Avalanche Fan Perspective: Wild’s Knee Hits


As Colorado Avalanche fans, we all remember the team’s early exit from the playoffs last season.The  Avalanche vs Wild series went all the way to Game 7 — and to overtime. There, heartbreakingly, Minnesota forward Nino Niederreiter scored the game-winning overtime goal to eliminate the Avs.

Avalanche Tyson Barrie

Part of the impetus for the exit was Tyson Barrie’s injury. Barrie suffered a medial collateral ligament injury in the third game of the series against the Minnesota Wild.

To be clear, Barrie suffered the injury because of a knee-on-knee hit by Minnesota forward Matt Cooke. Cooke claimed the hit was accidental. However, video shows Cooke charging Barrie and angling his knee out to hit an unsuspecting Barrie:

Barrie was diagnosed to miss four to six weeks — the rest of the playoffs, basically. Cooke received a seven-game suspension for the hit and was able to return during the series against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild lost in six games to the Blackhawks — and it was Cooke himself who allowed Patrick Kane to waltz into the offensive zone and score the game-winning goal. However, that meant little to the Avalanche and their fanbase.

Ancient history you think? The act of a single man, a known offender who’s been suspended numerous times already?

Unfortunately, it is not — it is a game strategy for the Minnesota Wild.

Blackhawk Bryan Bickell

Fast forward one year, and the Minnesota Wild are facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round again. Actually, scratch that — they’re getting schooled by the superior talent of the Blackhawks. Winger Patrick Kane is almost single-handedly beating Minnesota with just a little help from fellow star skaters and goalie Corey Crawford.

It’s Game 3 of the series. The action is scheduled to be in front of the Minnesota fans at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild are down by two in the series — it’s all eerily familiar as that was their position last year against the Avalanche.

So what is the Minnesota Wild’s response to facing a team that skates faster and scores better than they do? Same as it was last year — play dirty. Only this time it isn’t the act of a single man known for dirty hits. This time it’s a little guy with a big stick — or big knee, in this case. Little Jared Spurgeon (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) who makes Tyson Barrie look big.

Give the little guy credit — he went after one big boy, the

Erik Johnson

-sized Bryan Bickell (6-foot-4, 223 pounds). However, the target play was the exact same as the knee-on-knee hit:

Bickell’s a physical player, one who’s more accustomed to being head hunted than Tyson Barrie is. Even though Spurgeon has crouched down and extended his knee for the illegal hit, Bickell is able to shift his weight, let his targeted leg fly back, and go sailing through the air. It looks as if Spurgeon’s knee makes contact with Bickell’s, but the Chicago winger isn’t injured on the play. Spurgeon sits for “tripping.”

That wasn’t a tripping play, though. That was a player in a Minnesota Wild jersey attempting to injure another player with a knee-on-knee hit. He failed, and the Blackhawks scored the game-winning goal on the ensuing power play, but that doesn’t change the type of hockey Minnesota is playing.

It’s dirty hockey.

Minnesota Hockey

It’s no secret I dislike the Minnesota Wild. Last year’s elimination from the playoffs is only part of the reason. After all, in 19 season the Avalanche have been eliminated from the playoffs 10 times by six different teams — Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild. Naturally, I dislike the Red Wings, but I don’t hate them as I do the Minnesota Wild.

My hate is mostly because of the style of hockey Minnesota plays. Every now and again Wild head coach Mike Yeo likes to describe Minnesota hockey as “fast” and “offense minded.” To my eyes, Minnesota hockey is more characterized by shut-down defense, which slows the game on both sides.

Apparently Minnesota hockey is still characterized by dirty tactics as well. While Mike Yeo is complaining about the physicality of other teams against his Wild (read here), he is apparently sending the message to his own players that dirty hits are fine.

How else to explain Spurgeon’s hit on Bickell? Small Jared Spurgeon is known for his skating and his puck handling, not for any kind of physical or questionable play. Yet he attempted to injure Bryan Bickell almost the exact same way that Matt Cooke injured Tyson Barrie. That has to come from management, from coaching.

There is no indication that the NHL is looking at the incident. Bickell was not injured. However, with Minnesota showing a preference for this kind of play, the Department of Player Safety should start watching more closely. While it’s true there are questionable hits in any playoff series, the fact that a certain team is employing the exact same tactic, an illegal hit that injures players, not just across series but across seasons should be noted.

It should be noted and disciplined before another talented player is injured by the illegal knee-on-knee hit that appears to be part of the Minnesota Wild’s repertoire.

Next: Patrick Roy Commands Respect over Mike Yeo

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