SIX GAMES THAT SOLIDIFIED IOWA'S FIRST PLAYOFF BERTHApr 18, 2019
By Tom Witosky
Back in February, Iowa Wild Head Coach Tim Army predicted the Wild could be fighting for its first playoff berth in franchise history on the last weekend of the season.
He was right. On Saturday, the Wild clinched a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs by defeating the Rockford IceHogs 3-0 as the Manitoba Moose and Grand Rapids Griffins both lost. When the season ended, one fact became clear, as the Wild ended tied with the Griffins with 87 points in the standings and two points ahead of Manitoba: every game mattered.
“We broke the team record for wins, we broke the team record for home wins, we broke team records for points and a whole bunch of individual records,” Army said. “But still, it came down to just two points being the difference. One win after all of that. One win.”
Here are six of those wins that played a key role in the Wild’s firsts postseason berth after six seasons.
Oct. 5, 2018 – 4-1 win vs. Manitoba
Rookie forward Gerry Fitzgerald opened the Wild’s first game with his first goal of the season at 9:08 of the second period to break a scoreless tie against the Manitoba Moose. The Wild would follow that with a game-winning goal by Kyle Rau on a pass from former Iowa center Justin Kloos.
“I saw Kloos get the puck and everyone knows he is super-fast,” Rau said afterward. “He got the puck on net and I got kind of lucky. I got a piece of it.”
The final score was 4-1. The Wild would win three of its four games against Manitoba, collecting a point with an overtime loss in the other.
After the game, Rau also pointed out something that would prove to be important to the success of the season.
“The way things are going you need three good goalies and it’s pretty clear we have it in our organization. We are in a good spot,” he said.
Dec. 8, 2018 – 5-2 win vs. Grand Rapids
Iowa Wild defeated Grand Rapids by a score of 5-2 behind some strong goaltending from C.J. Motte, who was in the lineup while Andrew Hammond was injured. Motte’s goalkeeping, plus three goals in the third period – two from Dmitry Sokolov and one from Luke Kunin – provided the Wild with a strong win.
Motte would play three more games with the Wild and while each was an overtime loss, the club picked up three more points in those contests.
“I’ve had complete confidence in Motte from the beginning of the season,” Army said recently. “He gives us the kind of backup we need just in case something happens.”
Dec. 21, 2018 – 8-7 overtime win vs. Stockton
The Iowa Wild and Stockton Heat put up a combined 15 goals with Iowa’s Kaapo Kahkonen stopping the last shot to conserve an 8-7 overtime win just before the Christmas break.
Kahkonen, who would earn All-Star honors in January, stopped 31 of 38 shots, but enough to preserve the win.
“Coach just told me to make sure I stopped the last one,” Kahkonen remembered. “I’d been through a few of those kinds of games in the past. I didn’t like giving up that many goals, but we got two points and that is what mattered.”
Defenseman Louie Belpedio got the winning goal, but only after Kahkonen stopped a number of shots in the overtime.
“It was just a great shot – a great shot,” Army said of the goal. “Kaapo did what a goalie is supposed to do. He gave us a chance to win by making four or five saves at the end of the game and kept it at 7 -7.”
Feb. 8, 2019 – 5-4 overtime win vs. San Antonio
Rookie forward Dmitry Sokolov delivered a game-winning goal for the Wild in defeating the San Antonio Rampage by a score of 5-4 for the first time in five games. What made the game most special for Sokolov, a 21-year-old native of Omsk, Russia, was that his mother and an uncle were attending their first game in Des Moines.
“It feels awesome. I was looking at her after it happened and she was just jumping all over the place,” Sokolov said following the win in February.
Feb. 9, 2019 - 3-2 overtime win vs. San Antonio
Veteran J.T. Brown gave the Iowa Wild a chance to defeat the Rampage the next night with a dramatic goal with :08.2 remaining in the game and defenseman Carson Soucy sealed the deal with an overtime tally from between the circles on a pass from his roommate, forward Mason Shaw.
“Shawzy has gotten me a couple of passes and I have hesitated to shoot it,” Soucy said after the game. “He’s been in my ear a little bit about not shooting when I’ve had a shot. I made sure I shot this one to make him happy.”
Brown, who scored the game-tying goal with an assist from Soucy after Iowa had pulled goalie Kaapo Kahkonen, said he had several good chances before getting the scoring chance with just a few seconds left.
“Both teams battled hard and that’s the way it is going to be from here on out. It was a good test for us,” said Brown, who would rejoin the Minnesota Wild the following week.
Army, in his post-game interview, said the two wins showed how resilient the team could be.
“It doesn’t happen very often,” Army said of the dramatic overtime win. “When it does happen, it does feel good. Obviously, we came out of this with four big points this weekend.”
April 12, 2019 – 2-1 overtime win vs. Chicago
Cal O’Reilly, the Iowa Wild captain, and goalie Andrew Hammond pull off a dramatic sequence leading up to a dramatic rink-long rush by O’Reilly to score the game-winning goal in a 2-1 overtime victory over the Chicago Wolves.
O’Reilly scored the goal after Hammond made a sprawling save on Wolves defenseman Dylan Coghlan on a 2-on-1 rush by the Wolves. A rebound shot by Gage Quinney caromed off Wild forward Gerry Mayhew to give O’Reilly the chance to move down the ice.
“I was really tired,” said O’Reilly, who had tied the score 1-1 with just more than four minutes left in regulation. “I just wanted to make sure I got the shot off and it went in.”
The win was the Wild’s second in a vital three-game winning streak in the final three games of the season.
While these games stand out more than others, Army said each and every contest this season was important.
“You can choose whatever one was most important, but clearly they all were,” Army said.