For the first time in franchise history, the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild will play a regular season game in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It will be the only visit by the Wild this season, but it will also be the first of many. Next season, the Wild and Winnipeg Jets will be in the same conference, setting up what could be a cross-border rivalry for years to come. Tonight should help the Wild get prepared for what has already become one of the most passionate fan bases in the League, amplified by a relatively small rink that will keep the noise up all game long.
Minnesota will have to take on the Jets without the help of Matt Cullen, who has become ill. The Wild won’t be able to get a player up from Houston in time, so Guillaume Latendresse is expected to make his return to the lineup after missing 14 games with a concussion.
The atmosphere will be a little different from Saturday night in Phoenix, where the Wild defeated the old Jets, 4-1. Kyle Brodziak potted two power play goals while Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley also chipped in with tallies. Niklas Backstrom returned to action after suffering a strained groin and turned in a 35-save performance for the win, which was the Wild’s seventh straight.
The Jets had a four-game win streak snapped at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday in a 7-1 drubbing. Bryan Little opened the scoring with a goal in the first minute, but the game shifted from there as Ondrej Pavelec allowed the next seven goals through two periods.
Wild at Jets will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sports North with a start time at 7:30 PM. The game can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM or online at Wild.com.
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You’re lucky because a Jets ticket might be the toughest regular season ticket in all of sports right now. Season tickets sold out in no time this summer. Fans clamor to get into the building and once inside they have their vocal chords working overtime. Even if you’re not Canadian, you best be ready to shout “True North” during the Canadian National Anthem to honor True North Entertainment, which was responsible for purchasing the Atlanta Thrashers and bringing them to MTS Centre.
There were plenty of talented hockey players that made the transition from the Deep South to the Great White North. That group is headlined by 15-goal scorer Evander Kane on the front end, and Dusting “Big Buff” Byfuglien on the back end.
But it may be the seventh man in the stands that gives visiting opponents the most trouble. Playing in front of their rabid fans, the Jets are 9-4-0 and have won seven of their last eight.
Over the last two-plus seasons, Brodziak has made his presence felt in many ways. While viewed as a gritty two-way player that can win faceoffs and play physical, he’s shown he has some offensive upside as well. But if you would have predicted that he’d be leading the Wild in goals by December 13, you are probably related to him.
Tonight’s game wraps up five straight road contests for the Wild, which has won the first four. The run through the Western United States saw the Wild outscore opponents by a combined 15-7 and pushed the team’s winning streak to a season-high seven. In order to get it to eight, the Wild will have to do so with a patchwork lineup due to Cullen being out and Latendresse making his first appearance in more than a month.
It might not be a coincidence that when a defensive partner Nick Schultz plays with seems to stick there. For many years, it was Schultz and Willie Mitchell shutting opponents down. The last couple years, he was the defensive, stay-at-home ying to Brent Burns’ always-on-the-go yang. This year, he’s paired up with Mike Lundin, a similar style player that plays smart and can move the puck out of the zone. Those two have been thriving together, going a combined +4 on this road trip thus far.
Cal Clutterbuck appears back to full strength and he’ll rejoin the line with Koivu and Heatley. With Cullen out, look for Brodziak to play with the second line, and Latendresse to be eased into the action on the fourth line:
"Whenever you go up to a Canadian city, much like playing in Minnesota, the game is so important up there. They have an awful lot of pride in their team, having their team back, and every game they’ve had, there’s been excitement right from the drop of the puck.”
- Mike Yeo, who coached the Aeros against Manitoba last year in the AHL, on the NHL’s return to Winnipeg
Byfuglien is a native of Minneapolis and grew up in Roseau…RW Blake Wheeler is a native of Plymouth and played his high school hockey at Breck before going on to play collegiately for the Minnesota Gophers…C Tim Stapleton played four seasons at Minnesota-Duluth…D Mark Stuart is from Rochester.
The Minnesota North Stars went 26-20-3 in their history against the original Jets.