Culture is an important thing in sports, especially in hockey. If there is a disconnect or broken wire anywhere, shit hits the fan quickly. You need every single person to be on the same page or it just doesn’t work. For the first time in a long time, I saw a complete team in the Minnesota Wild last night. Not just a bunch of individuals playing for the sake of their own ego and paycheck. It was all thanks to Jared Spurgeon, Kevin Fiala, Marcus Foligno and Dean Evason.
Now, before you chirp me, yes, I know that it was just one game. But something just felt uniquely refreshing and different to me. Clearly, there’s a new leadership group in Minnesota, and it was on full display last night.
The moment the puck dropped in Edmonton late last night, you just knew that Jared Spurgeon was ready to go. Spurgeon registered two goals, an assist, four-blocked shots, and 22:46 TOI. While it was a historic night on the stat-sheet, it was all of the little things that I loved about Spurgeon’s game the most. Everything from getting the pucks out of corners, turning the play up the ice, using his stick to clear traffic in front of Alex Stalock, and sneaking up in the play offensively, Spurgeon did it all.
When I watch Spurgeon play, it makes me think of what watching a surgeon conducting brain surgery would look like. He is just so precise with everything and never seems to shy away from the big moments and pressures that come with playoff hockey. His quiet confidence screams through the TV at you. If you aren’t from Minnesota or a fan of the Wild, chances are pretty high that you didn’t know how good Spurgeon was. Now you know.
I mean it when I say this, I have never seen a Wild player as skilled as Kevin Fiala. Ever. While Marian Gaborik was obviously the best goal-scorer in Wild history, he was extremely one dimensional and a defensive liability more times than not. With Fiala, you get the entire package.
The scary thing for opposing players is the fact that the package is just being opened. Fiala can knife through defensemen like butter. He can make an impossible pass possible. He can retrieve the puck in the defensive zone and send it right back the other way into the offensive zone. And most importantly, he can and will just make you look straight up silly.
It took all but three seconds of the first Wild power play for Fiala to strike. Eric Staal won the faceoff in the offensive zone, Spurgeon got possession of the puck, sent it over to Fiala, and in the blink of an eye it was in the back of the net and past Jacob Markstrom. It is that easy with him. For the first time in a long time, the Wild have a legit superstar on their team. We saw it all from Fiala last night.
— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) August 3, 2020
Well, Marcus Foligno is a man of his word. It wasn’t even two minutes into the game last night and Foligno was busy chucking fists with Micheal Ferland. Setting the tone is something that Foligno does incredibly well and it worked last night. The Wild got an early powerplay, scored three seconds into it, and never looked back. And it all started with the momentum and energy that Foligno created.
It’s easy to get frustrated when you have local house rats like Antoine Roussel and Ferland on the other side of things. It’s important that you keep them in check and Foligno did a fantastic job of that while not feeding into their bullshit and childish antics. The best thing about Foligno too is that he is a really good hockey player.
Yes, he’s a hell of an enforcer and leader but the guy can play against any team’s top players. That’s something that you don’t see too often with players that play the game like him. Just like the Hispaniolan Solenodon, Foligno is a rare breed.
Marcus Foligno vs Micheal Ferland👊 pic.twitter.com/6it9TnnGpr— Hockey Fight Hub (@HockeyFightHub) August 3, 2020
For his head coaching playoff debut, Dean Evason was rock-solid as can be. You could see the intensity and passion in his face throughout the entire game. He just seems like the type of guy you wanna go to war for as a player.
My favorite highlight of the night from Evason was after Fiala scored on the powerplay in the first period and he straight up elbowed the glass. In a series where not many people were giving the Wild a chance, Evason had his group ready to go and now see themselves two wins away from an invitation to the playoffs of Lord Stanley himself.
Evason celebrates by throwing an elbow pic.twitter.com/b7yrAfilz7— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) August 3, 2020
When you put everything together here, you get exactly what you want in a leadership group. In Spurgeon, you get the quiet leader who leads by his performance on the ice. I think Spurgeon will be the next captain for the Wild. With Fiala, you finally have the superstar player with swagger that your franchise has lacked since Marian Gaborik departed the team in 2009. In Foligno, you have the loud team favorite that keeps things light in the locker room but dials it in when it’s go time.
Then, most importantly, in Dean Evason, you have the coach who the players actually want to play for and maintains that perfect balance of intensity, dedication, and human connection. The Minnesota Wild are finally building a culture, and it’s a damn beautiful thing to see.
Jake Jensen | Minnesota Sports Fan