple Leafs in front of 110,000 or so. No offense to the college bowls, but I'll definitely be watching that on January 1. From December 27-31 at Comerica Park they're hosting a "Winter Festival" which will include everything from an all-Michigan hockey tournament (Michigan State vs Western Michigan and Michigan vs Tech, with a championship and consolation game the following day), an Ontario Hockey League double-header, an AHL game AND a Detroit/Toronto alumni game. Now THAT's an outdoor hockey weekend!
The 2014 Winter Classic is still up for grabs. Last winter it sounded like a virtual lock that it was going to Washington (to paraphrase Bill Simmons, when you have a team that chokes in the playoffs year after year and has a "superstar" who hasn't scored more than 40 goals or 85 points in the past two seasons, I mean, you HAVE to give them a Winter Classic) or perhaps New York, but a site still hasn't been confirmed. While Minnesota has always seemed like a logical destination for this event, their lack of "stars" and on-ice success has killed their chances. Also hurting their chances? The team is called the Wild (one of the worst names in sports and the red Christmas jerseys, and their home road whites, for that matter, are hideous. While the greens are nice and switching to this would help, what would be wrong with going back to being called the North Stars? I've heard Lou Nanne say on a number of occasions that the NHL, not the Dallas Stars, owns the North Stars name, and now that Dallas has almost entirely eliminated green from their color scheme...I mean, what am I missing here?), and Minnesota is not one of the seven mandatory markets that NBC apparently MUST have on TV at any and all times- New York, Boston, Philly, Pittsburgh, Washington, Detroit, and Chicago.
But hopefully Parise, Suter, and making the playoffs and winning a round or two, will give Minnesota the bump it needs to get into the Winter Classic conversation. My best guess- and that's all it is- is the 2014 game goes to Washington, and then pending some "Wild" success (there I go again with the puns), Minnesota hopefully grabs the 2015 game, either at TCF Bank Stadium, or more likely, at Target Field. Either way, you better believe that if/when Minnesota gets a Winter Classic, they'll build on Michigan's idea with a Winter Festival of their own with either an exclusive Gopher game (vs Wisconsin perhaps?) or a Minnesota college tournament (admit it, that would be freaking AWESOME!), and definitely some outdoor high school games, and of course a North Stars alumni game. Like the Classic this winter it could be at either the same venue, or more likely split between Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium. I'm almost positive the NHL game will be at Target Field. The games in Philly, Boston, and Chicago were all played at baseball stadiums, and the only reason they're playing this year's game at the Big House instead of Comerica is they want to break the outdoor game attendance record (With Detroit and Toronto's rabid and enormous fanbase, that's guaranteed). Target Field is gorgeous and with downtown Minneapolis as the backdrop and some falling snow, well, you can see why it's the favorite.
Whether the Gophers would end up playing at Target Field or, more likely, at TCF, I don't care, I just want an outdoor game for Gopher Hockey. And the Wild will help them get it. So while the Gophers need to take care of their own business these next few years and get back to being the dominant hockey juggernaut their supposed to be (and with Bjugstad back I certainly love their chances for the upcoming season), a successful Wild team will only help the Gopher program. So cheer hard for the Wild, even if it may be hard to stomach that their two best players played for Gopher hockey's two biggest rivals.