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Minnesota Goaltending, A Brief History

Throughout their history, the Wild have been treated to some of the best goaltending in the league. From day one, the team has had the privilege of working with some of the most talented young goaltenders in the league. The major difference between these goalies and the rest of the league’s net-minders is that in Minnesota they seem to slip under the radar. Now, this could certainly be due to the fact that Minnesota sports, especially the Wild receive little to no attention on the national stage, but after further investigation it is due to the fact that all of the gentlemen who have stopped the puck for the Wild have been extremely selfless, team-first characters. This attitude that it seems they all share is an incredibly important and often times under-appreciated characteristic for a professional athlete.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these people shall we? Well first and foremost was Manny Fernandez. As the first goalie of the Minnesota Wild, Fernandez seemed to set the tone for what was to be expected in the Wild net. He was a very stoic, very solid performer who never put himself before his team one time. His first years here was one of very few time periods in Wild history when they had a clear #1 guy. His backup, Jamie McClennan , while certainly capable was a clear fit for the back up role. It was only a few years later that the Wild brought on Dwayne Roloson, and created a new system for Minnesota Wild goaltenders in what ended up being a dynamic goaltending duo. Roloson and Fernandez led the wild on their lone deep run in the playoffs, so it’s hard to avoid the notion that these were the golden years of Minnesota Wild goaltending. To further substantiate the claim, Roloson has the franchise record for lowest career GAA and Save Percentage with the team at 2.28 and .919 respectively.

Now to move into the more modern era of Wild keepers. Niklas Backstrom (not to be confused with the center for the Washington Capitals) came into the league in 2006 as a 28 year-old rookie. Due to a knee injury starting goaltender Manny Fernandez left the door wide open for Backstrom to come in and take over the role. What ensued was, and still is, the longest lasting career for a Minnesota Wild Goaltender. After coming off the bench, Backstrom finished the season as the starter, ending up among the best in the league in terms of GAA and Save Percentage, even managing to tie Dwayne Roloson’s record of most shutouts in a season (5) in only 36 starts.  This marked the beginning of another one of the periods of the wild having another number one goalie.

What is important to note here is that the wild have had some miraculous luck (Some might call it luck, others skill.) with farm system goalies. There have been three standout goalies that have emerged from the Wild’s farm system thus far: Josh Harding, Matt Hackett, and Darcy Kuemper. Hackett came into the NHL and had shutouts in his first two games. His success continued but unfortunately there was simply no room for him on Minnesota’s roster, so he was shipped to Buffalo in the trade that saw Jason Pominville land in the Twin Cities.

(Photo by Chad Graff)
From left to right, the goalies for the Minnesota Wild are: Nicholas Backstrom, Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper.
(Photo by Chad Graff)

This brings us to today. The most prevalent goaltending standout in recent memory is young Darcy Kuemper. This is likely due to the fact that he has started the last 16 games for Minnesota, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. After starting the season in a rough fashion in Toronto, giving up 3 goals on very few quality chances and eventually getting pulled, he has made a miraculous recovery. The young goalie had his NHL debut in the 2012-2013 shortened season, but this year is his first real opportunity in the starting role. He has carried a team that has been riddled with injuries over the last couple months, his strong play being one of the key factors in the team’s continued playoff contention.

Although it seems late to be mentioning Josh Harding, it is incredibly important that he be brought up here. He is yet another example of the Wild’s development system doing its job fantastically, but he is so much more than that. After a devastating diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in 2012, Harding has done nothing but battle back as hard as possible to support his team as well as others with the disease. He has been a shining light for the disease, and for his team, as earlier this season he was hands down the best goalie in the NHL. Unfortunately the treatment process made it impossible for him to continue the season, but hopes are still very high that he will be able to join the team at some point in the very near future. Regardless, he has been a role model on and off the ice for anyone, whether you struggle with this disease, or a similar one, or none at all it would be wise to look to Josh for a great example.

Last but Certainly not least, the Wild announced Tuesday that they had made a deal with the Edmonton Oilers that would bring Ilya Bryzgalov to Minnesota in exchange for a 4th round pick. This move totally goes against what all of the aforementioned players did to create a culture of soft-spoken, team first attitudes as Bryz has quite a reutation for his sound bytes. Either way, with the injuries to the last line of defense for the Wild this year, it was a necessary move and will be interesting down the stretch.

So there you have it. A not so brief history of Minnesota Wild goalies. It is certainly an elite group, and will continue to be for years to come.

David Saunders

David Saunders

David Saunders

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