FRIDAY'S THRILLING 8-7 WIN AGAINST STOCKTON COULD BE BENCHMARK VICTORY FOR THE WILDDec 24, 2018
By Tom Witosky
Just make the last save of the game.
Armed with that piece of advice from Head Coach Tim Army, Iowa Wild goalie Kaapo Kahkonen skated back to his goal. With the score tied at 4-4 between the Wild and the Stockton Heat Friday night and one more period to go, Army had sensed late in the second period the Wild’s rookie netminder was beginning to get down on himself.
“He is such a good kid and so competitive, but I could tell he was putting pressure on himself,” Army said. “He is young and still needs to make sure he has the right perspective when things are going so well.”
Army, an avid baseball fan, told Kahkonen to remember that even the best pitchers in baseball have a bad night. Army even told his goalie not to be surprised if the score ended up 8-7.
“I told him the best pitchers don’t always have their best stuff, but they find a way to get a win,” Army said. “I just told him to make sure that he made the last stop of the game.”
When Friday night’s third period began, no one – Army, Kahkonen, the rest of the Wild club, or the 5,625 fans in attendance -- could have anticipated what would transpire over the final 23:18 that would lead to an important 8-7 Wild victory in overtime.
The victory provided the Wild players and coaches with a reason to celebrate the three-day Christmas holiday with a good grip on a playoff spot in the Central Division while maintaining easy striking distance of first place.
The win is likely to be landmark game this season for two reasons; it was a record-setting night for several Wild players and because the team, which had shown signs of faltering during a three-game winless streak, had shown the will to win had returned.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gone from mad to happy so many times in one game,” said rookie defenseman Louie Belpedio, who scored the game-winning goal for the Wild with an upper-shelf shot from above the right circle. “It was fun in some ways. When they scored, we just didn’t get down or stop working. We proved again how resilient we can be.”
The game also resulted in several new Iowa club records:
- Forward Justin Kloos’ three goals and three assists set a new club record for total points in the one game. He also became only the fifth player in Wild history to post a hat trick following former Wild players Christoph Bertschy and Tyler Graovac and current players Luke Kunin and Jordan Greenway.
- Defenseman Brennan Menell’s four assists tied a club record for helpers in one game, matching former player Jordan Schroeder. Menell now has 15 assists for the season.
- The Wild’s eight goals tied a club record of most in a game. The 15 total goals also set a record for most goals scored in one game by the Wild and a Wild opponent.
- The Wild’s four power-play goals also set the record for most in a game.
- The Wild’s 15 assists were the most team assists in any Wild game so far in its five-plus year history.
After the game, Menell said no one liked giving up seven goals, but attributed the problem more to defensive errors, not goalie mistakes. In fact, Menell said, Kahkonen’s work after the Wild blew a two-goal lead when Stockton took a 7-6 lead with three goals in 1:41 was as important as Kloos record-setting work.
“He stood in there for seven goals and there are a lot of goalies who couldn’t do that,” Menell said. “He stood tall in the third period and made some big saves for us. Kloos had six points and I think Kaapo played as big a part in the win.”
Army said he never thought once about pulling Kahkonen.
“First, I don’t like pulling a goalie except at an intermission,” Army said. “The other reason is that we were never more than one shot away from a tie or lead. If they’d had a three-goal lead that might have been different, but I never gave it a thought.”
After the game, Kahkonen said he had been through a similar experience playing in Finland. That time, his team lost when a player on Kahkonen’s team inadvertently knocked the puck past him for an 8-7 loss.
“It was one of those nights that any shot on both ends could go in,” Kahkonen said. “It was a crazy game, but you need to always think about the next shot coming at you, not the last shot that got past you.”
Belpedio agreed, adding when he scored on a power play in overtime he felt more relief than elation.
“I think the win proved a lot,” the Skokie, IL native said. “It wasn’t our best game and we don’t want to give up seven goals in a game, but we also proved we can score eight. It was a good test for us.”
He also said it showed what his teammates mean to each other.
“We are blessed on this team because we want to play for each other,” Belpedio said. “We care about it and want to win for each other. The most important thing was that we stuck together and won.”
After the game, Army said the game would stick with him for a while as well.
“It’s going to take a month to get rid of this headache,” he said.