Wild: Scouting the Enemy

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)
This photograph was taken on John Torchetti’s first game in charge of the Iowa Wild. He would go on to defeat the Milwaukee Admirals 3-2 in the BMO Harris Bradley Center. He has just been promoted to the Minnesota Wild and an interesting scenario has the chance to be replicated. Can a new head coach for the Wild defeat the Admirals in their own barn? (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Yesterday there was some news that hit through the Minnesota Wild organization that rumbled through their farm system. Wild head coach Mike Yeo was fired following the team’s 4-2 loss against the Boston Bruins. It was the Wild’s eighth-consecutive loss had gone 3-12-4 over his final 19 games in charge. The Wild opted to look within their system and promoted Iowa Wild head coach John Torchetti as interim head coach of the NHL outfit.

Minnesota had already fired Yeo before puck drop in Iowa last night. As you might expect – that game wasn’t an easy one to coach for Torchetti. Yet, the Wild have been making really positive strides under Torchetti’s watch in the past month or so. Last night wasn’t any exception to that, either. The Wild squared off against the Grand Rapids Griffins and held them to a 3-3 scoreline until a late Joël Chouinard goal with 2:59 remaining in regulation gave the Griffins the 4-3 win in Iowa. Literally two-minutes after the game went final the Minnosta Wild announced Torchetti as the interim head coach. So, make that a regulation loss and loss of a head coach in that window.

Now that all has been cleared up top-side the focus comes right here this evening in Milwaukee. Who takes the reigns behind the bench for Iowa now that their head coach has been promoted less than twenty-four hours before a game? The man tasked with the interim coaching duties for Iowa will be David Cunniff – who has been promoted from his associate coaching duties with the team.

What is very interesting to note with this coaching scramble on Iowa’s side of things is that this isn’t the first time this has happened in recent memory. Just last season Kurt Kleinendorst was fired as the head coach of the Iowa Wild which prompted the arrival of Torchetti to the Wild organization. What was Torchetti’s first contest as newly appointed head coach of the Iowa Wild? A road game against the Milwaukee Admirals. The result? The Wild won 3-2.

Simply put: There is a chance for history to be replicated in another one of those win one for “The Gipper” type performances from Iowa. Let’s not do that.

~Oh, Yeah, The Rest of the Team~

The Iowa Wild enter tonight’s game with a record of 15-29-3-3 (36 points). Their 0.360 points percentage has then sitting in seventh place of the Central Division standings and fourteenth in the Western Conference standings. Who is that I spy underneath the Wild in both of those standings? The Manitoba Moose… state of your team, mate.

When looking at the Wild since Christmas they’ve actually strung together a not so bad record – for their norm anyways. Since Christmas they’ve gone 10-7-1-0 (21 points) over a spell of 18 games for a 0.583 points percentage. Now, that might seem shrug inducing to us Admirals folks but prior to Christmas the Wild were an appalling 5-22-2-3 (15 points) over the opening 32 games of the season for a 0.234 points percentage. So, when you see that the Wild have actually managed to leapfrog ANYONE in ANY standings it is a borderline miracle that the Wild have gone on the run that they have since Christmas.

~Who What Now?~

The Wild currently have five players at the 20+ points plateau with two deadlocked at 30 points: Zack Mitchell, 30 points (18 goals, 12 assists)… Grayson Downing, 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists)… Jordan Schroeder, 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists)… Christoph Bertschy, 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists)… Michael Keränen, 22 points (8 goals, 14 assists).

In goal for the Wild you will no longer see former Admirals netminder Jeremy Smith. “Why’s that,” you ask. Well, he was loaned to the Wild from the Boston Bruins organization at the start of the season. It looked as if Smith was going to be stationed in Iowa for the 2015-16 season the way things were going. At the start of the season in Milwaukee? He had a full range of Bruins goaltending gear including the mask. Last time we saw him in Milwaukee? He had paid up to get customized Wild goaltending pads, stick, and a mask. That all changed though after a scary situation for Providence Bruins goaltender Malcolm Subban that saw him fracture his larynx during warm-ups on February 6th. The younger brother of P.K. Subban is expected to miss up to two-months following successful surgery to repair his fractured larynx. That means a goaltending vacancy is open in Providence. That means Smith’s loan with Iowa is over as it is unclear how the recovery process for Subban will play out for the remaining 2015-16 season.

Smith’s stay with the Wild had to be an absolute joy or misery depending on how you look at it. On one hand, he went from being in the Boston Bruins organization to a dysfunctional and sloppily defending Iowa Wild team that was sure to keep him on his toes game after game. On the other hand, basically the exact same sentence that I just wrote.

The man that takes the net from Smith will come down to two options: the veteran Leland Irving or the first year pro Steven Michalek.

Irving has factored into more games in net than anyone for the Wild this season with 25 appearances. He has a record of 7-14-3-2, a 2.78 goals against average, 0.912 save percentage, and a shutout to his name.

Michalek, obligatory movie reference, has played in 4 games for the Wild this season and has excelled out of his stint with the Quad City Mallards of the ECHL where he started his debut season of professional hockey. Michalek has a 3-1-0-0 record, 2.02 goals against average, 0.945 save percentage, and a fight on his AHL debut no less! Hey, when Zach Boychuk is the one uploading your fight videos you know you made it in the game of hockey.

Of note, it was Michalek that started in net for the Wild in their loss last night to the Griffins. If you task a goalie with that high pressure of a game with that long of a bus ride and little sleep to play against an Admirals team that is coming off of a big comeback win with a 100% healthy roster… you’re either bonkers or hoping to bank on some brilliance. I expect to see Irving get the nod tonight. He’s only made one appearance, which was a start, against the Admirals so far this season. That was an overtime loss in which he stopped 32/35 shots on goal.

Expectations for this evening’s game? Do the Iowa Wild in a state of new voice behind the bench panic or thrive? Will the Milwaukee Admirals learn from Friday night and deliver a 60-minute hockey game?

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