WILD EMBRACES CHALLENGE IN WAVE OF CHANGE
By Tom Witosky | Follow @toskyAHLWildMar 3, 2017
Even a veteran like Iowa Wild goalie Alex Stalock can be surprised by what happens in professional hockey.
“I’ve never been through a situation where we lost so many crucial players in 24 hours,” Stalock said of the major reshuffling of the Iowa Wild roster this week. “But, that’s what happens this time of year. Everything can change overnight in this league.”
Stalock along with the rest of the Wild coaches and players spent the early part of the week recovering from a tough two-game series in Chicago and regaining their balance from a series of roster changes that began with the trade of center Grayson Downing, then the Wild’s leading scorer Teemu Pulkkinen to the Arizona Coyotes organization as part of the Minnesota Wild’s trade for forwards Martin Hanzal and Ryan White.
The trade announcement coincided with a surprise move by the Columbus Blue Jackets to claim Wild center Zac Dalpe off waivers, a six-game suspension of forward Kurtis Gabriel for an off-the-ice altercation in Chicago, the recall of center Tyler Graovac to Minnesota to take Dalpe’s place in the NHL line-up and the disclosure that Minnesota forwards Zach Parise and Jason Pominville had the mumps.
In less than 24 hours, Iowa found itself without five of its top players just with the club in the midst of its first genuine fight for a Calder Cup playoff berth since arriving in Des Moines four years ago.
Derek Lalonde, Iowa’s head coach, said that while the changes may seem a bit overwhelming and disappointing to Iowa Wild fans, it’s actually a moment to relish.
“First and foremost, it is a unique and exciting situation for the Minnesota organization. This is a legit run at a Stanley Cup window and they have done everything in their power to assure it happens,” LaIonde said. "I know our fans have a little trouble understanding this, but the reality is exciting even though this kind of a shake-up can happen.”
Meanwhile, veteran defenseman Mike Weber, Iowa’s captain, counselled the Wild locker room that upheaval isn’t an excuse for failing.
“Winners don’t have excuses,” Weber said. “We need to keep fighting regardless of what’s happened. We have defied the odds at every turn this season and we are looking to do that now.”
With just 19 games left on the AHL schedule, Brent Flahr, Iowa’s general manager, and Lalonde spent the early part of the week assessing the club’s immediate needs against the backdrop of a playoff hunt for Iowa and its role in backing-up Minnesota as it continues its preparation for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Flahr said that once Parise and Pominviile return to the line-up, Graovac likely would be returned to Iowa unless needed otherwise. Plus, another player likely would have to be sent down.
“In the case of the Hanzal trade, we gave up some assets for sure. It will have an impact down there,” Flahr said, adding that Pulkkinen asked for a chance to get out of the AHL. “At the same time, the trading deadline isn’t over in the American League until next Wednesday so there may be a couple of additions. We certainly are going to add a player or two.”
Flahr also said that several top college prospects could be joining the Iowa roster after their season ends. Among those most mentioned are Jordan Greenway, now playing for Boston University, and Luke Kunin, who is captain of the Wisconsin Badgers team. Both Greenway and Kunin were members of the USA U-20 team that won the World Juniors Championship earlier this year.
On Thursday, the Wild signed three ECHL forwards – A.J. Jenks, a forward with the Toledo Walleyes and two forwards from the Quad City Mallards – Nolan La Porte and Jack Nevins. La Porte played for the Lalonde when he was head coach of the USHL Green Bay Gamblers.
In addition, Adam Gilmour, who has played 49 games this season with Iowa, was recalled as well. He is expected to center one of Iowa’s four lines.
Weber, who played last year in the NHL playoffs with Washington, said Iowa is no different than any other team trying to make the playoffs. Often, players brought in have to make the difference.
“It is going to have to come from guys in the Quad Cities or wherever we can grab them,” Weber said. “We are in a stage where we just need to simplify things and continue to pursue the excellence that we have been striving to achieve all season.”
Weber added that another responsibility for Iowa players is to be ready to help the parent team in its run for the Stanley Cup. Minnesota signed Weber a two-way contract earlier this week making him eligible to join Minnesota if needed.
“Minnesota is all in. They want to win a Stanley Cup,” Weber said. “There will be guys down here given the opportunity to go up and help the team win a Stanley Cup. To do that, if it means sacrificing some of our quality players down here, is worth it. It is just a part of the business.
Stalock agreed: “We have a group of fighters and anytime you have a group like that it gives you a chance every night. Fans need to know we aren’t going to lay down and say this is it. This will actually make us fight harder.”