Skip to content

Why you shouldn’t always root for NHL underdogs

Dec 14, 2011, 8:49 PM EDT

brodziakap AP

After watching the league-leading Minnesota Wild fire a measly two shots against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first period, I couldn’t help but think a sad thought. If you like exciting hockey, then more often than not, you should root against the underdogs.

It might not be a leap to say that cheering for the “little guy” is downright natural for sports fans. It’s why Rocky needed an increasingly ridiculous set of villains to off-set Sylvester Stallone’s increasing mass.

In a sport like basketball, it’s downright exhilarating to root for many dogs, especially when those teams commit to a full-court press or fast-break offense. Unfortunately, when you’re talking about the modern game of hockey, less talented teams usually institute the spiritual opposite of those techniques – whether it’s a true “trap” or just passive play. (Sorry, Mike Yeo.)

The 1994-95 New Jersey Devils didn’t invent the neutral-zone trap, but their shocking upset of the Detroit Red Wings certainly popularized its usage. Only the staunchest supporters of quicksand defense will argue that the Dead Puck Era was a good thing for the league, but the bottom line is that these defense-first (second and last) strategies help lower budget teams keep pace with exciting, usually expensive ones.

Soul-crushing strategies aren’t scary just because they’re boring. They’re scary because they work.

I don’t mean to single the Wild out – their offense is showing some pulse in the second period. Still, if you don’t have a horse in this race and just want exciting hockey, then you should pull for the Blackhawks blueprint. In other words, as wrong as it feels, you should root against the tortoise and for the hare.

  1. bfile73 - Dec 14, 2011 at 9:00 PM

    Another lazy commentary by an expert regarding the Wild. Did you catch the Jets/Wild game last night? Back and forth action throughout. Wild are without Seto, PMB and now Latendresse, all 3 major offensive pieces for the Wild.

    • blurwild - Dec 14, 2011 at 9:57 PM

      You forgot the “quotes” around “expert.”

      I like how he watches one period of a team and decides that’s enough to call them boring.

    • krishavy3 - Dec 14, 2011 at 10:59 PM

      Dude. Maybe you should wait until the game ends before you post things like this. And seriously, if I heard another “The Wild look a lot like the New Jersey Devils under Jaques Lamaire…” from the commentators on Versus, I would’ve probably broken my T.V set. Does anyone actually watch the Wild, or do you revert back to ’03 as a means to justify that this team is good? They are sound defensively, and patient offensively, especially considering the many pieces we’re missing. My God.

      On a side note: Shots on goal for both teams at the end of the game… pretty much even. Just saying.

  2. bennyh55311 - Dec 14, 2011 at 9:23 PM

    Ignorant blog. No love for the Wild who have been first in the league for a few weeks. Chicago comes at them in the first period and you obviously haven’t watched the Wild this year, you take the easy road on Chicago’s jock. After two periods: 2-2 A-hole

  3. stateofhockey - Dec 14, 2011 at 9:28 PM

    What game are you watching O’Brien?

    • James O'Brien - Dec 14, 2011 at 9:35 PM

      This wasn’t meant to be an attack on the Wild as a whole, but I can understand why it was taken that way. The point is that a lot of underdog stories aren’t as heartwarming because a ton of those teams “dumb the hockey down.”

  4. bfile73 - Dec 14, 2011 at 9:47 PM


    Appreciate the response, most don’t clarify. Good game so far

    • blurwild - Dec 14, 2011 at 10:07 PM

      Agreed on both counts.

      I do understand his point that the first period brought the subject to light rather than saying it’s just the wild.

      But why not mention any other current/relevant examples ? I’m sure you have more than 2 teams in the past 17 years to back a statement like “a ton of those teams dumb hockey down,” correct?

  5. bennyh55311 - Dec 14, 2011 at 10:23 PM

    Wild are stiil number 1 in the NHL, Chicago only picked up a point on them after a shootout. Watch some hockey before you blog again. Do you need a lesson on #1 & #2 in NCAA hockey?

    • comeonnowguys - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:12 AM

      Not for nothing, but the refs pretty much giftwrapped your point last night.

      • kopy - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:30 AM

        Refs missed a lot last night. They also didn’t think this was tripping for a penalty shot:

        If you don’t see it, you’re looking at the sticks and not the skates. That’s okay though, because the refs did the same thing.

      • kopy - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:31 AM

        Not to mention, Chicago got a goal off the power play they earned when the Wild bench was exuberantly arguing over this non-call.

      • getadealdonealready - Dec 15, 2011 at 12:03 PM

        In addition to the kicking of the skate on Cullen’s breakaway, it happened several other times last night, and two other times on players driving to the net(Brodziak and Koivo, both by Leddy). It must be something their D are taught, and hopefully the NHL will take a look at it, and not miss these calls in the future.

      • comeonnowguys - Dec 15, 2011 at 2:07 PM

        Keith went around behind Cullen and get his stick on the puck at the same time they bumped. I thought it was a penalty shot live, but when they showed the replay, I was shocked. It wasn’t “Oh God, I got to take him out,” he actually made a play for the puck.

        We can play the missed call game all day, you know like Mayers catch a stick blade in the face while carrying the puck, Brodziak’s instant shot to the face on Chuckleheadillo, too many men on the ice before the end of the 3rd. You can do that with any game.

        However, none of those actually was bad enough to warrant the ref going up to the bench and apologizing like the non-call icing that directly led to the goal.

      • kopy - Dec 15, 2011 at 3:25 PM

        Exactly. You can do this with any team for any game, including both teams in this game, hence the Wild’s point was not gift-wrapped.

  6. gbiscottagecheesefatties - Dec 14, 2011 at 10:34 PM

    there are way too many reasons to count why the Wild came out flat in the 1st period… I shouldn’t have to give one example, so I won’t… That aside, it’s the Wilds fault for not doing a better job but I won’t be mad seeing as it was 0-0…

    Bad article, sorry but it is

  7. bennyh55311 - Dec 14, 2011 at 10:55 PM

    O’brien went to the “Yeah… But..” School of Journalism. Obviously hasn’t watched Minnesota this year and makes no mention of the injuries to the Wild in his post. Hack.

  8. greatminnesotasportsmind - Dec 14, 2011 at 11:19 PM

    Must be another “journalist” from Edmonton. Yeah we lost in a shootout, but if you had watched one Wild shootout in the past 5 years, you’d know shootouts aren’t Nik Backstrom’s strong point. Then again who cares about a shootouts, lucky the NHL isn’t dumb enough to put them in the playoffs.

  9. rmontesano - Dec 15, 2011 at 1:04 AM

    You must have missed the entire 2nd period while you wasted your time writing this poorly thought out article. You’re quick to dog the Wild because of a lousy first but its a 60 minute game not a 20 minute game. Teams struggle all the time in the 1st period and eventually settle down and get back to their game.

    The Wilds lousy 1st period could be chalked up to the rowdy game in Winnipeg last night then having to fly home after to get ready for the Hawks game. Injuries also played a role, if you consider your self a real sports journalist you would have known Cullen was playing sick, PMB was out, Lats is still not 100%(he eventually left the game), Seto is out, Zidlicky was playing in his first game back, Zanon was out. Hell the majority of the players tonight were from the Aero’s.

    Terrible article, hang it up O’ Brien.

  10. rarebarbarians - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:19 AM

    Who is James O’brien he obviously doesn’t know anything about hockey, last time I checked they play 3 periods and not 1. By the way James we were only out shot by 1, 31-30. Or are the Wild a better team because we out hit them 18-11, and we won 35 faceoffs to 30, get with it James the stat sheets don’t mean anything only the scoreboard and yes we lost in a shootout, however the Wild can play and beat anyone in this league in a whole entire game not just one. So take the point we deserved last night and put that in your pipe and smoke it.

  11. treydogg97 - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:59 AM

    You must’ve written this when they were down 2-0.

    Probably the best point you made on your blog was:

    “Soul-crushing strategies aren’t scary just because they’re boring. They’re scary because they work.”

    You’re damn right they work. The Wild are not necessarily the victims of their own system. If anything, they are victims of a GM who rarely liked to pull the trigger (sitting on Gaborik, not finding a true puck feeder for him), signed average to above-average players to big contracts and poor drafting/scouting.

    Also, the low-budget crack? Not so much, buddy. The Wild were struggling to get UNDER the cap. Low budget my ass.

  12. minnesotahockeyfan - Dec 15, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    The game ended with the Blackhawks having 31 shots and the Wild with 30. In the third period, the Wild outshot the Blackhawks 16 to 7. Funny, the same margin (9) that the Blackhawks out shot the Wild in the first period, but I should not be shocked this “expert” failed to mention the third period.

    Why don’t we just go back to the Original Six teams? That way insignificant teams like the Wild, the Panthers, and heck, even the Penguins wont’ get into the way of the “purest form” of hockey played by the Blackhawks.

    The Wild are a tough team and will continue to play hard every night, especially when down by one or two goals.

    • ThatGuy - Dec 15, 2011 at 1:30 PM

      To be fair, this was posted during the game at the start of the second period(hence why the third wasn’t mentioned) but its still bad.

  13. getadealdonealready - Dec 15, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    NBC – you are launching a sports channel in January. My advice find people who can speak intelligently on the sport they are assigned to cover if you want it to be successful. Both this article, and the commentators referring to the wild as running the same trap the team ran under Lemaire show the general lack of hockey knowledge. The sport deserves better!

  14. James O'Brien - Dec 15, 2011 at 5:12 PM

    Just to clarify (again), this wasn’t meant to be some grand statement about the Minnesota Wild. Instead, the first period inspired a column that’s been brimming for years. (Example: Montreal getting to the 2010 conference finals by “counter-punching.”) It could have been any team, really, but it seemed like a good time since the Wild are currently atop the NHL.

    The Wild played far more captivating hockey in the rest of the game, which is heartening, because my hope is that good teams will play good hockey more often than not.

  15. bennyh55311 - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:08 PM

    O’Brien – then watch good hockey outside of the easy posts about the only teams ESPN covers. Minnesota has been demolished by injuries yet still leads the league… But the “good story” is they only had 2 shots on goal in the first period against a great Chicago team. Do they actually pay you to write this crap? Move out of your parents basement.

  16. drewsylvania - Dec 17, 2011 at 11:57 AM

    Is the Wild’s brand of hockey boring? I don’t watch them. But winning is never boring. If they were, say, two games over .500, what would you say about their style of play?

Top 10 NHL Player Searches
  1. P. Kessel (1752)
  2. P. Kane (1371)
  3. M. Richards (1255)
  4. P. Datsyuk (1241)
  5. N. Backstrom (1103)