WITOSKY NOTEBOOK: FIREPOWER BACK IN DES MOINESNov 1, 2019
By Tom Witosky
The American Hockey League prides itself on being the premier training ground for the National Hockey League Hockey, whether its players, coaches, on-ice officials, hockey operations staff or business staffers.
Now add Joe O’Donnell, the long-time radio play-by-play voice of the Minnesota Wild’s AHL affiliate, first with the Houston Aeros and then continued with all seven seasons with the Iowa Wild.
“It’s a great opportunity,” O’Donnell said as he prepared to do the play-by-play for all four games of Minnesota’s four-game West Coast road trip that begins Tuesday in Anaheim. “I know I will be nervous at the start, but I'm very grateful for the chance to do this.”
Minnesota officials announced earlier this year that O’Donnell would be among a group of broadcasters filling in for the NHL Wild’s play-by-play voice Bob Kurtz, who has reduced his amount of travel with the team on road trips. Other announcers scheduled to do games are Paul Allen, the voice of the Minnesota Vikings, Jim Erickson, the voice of the St. Cloud State men’s hockey team, and Kevin Falness, studio host for Wild hockey games on FM 100.3 KFAN.
O’Donnell will be doing the play-by-play for the Wilds games at Anaheim, San Jose, Phoenix, and Los Angeles from Nov. 5 through Nov. 13.
He acknowledged the opportunity is something he has worked hard to achieve over his 15-year career which began as the play-by-play announcer for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL. He took over the broadcasting duties for the Houston Aeros for the 2008-09 season and has been with the organization ever since.
“When I realized I wasn’t going to play hockey at a high level, this is has been a goal of mine,” O’Donnell said. “I love this organization and I hope to have some fun with this.”
Wild roster gets stronger
The return of Gerry Mayhew and Gabriel Dumont to the Iowa roster Wednesday night seemed like déjà vu in Iowa’s 4-3 overtime win against Grand Rapids.
Last April, the Wild was in the depths of an eight-game losing streak and, with only three games left on the regular-season schedule, appeared on the verge of again failing to make the playoffs.
But three players from the Minnesota Wild – forwards Ryan Donato, Luke Kunin, and Jordan Greenway – joined their Iowa counterparts and led them to a 7-3 win over Grand Rapids in Van Andel Arena. That victory led to a three-game winning streak and brought the Wild to the playoffs for the first time.
Fast forward to Wednesday night, Mayhew and Dumont – fresh from Minnesota – put together four goals between them, including the club’s first short-handed goal of the season, and Mayhew’s dramatic overtime game-winning goal to keep the Wild in first place in the Central Division and reverse a two-game road winless streak.
Wednesday’s win gave the Wild a 3-1-1 record for its first five games on its current seven-game road trip that continues Friday in Milwaukee and Saturday in Rockford. It also signals that the Wild’s forward lines are returning to what the club had when it opened the season with a four-game winning streak.
Several players now out with injuries are recovering well and should soon be looking at returning to the ice, Head Coach Tim Army said.
Among those players are center Luke Johnson, who has missed every game with a lower-body injury, defenseman Keaton Thompson, who has missed several games with an upper-body injury, and forward Mason Shaw, who is in the latter stages of rehabilitation of a knee injury.
“They are all coming along, but there is no rush with them,” Army said. “It’s early season so we want them to be fully ready.”
Make no mistake, the Wild’s depth has helped the club weather the injuries and the call-up of Mayhew, Dumont and goalie Kaapo Kahkonen, who collected his fifth win of the season on Wednesday night. Among the players who have filled the gaps have been rookie forwards Nico Sturm, Brandon Duhaime, and Connor Dewer; defensemen Matt Register and Turner Ottenbreit, and goalie Mat Robson.
“We are playing good hockey right now and we just need to maintain that level of play,” Army said. “It’s a long season and there will be challenges, but we like where the team is now.”
The law firm
Liambas and McLeod sounds like a law firm, but the Iowa Wild’s two fourth-line forwards showed over the weekend in Tucson just how physical the club is becoming.
Against the Arizona Roadrunners, the two veterans were finishing checks so well that Joe O’Donnell, the club’s radio play-by-play announcer, said Roadrunner players were looking over their shoulders when the fourth line was on the ice.
The two veterans had played only a couple of times together, mostly because of limits on the number of veterans that can be on the ice in any game. As a result, the duo’s physical play seemed to be a new tactic.
“They are playing to their identity and that is what we want them to,” Army said.
He added that the Roadrunners were the kind of team that “just fit the kind of game they wanted to play.”
“Not only were they physical, but they were good defensively,” Army said. “They created puck pressure on the forecheck and they had zone time. Just want we want to see.”
Army said they played so well that he felt comfortable putting them on the ice against the Roadrunners’ top line when he could.
“We couldn’t play matchups, but I had no problem putting them out there,” he said. “I even double shifted them later in the game.”
Maybe not a lawyer, but Big Mac can talk
Cody McLeod joined Joe O’Donnell in the radio booth Wednesday night and provided a lot of insight and a good sense of humor as well. McLeod said he isn’t too experienced at doing color commentary, but his banter with O’Donnell plus his insight as the game progressed should put him in the booth when he isn’t on the ice.
Under the radar
Wild goalie Mat Robson got a nice shout-out this week from AHL expert Pat Williams.
Williams listed Robson, a rookie free-agent signing after playing two seasons with the Minnesota Wild, as one of the AHL’s players worth watching this season.
Williams wrote on Tuesday, “The 23-year-old has adapted to the pro game in a pairing with fellow Wild goalie prospect Kaapo Kahkonen. Robson is tied for sixth in the AHL with a .941 save percentage in four games. He is 1-1-2 with a 1.94 GAA for Iowa, the Central Division leader at 5-1-1-1.”