In the midst of this hot summer, hockey can be farthest from the mind of even the most diehard fan.
But, with the recent NHL draft and Minnesota Wild road tour stop at the Brainerd Area Civic Center, it's never too early to be looking toward action on the ice.
While last season's first-round playoff exit was disappointing, the Wild take solace in that their elimination was by eventual Stanley Cup champion Anaheim.
Center Pierre Marc Bouchard had 57 points last season.
"When the series is over, you think we're not close," Wild assistant coach Mike Ramsey said at the tour stop. "Then you see how Anaheim handles the rest of the league, and then you think maybe we're not that far off. I think your Bouchards, your Burnses, your Koivus, these guys are young players who didn't experience this type of playoff atmosphere beforehand."
Ramsey believes successful playoff teams build on previous experience in the playoffs. The record book backs up his assertion. Of the Stanley Cup champions this decade, only Carolina didn't make the playoffs the previous year.
Left winger Stephane Veilleux is known for his hustle.
Forwards Stephane Veilleux and Pierre Marc Bouchard echoed these sentiments.
"A lot of young players, like myself, didn't know what to expect in the playoffs," Bouchard said. "Now we know."
In addition to experience, Veilleux expects the Wild to work on the little things to improve.
Both players acknowledge there will be pressure for the Wild to go farther in the playoffs next season. Veilleux pointed to the passion of Wild fans and why there's a reason Minnesota is called "the State of Hockey."
Mike Ramsey is an assistant coach.Submitted Photo
Looking at the defining moments of last season, Bouchard talked about his game-winning shootout spin-o-rama goal against the Blackhawks Dec. 5, 2006. He learned the move from his brother and had worked on it during practice. Before the shot, players on the bench yelled "Try it! Try it!" as Bouchard took the ice.
During the playoffs Veilleux and Anaheim left winger Travis Moen mixed it up on several occasions.
On whether the animosity toward Moen would carry over to next season, Veilleux replied, "Who knows? Hockey is an emotional game. Of course during the playoffs the intensity gets a little bit higher. But, personally, I don't think it carries to the next season."
During the tour stop, Ramsey also explained his duties with the team.
In most organizations, assistant coaches are assigned a specific role, like defense or forwards. With the Wild, coaches share responsibilities. During the game, Ramsey, a former defenseman, could be working on the offense while assistant coach Mario Tremblay, a former right winger, could be changing the defense.
Tom Thompson is an assistant general manager.Submitted Photo
Game day duties for Ramsey include communicating with the Wild's video assistant, assisting in making line changes and critiquing the game to head coach Jacques Lemaire.
Looking to the future with the Wild's draft, Ramsey said, "Colton Gillies, our first pick, is a big kid with good skates. He's got a lot of grit."
The selection of Gillies was by design. Assistant general manager Tom Thompson talked about the draft during a phone interview.
"I always like to make my assessment on opposing teams based on our team being at its best, not at its worst," Thompson said. "I think when our team was at its best, the three teams we would have the most trouble with were Anaheim, San Jose and Ottawa.
"And, if you look at those teams, they are skilled guys with a lot of size there. They can wear you down - We have to upgrade the size of our skill people somewhat."
In Monday's column, Wild assistant general manager Tom Thompson talks about his draft strategy and the Wild's future.
TREVOR WILLIAMS, sports copy editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5866.
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