Guillaume Latendresse returned to the scene of the crime, so to speak, last night with Minnesota and had a relatively quiet night.
Well, at least quiet by the standards to which Wild fans have become accustomed.
On his arrival in Minnesota, Latendresse was hailed by team management as a player that they could look at to be a solid, physical power forward for years to come. Fans and pundits from his former team, the Montreal Canadiens, begged to differ.
In my own blog (shameless plug coming) Wild Nation, the comments section was all Habs' fans stating their displeasure with G-Lat.
He was said to be lazy, slow, selfish, soft; just about anything you could rag on a hockey player for being, he was called.
But I’ve got a newsflash for Wild fans, in case you haven’t been paying attention: He’s been anything but that in Minnesota.
Let’s be honest. The guy has three goals and four points in 11 games. He’s clearly not lighting the world on fire. But what is sticking out to me is what he is doing away from the puck—what he is doing when he’s not scoring.
And what he is doing is exactly what he’s being asked to do. He’s driving to the net. He’s taking the body. He’s forechecking like a madman. He’s creating turnovers in the neutral zone. Most of all, though? He’s working his ass off.
G-Lat came to Minnesota in desperate need of a change of scenery, and that’s exactly what he’s gotten in every single way.
Consider that in 11 games he has just seven fewer shots on goal than he had in 23 in Montreal. Or that he’s averaging almost five minutes more of ice time.
In Montreal, he was mired on the fourth line and not gaining chemistry with anyone.
In Minnesota, he’s moved up to what could easily be considered the team’s second line and has gained tremendous chemistry with both Kyle Brodziak and Martin Havlat.
It was a significantly different set of circumstances that G-Lat faced heading into Montreal than when he left. He left with his confidence in shambles, but he returned with this confidence renewed.
He was ready to play—ready to prove people wrong. Despite jitters that never quite went away (he said himself that he was more nervous than in his first NHL game) and despite never getting on the score sheet, he at least proved to Minnesota fans that he wasn’t going to fade away quietly under pressure.
He didn’t tally a point, but what he did do was play his game—the game that is expected of him, nightly, by Todd Richards. He played fast, physical hockey and he didn’t back down, despite the jeers and taunts from the Montreal crowd.
“I heard them booing, yeah,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune after the game. “There were maybe frustrated people with me. Those people, I don’t care about those people. They even boo their own players. I really have nothing to say about those people.”
It’s obvious that Latendresse is fitting in well in Minnesota, both personally and in the team’s system. In Montreal, he and his girlfriend (pop star Annie Villeneuve) were consistently hounded by the media and paparazzi. In Minnesota? You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who really cares.
“I’m glad I was traded west,” he told reporters prior to Thursday’s game. “If I was traded east, I’d have to come here three times a year. It’s way different than what is in Minnesota. I enjoy my new life, after practice talking to two [media] people, and that’s great for me.”
Not only is it great for him. It’s great for the Minnesota Wild as well.