ROOKIES STEPPING UP FOR WILD IN WEEKEND SERIESNov 11, 2019
Connor Dewar didn’t have a goal or an assist going into the Iowa Wild’s game Sunday against the Ontario Reign.
When the game ended with Iowa winning 3-0, the rookie center’s scoresheet hadn’t changed. But make no mistake, he played a big part in helping the Wild to end a frustrating three-game losing streak.
On his first shift, Dewar, slotted between Mike Liambas and Cody McLeod, swooped quickly behind the Reign goal to challenge defenseman Tobias Bjornfot for the puck. Dewar jabbed quickly at the puck, forcing it to dribble back in front of the Reign net, where McLeod stood alone and scored on his second whack at the puck.
“Their wing just kind of stood there so I jumped in front of him to get a shot on goal and the rebound was there,” McLeod said of his first goal in an Iowa sweater.
Dewar didn’t get an assist, but Head Coach Tim Army acknowledged Dewar’s fore-checking gave the Wild an early lead with a five-on-five goal – something that had been in short supply recently despite the Wild’s strong start to the 2019-20 season.
“He got it out in front and that was a big play for us,” Army said. “He got it to Cody and we had a lead.”
The Wild proceeded to play one of the team’s most complete games in a shutout of the Reign, with additional goals by rookie Nico Sturm and team scoring leader Gerry Mayhew in what Army described as key early game this season.
“The first goal changed momentum,” Army said. “It relaxed us a little bit and we played really well. I think it's the best game we played all year.”
Dewar, Minnesota Wild’s third-round selection in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, was just one of several rookies who played an instrumental part of the Wild’s win. Goalie Mat Robson, who signed a free-agent contract with Minnesota last spring, posted his first AHL shutout, stopping 17 shots, and Nico Sturm, another free-agent signing for Minnesota, scored goals in Iowa’s 3-2 loss Saturday and in Sunday’s win.
Along with forward Brandon Duhaime, the Iowa Wild rookie corps is beginning to play a greater role as the Wild’s season progresses and games become more competitive as the Central battles for four playoff positions.
After the weekend’s games, Iowa is tied for first place with Milwaukee, but only five points separate first from sixth.
“They are all learning and getting more and more comfortable out there,” Army said of the rookies. “It’s a new experience, new environment and they keep learning. They are very coachable, they listen and they understand and they try to add it to their game.”
After Sunday’s game, Dewar said he was just happy to get on the ice with Liambas and McLeod.
“It's kind of different not playing as much compared to as a junior where you’re kind of the top guy,” the 20-year-old Gilbert Plains, MB native said. “I’m learning from the older guys and just need to be ready to play when I'm called on.”
He also said playing between the two more physical players on the Iowa roster makes him comfortable to make plays as he did on McLeod’s unassisted goal.
“You know you aren’t going to have to take a lot of stuff from the other team plus you know they're going to work hard and play simple,” Dewar said.
Army said Dewar’s speed provides that line with an ability to create havoc on the forecheck and create momentum when it is needed.
“He's a nice complement to them because he can really skate and he can push the pace,” Army said. “They were outstanding tonight. They did something good every shift and obviously that was a huge goal that they scored.”
Sunday’s victory also helped to wash away the doubts from a three-game stretch that included getting shutout by Chicago and losing a hard-fought game to Ontario on Saturday.
McLeod said the most aggravating part of the 3-0 loss to the Wolves and 3-2 to the Reign was that the team had played well enough to win.
“Sometimes you're going to have nights where pucks aren’t going to go in for you,” McLeod said. “That's hockey for you. You just got to keep battling, keep grinding and get to the dirty areas.”
Army said the victory gave power to what the team has been preaching through the team’s losing streak and what the team will try to do with next week’s home-and-home series against Chicago. Iowa will play on the road Saturday and at home at 5:00 p.m. Sunday.
“The meaning of the win is to stay with it,” he said. “You go through those cycles and have to trust the process more than anything. We stay with it, don't deviate from what we're trying to do because eventually it's going to find its way in the net.”
Odds and Ends
Mixing the leaves: Army described his juggling of lines this weekend as “mixing the leaves on the tree” to try to find a spark for five-on-five scoring. It worked on Sunday, as Iowa netted two five-on-five goals and during the two games, the Wild put a combined 83 shots on net compared to the Reign’s 47.
“We lead the league in shots and while that’s not an end-all, it does say that we got a lot of volume going to the net,” Army said.
Did you know: Iowa leads the AHL in shots on goal with 513. Next closest is Laval with 477.
Sokolov plays well: In the shuffling in Sunday’s game, forward Dmitry Sokolov was on the ice with center Kyle Bauman and winger Kyle Rau.
“He had a good game,” Army said. “He skated well move the puck, well, was intelligent and tracked well. He had a good game.”
More depth coming: Prior to the weekend series, Army said it’s quite possible that center Luke Johnson, who was injured the day before the regular season opened, and defenseman Keaton Thompson, who has missed 11 games with an injury, could play against Chicago this weekend.
“It’s looking good right now, but we will have practices this week to make sure they ready,” Army said. “We aren’t going to rush this.”
Attendance report: The Wild drew 24,440 fans during the recent three-game homestand including 11,264 fans for the annual School Day game. The Wild now ranks ninth in the AHL in attendance, averaging 6,938. Last year’s overall average was 6,409.