Ranking the 5 Most Unbelievable Moments in Minnesota Wild History
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The Minnesota Wild have not been around long enough to win a Stanley Cup or even have a superstar worthy of retiring their number (other than, of course, the No. 1 set aside for Wild Fans because, you know, we’re all superstars), but there have been some pretty unbelievable moments in Wild history.
Some are unbelievable in the sense of wonder and amazement. How, for example, did the 2003 team go to the Western Conference Finals?
Others are unbelievable because they are still hard to take. How could the team blow their first-round pick in four consecutive years from 2004-07?
Although the team has had moderate success since entering the league in 2000, there has been more good than bad and therefore plenty of great moments to choose from.
Darby Hendrickson Scores the First Wild Goal
The first goal in Wild history was going to be momentous anyways, given that a) a franchise’s first goal is always remembered and b) the Jacques Lemaire teams really didn’t score that many…
But the fact that a Minnesota native and former Golden Gopher scored it makes it even more special.
Hendrickson was a journeyman player for the most part, but established roots in Minnesota as first a broadcaster for Fox Sports North and now as an assistant coach with the team.
Reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2002-03
This falls into the category of "How the hell did that happen?"
The Wild were a new team, of course, and lacking in star power. Marian Gaborik had a solid season, scoring 30 goals and tallying 65 points in 81 games and Pascal Dupuis had 20 goals of his own, but the next highest scorer was…Cliff Ronning?
The 2002-03 season is the first time the franchise had ever made the playoffs.
There were a few other recognizable names on the team: Andrew Brunette, Sergei Zholtok, Wes Walz, a young Pierre-Marc Bouchard and the aforementioned Hendrickson carrying the offense with the likes of Brad Bombardir, Willie Mitchell and Filip Kuba on defense.
The Wild meandered through the regular season, almost daring teams to carry a 0-0 score into overtime and then faced a mighty Colorado Avalanche team in the first round.
Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg had won a Stanley Cup in 2001 and were poised to snag another one in 2003—the Wild just appeared to be first-round fodder.
Instead, Minnesota took them to Game 7 and Andrew Brunette hit a game-winner in overtime to advance to Round 2.
Again the 2003 Wild took a team to Game 7 in the next round, this time facing Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, two young Sedin twins on a stacked Vancouver Canucks squad.
This series was a little less dramatic. Minnesota was down 3-1 entering Game 5, but then absolutely annihilated Vancouver 7-2, 5-1 and 2-4 in the final three games to advance.
Nobody talks about the 4-0 sweep by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the Western Conference and justifiably so. This was an incredible run for an expansion team in their third year of existence.
Blowing first round draft picks from 2004-07
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The best way to capitalize on early success, of course, is to build through the draft to create a culture of winning in St. Paul.
Many of the league’s most successful teams—the Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks—have build through the draft and in a small market it is imperative that the team is constructed from the ground up.
The Wild did well with their first few drafts, nabbing Marian Gaborik at third overall in 2000, Mikko Koivu with the No. 6 pick in 2001, Pierre-Marc Bouchard at No. 8 in 2002 and Brent Burns with No. 20 in 2003.
All four players are currently in the NHL, Koivu is the team captain and Bouchard was with the team until this season.
Then came a string of busts: A.J. Thelen (No. 12, 2004), Benoit Pouliot (No. 4, 2005), James Sheppard (No. 9, 2006) and Colton Gilles (No. 16, 2007).
It’s true that some of those players were drafted with later picks—it’s hard to be too critical with Gilles, for example—and that Thelen was a local guy that had injury trouble, but Pouliot was drafted ahead of Devin Setoguchi, Anze Kopitar and Marc Staal and Sheppard was taken instead of Michael Frolik, Bryan Little and Michael Grabner.
Every team is going to have their fair share of misses and the Wild did not draft as high as Pittsburgh, L.A. or Chicago did in consecutive years, but having four top picks fail to pan out is a big reason why the team was pretty mediocre after the 2003 miracle run.
Winning the Northwest Division in 2007-08
It wasn’t until the 2006-07 season that the Wild made the playoffs again. That year they lost to the eventual champion Anaheim Ducks in the first round, but appeared to be building towards something.
With Pavol Demitra, Brian Rolston and Marian Gaborik running the show, the team was poised to make a playoff run.
It was also a deep team. Mikko Koivu was coming into his own, Pierre-Marc Bouchard was healthy and Brent Burns scored 15 goals from the blueline. Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding were also established as the goaltending tandem of the future.
Gaborik had 41 goals that year, highlighted by his five-goal game against the New York Rangers in December and Rolston was on a streak of three consecutive 30-goal seasons.
Minnesota won the Northwest Division for the first and only time in franchise history, but the Avalanche enacted revenge for 2003 in the playoffs, this time upsetting the Wild as a No. 6 seed.
Sakic and Forsberg were on that Avalanche team, but Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk and, gasp, Andrew Brunette were the main contributors in 2007-08.
Again the Wild failed to capitalize on their success. Rolston and Demitra left, Gaborik was injured for most of the 2008-09 season and departed in free agency and Burns was dealt to the San Jose Sharks.
It wouldn’t be until the team made a dramatic move that the Wild would return to the postseason again.
Acquiring Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on the Fourth
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Things were getting a little dull on Kellogg Boulevard. Gaborik was gone, the sellout streak had ended and the playoffs seemed out of reach.
While there had been an ownership change in 2008 and the team was drafting better under new general manager Chuck Fletcher, it seemed like it would be a while before the Wild could be competitive again.
Then Craig Leipold flipped everything on its head.
On the Fourth of July, 2012, Minnesota had announced that they were bringing the top two free agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, to the State of Hockey.
Not only was Parise a local guy and Suter a Sconnie, but the former is also one of the best two-way forwards in the game and latter appears to be on the ice for the entire game.
The combination of Parise, Suter and a slew of young talent brought the Stanley Cup playoffs back for the first time since the 2007-08 season and the hope that the Wild would become an upper-echelon hockey team for years to come.
To date, the acquisition of Parise and Suter is the most unbelievable moment team history.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.