September 10, 2008

Dear Tyler Cuma,

In my travels through the blogosphere, I have had the pleasure of encountering fans from many other teams - mostly NHL teams. One among those is a fan of the Minnesota Wild and after the NHL draft, I invited CrotchetyOriginalSam to write a piece for this blogsite to give Tyler a bit of an insight into being a member of the team (as observed by a fan).

Here's his note to Tyler........

Dear Tyler,

I have to confess that I’d never heard your name before draft day. I do try to keep track of the top young prospects coming up in the world of junior hockey, and I watch the international tourneys to the extent that I can find a TV network south of the 49th parallel that’s willing to carry them for me, but honestly, the Wild owned the 24th pick in this year’s draft, and I understood from the outset that this was going to place whoever the Minnesota braintrust chose well out of the range of players I was familiar with.

Even the way we picked you had to be a bit underwhelming. By all accounts, our GM was working the phones in a desperate attempt to trade our pick and then some for the services of Olli Jokinen, and as much as they seem to like you, there’s little question that they liked Olli better, at least in the short term. Still, we did burn a third-rounder just to move up a single spot to take you before New Jersey could (you’re welcome, by the way – I’ve been to Newark, and believe me, you want no part of that miserable little burg,) and by all accounts, our hockey people are awfully high on your particular skill set.

Speaking of those skills, I understand that you started out as a center (yes, I’m an American, and I spell like it – sorry, Canada,) a position at which you may have noticed we’re a bit thin. I’m not saying you ought to start agitating for a return to the faceoff circle just yet, merely that you’ve joined an organization that’s been willing to play talented players all over the ice and let them find their place on the big squad. Something to keep in mind as you watch your future club attempt to win the Northwest with 1½ quality centermen spread across four lines. Personally, I’d love to see you in St. Paul as an offensive defenseman, but I’d like to see some faceoff wins more, and let’s face it – our coach doesn’t exactly have a history of showing much love to d-men of the non-stay-at-home variety.

And since we’re there, let’s talk about Jacques for a minute. I’m sure you know plenty about him already, and obviously, as a mere fan, there are a million things I’ll never know about the relationships between players and coaches. But really, as far as Lemaire goes, there are only two relevant things to keep in mind: #1) he’s not going anywhere until he decides to, and #2) he knows how to win hockey games. I understand that his devotion to an overly cautious, defense-first system is infuriating to most of Canada, or at least to those who believe Don Cherry to be a spokesman for the game. I also understand that some players chafe under a coach who insists that every player put team above self all the time – hell, we may yet lose Marian Gaborik because of just that sort of chafing. But the bottom line is that the Wild’s brief history as a franchise is littered with role players who overachieved under Lemaire, then couldn’t reproduce that success in other organizations. For those who buy in and take Jacques seriously from the start, there seem to be a lot of rewards on the ice.

Another thing I don’t have any real firsthand knowledge of is how much the players are aware of or responsive to an organization’s level of engagement with the fan base. I’m sure you’d all prefer to play for a team that’s known for treating its fans well rather than one that behaves as if it’s doing them a favor merely by existing, but I’m guessing that it probably doesn’t affect your day-today existence as a hockey player one way or the other.

Still, you should know that all the State of Hockey hype that comes out of the Wild organization is real. From the beginning, this organization was determined to make all of Minnesota forget the decades of shoddy treatment we endured from the North Stars, and embrace the new franchise with the same fervor we bring to high school and college hockey. Jerseys from every high school in the state ring the concourse at the Xcel Energy Center, and the Hobey Baker Award actually resides inside one of the main entrance gates. Every game here begins not with some NBA-ish laser light show, but with a lone child clad in full Wild gear busting it for center ice in a glaring spotlight to plant a flag tied to a hockey stick as the players skate out from the tunnel around him/her. (We’re in no danger of running out of new kids for this task, either, which is something a lot of US markets can’t say.)

Everything about the club is carefully designed to promote the idea that the Minnesota is one big hockey-loving family, and as hokey as it can all sometimes seem, it’s worked like a charm, to the extent that certain local sportswriters can be counted on to write at least three columns a year berating Wild fans for continuing to support a team that has been inconsiderate enough not to win a Stanley Cup in its first 8 years of existence. (These same columnists also regularly berate Twins fans for not showing up by the millions to watch indoor baseball games in a hideous antiseptic football dome on beautiful summer nights, so you can safely ignore them.)

Anyway, I realize this is all a bit premature, since there’s basically zero chance that we’ll be seeing you in a Wild sweater anytime this season. You won’t need to worry about Jacques, or the fan base, or the sportswriters for some time yet, and at the moment, I’m assuming that you’re still savoring that gold medal you just won and looking forward to the prospect tourney in Traverse City. But on behalf of America’s spiritual home of hockey, I just wanted to say hey, and tell you that we’re looking forward to your arrival. I’m sure Valerie will keep us updated on when we can expect you…

Yours truly,

Here's a link to information about the Wild participating in a rookie tournament.

Good luck Tyler and knock 'em dead (but please don't get hurt trying!!).

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