Mar 17, 2018

By Tom Witosky

Follow @toskyAHLWild

“It’s got to be done.”

That’s how Iowa Wild defenseman Hunter Warner described his decision to end the 2017-18 season a month early and forgo the possibility of playing in this year’s Calder Cup Playoffs. The 22-year-old Eden Prairie, Minn., native underwent successful right shoulder surgery Thursday, March 15 by Dr. Nelson at TRIA Orthopaedic Center. Warner’s surgery ends his season and he will return to full participation in approximately four to six months.

“It’s tough that the season is coming to an end for me a month early, especially because it is a great group and they have great things ahead of them,” the soft-spoken Warner said. “Unfortunately this is something that has to be done.”

Warner recently agreed to shut down for the rest of the season because of the length of time required for him to recover from surgery and get back into shape for next season -- his third season under contract with Iowa Wild. The Wild coaching staff knew several weeks ago this was a possibility.

“This is really a tough loss for us considering how the playoff deadline worked out and we lose Nick Seeler and Luke Kunin to Minnesota, then Luke goes down with an injury. I know this is part of the game and I understand it. But it doesn’t make it easier,” Iowa Head Coach Derek Lalonde said. “He played a ton. But it is time because there is such a long recovery that every day is important to him.”

Lalonde said Warner had become one of the players who stepped into whatever role was needed for him. In his final three games, Warner played on the Wild’s fourth line as well as becoming a key contributor on the Wild’s penalty kill.

“His niche of late has been playing a forward role but killing penalties as a d-man,” Lalonde said. “He did great in both areas.”

In 37 games, Warner totaled only three assists, but played a major role in providing the Wild with a steady and physical presence on the blue line as well as when he played forward. He totaled 25 minutes in penalties, but posted a very respectable minus-3 rating. He also became a fan and team favorite, willing to help promote the team even to the point of doing a video for Princess Day with the Wild, complete with ribbons in his hair.

“He not only has been a great teammate, but he simply is a great human,” Lalonde said.

Warner said while he is disappointed in ending the season early, he is pleased by how he became trusted on the Wild penalty kill and stepped into a winger position when needed.

“I grew a lot as a player and a person. I am taking away a lot of positives from this group,” he said. “Individually, I think I improved a great deal in areas like the penalty kill.”

Warner said he began to enjoy playing short-handed, adding he won’t forget anytime soon the final two minutes of the Wild’s recent  4-3 win against Manitoba, when the Moose staged a furious 6-on-5 attack, attempting to tie the game.

“A penalty kill is a big two minutes in the game when you are out there,” he said. “I was trusted to be out there at that point in the game to get the job done against Manitoba. I really value that. It was so intense.”

Warner also said he became more comfortable at forward as time went on, even though he described it as a “great challenge.”

“It was interesting because at first you really spend a lot of time making sure you don’t make mistakes,” he said. “But in the last three games, I actually started doing some nice stuff out there. I really was becoming comfortable so I wasn’t so worried being in the right position.”

In addition, Warner said, his time at forward should make him a better defenseman.

“I really do think it will make me a better defender,” he said. “You get a nice perspective as forward about what a defender should do at the right time. I prefer to play defense because that is what I am. But ultimately it was what the team needed me to do and I was glad to do it. It was a lot of fun.”

As for the immediate future, Warner conceded he isn’t looking forward too much to missing the rest of the season as he recovers.

“It isn’t going to be a lot of fun because the first three weeks are going to be rough,” Warner said. “The recovery requires I really not move much and I know that isn’t going to be any fun for me.”

But Warner said he has every intention of being back in Des Moines at the end of the season, hopefully to watch the Wild in the playoffs for the first time.

“Once I am healed up enough, I will be coming back down,” he said. “I will definitely be back to see the boys and watch some hockey.”

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