The team will begin its inaugural season in the Xcel Energy
Center, a name that is apt for the Wild. While expansion
Minnesota will be hard-pressed to win more than 15 games, an
invigorating, feel-good verve nevertheless pulsed through
training camp. In a region desperate for the return of a pro
sport it lost when the North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993, this
team, no matter how inept, seems certain to enjoy that most
precious luxury: an extended, if low-scoring, honeymoon.
Whatever success the Wild attains will come courtesy of the
defense-first philosophy of coach Jacques Lemaire, who, along
with general manager and former Canadiens teammate Doug
Risebrough, brings credibility to the franchise; between them
they have won 16 Stanley Cups as players or coaches. To overcome
the team's lack of offense Lemaire spent the bulk of camp
implementing his infamous neutral-zone trap. Expect heavy doses
of the somniferous strategy that, though criticized during
Lemaire's Cup-winning days as coach of the Devils, will keep the
Wild in most games. "He knows what it takes," wing Scott
Pellerin says of Lemaire. "Hopefully, he'll show us how to win."
The enthusiasm of the gritty Pellerin, who drove three days from
New Hampshire with his wife, infant daughter and dog for summer
workouts, is emblematic of a team in which the preseason vibe was
less that of training camp and more that of sleep-away camp.
Arriving for those workouts, 31-year-old defenseman Curtis
Leschyshyn equated the feeling to "the day when I was an
18-year-old in the entry draft. From everyone I've met, they all
seem like great guys."
Speaking of fresh-faced 18-year-olds, the Wild has exciting
Slovakian left wing Marian Gaborik, who was the third choice in
June's entry draft. The 6'1", 183-pound Gaborik impressed the
team during camp with his puckhandling and speed, and gives
Minnesota a potential star to build around. "He looks like Pavel
Bure out there," says defenseman Andy Sutton. "He's 18 and he has
the world by the tail."
With a proven philosophy and two solid architects, the same could
be said of the Wild--regardless of how easily it is tamed this
Goaltenders Manny Fernandez and Jamie McLennan had a combined
2.06 goals-against average for other teams last season, which
would have ranked the Wild second in the NHL.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 29 Lack of goal scorers means they will
DEFENSE 29 After O'Donnell and Bombadir, not much
GOALTENDING 29 Fernandez, McLennan two career backups
SPECIAL TEAMS 29 Pellerin is the only proven penalty
MANAGEMENT 17 Lemaire could squeeze more wins than