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THE WILD WIRE - BLOG #10

Dec 5, 2017

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Heading out on the road to the “Lone Star State” this past week brought back some memories. Prior to 2013, the Minnesota Wild’s AHL affiliate was based in Houston, Texas, and I had the pleasure of spending five seasons with the organization down there, beginning with the 2008-2009 campaign.

By the next season (2009-2010), the Texas Stars had joined the AHL, giving the league a “Texas triangle,” as the Houston Aeros, San Antonio Rampage and the Cedar Park-based (Austin) Stars formed an intense, three-team rivalry.

In the four seasons the three Texas teams squared off (prior to Houston relocating to Iowa), the Aeros played their intra-state foes a whopping 94 times. And that was all in the regular season, as Houston never dueled against their Texas rivals in the postseason.

Add on the fact that Oklahoma City was in the league for a couple of seasons during that time, and you had a lot of bus travel for the players and staff during those years.

The setup had the feel of the AHL’s Eastern Conference, where most nights you’d sleep in your own bed after playing a road game hours earlier.

Compare that with the Iowa Wild’s current travel situation:

  • Closest bus ride is Rockford, which is four-plus hours away
  • Road trips that often span 5-7 days
  • Multiple flights and bus trips over a couple of days while on the road
  • Overnight bus travel that often puts the team in a new city at 3 am (or later), with a game about 15 hours after arrival

At times this league can be a grind for the players.  But back in the old “Texas triangle” days, there was at least the ease of having roughly one-third of your road games within the state for the Wild prospects.

Plus, we’re talking about some great cities with outstanding weather (usually). San Antonio has a ton of culture and the River Walk is a really cool / unique area. Cedar Park is about 30 minutes from Austin and it’s a growing suburb with mostly new developments. Austin is no slouch, obviously, with a ton of watering holes and great restaurants downtown, and live music on a nightly basis. Throw in Houston, which is one of the largest cities in the States, and there’s not much for the players to complain about.

I mean, who doesn’t like wearing flip flops to the rink in January…?

ON THE ICE

Nice start for the Wild on this Texas trip, as they claimed three (of a possible four) points in San Antonio.  No lead was safe over the weekend, with each team coughing up a two-goal lead at some point.  The Rampage fan base came out in droves, they were energetic, and the Wild played some solid road hockey to help quiet them down.  Iowa now has points in four straight road games (3-0-1-0), and they remain in a playoff spot in the Central Division standings as of this morning.

The trip wraps up on Tuesday with a 7:30 p.m. CT puck drop against the Stars.

FIRST ROUNDERS

Fans in Central Iowa (and across the AHL) are in for a treat as long as Minnesota draft picks Luke Kunin (2016) and Joel Eriksson Ek (2015) remain in the AHL.

Both were first-round selections, and both are learning / developing in the AHL, getting a ton of “reps” (as the coaches say).  Who knows how long their stints will last, but in the meantime, enjoy their skill set, compete level and passion for the game.

Eriksson Ek has six points (3g, 3a) through six games, including an overtime game-winner, while Kunin has four points (1g, 3a) in eight contests.

From talking with the Wild coaches over the last few days, here are some areas where each player is still trying to improve:

Eriksson Ek:

  • Faceoff circle (his win % hasn’t been stellar so far, but he’ll continue to take important draws in order to gain valuable experience)
  • “Managing his game” because he plays in every situation / is getting a lot of ice time at the AHL level
  • Details of his game - a very common development area for a younger player

Kunin:

  • Stops and starts – can’t be looping and swinging near plays
  • Moving his feet without the puck to get into better situations on the ice

Don’t forget about the home games this weekend…Star Wars Night on Saturday and the Teddy Bear Toss on Sunday!

- Wild Joe Radio

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