SUN Hockey Pool

Wild man cures road woes

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

Jacques Lemaire was aghast he was being asked to help the Calgary Flames.

Asked what his team did to turn their road woes around, the Minnesota Wild head coach acted like it was a magic elixir he wasn't about to hand over.

"You want me to tell them?" he said before breaking into laughter. "You really want me to tell them?"

Lord knows the Flames would gladly take advice from Lemaire at any time.

But seeing as his team went from an 11-game road losing streak to becoming one of the hottest teams in the league over the past two months, it would be gospel.

The only problem, he said, is there is no great secret.

"We don't know. We really don't know," Lemaire said after putting his team through its paces yesterday at the Saddledome. "When they turn it around, they won't know. It's just gonna happen."

Sure did for the Wild.

On Jan. 11, on the heels of a loss in Calgary, Minnesota was up by three goals on Vancouver but had watched it nearly evaporate late in the second period.

Veteran Wes Walz went on a tirade in the dressing room to fire up the troops. The Wild went on to victory that night, and have since put together a 14-3-2 record away from home.

"It's gotten blown out of proportion," Walz said of his speech. "Just like those guys over there are going through, you get tired of answering the questions as to why you can't win on the road and all we had to do was win one game and we wouldn't have to answer those questions, at least for another four-game streak.

"We were up 3-0 in Vancouver and gave them two late goals at the end of the second period and almost blew that game. I wasn't the only guy frustrated but we went out and dominated the third period (it was a 5-2 final) and won the game running away instead of sitting back, hanging on and hoping our goalie made 15 saves in the third period."

Walz is quick to point out reasons, he believes, for the team's improved road play.

A healthy Marian Gaborik -- who missed 34 games and more than two months due to a groin injury -- has helped immensely.

As well, he said it was important for them to remind themselves there were a handful of games the Wild deserved to win. And all topped off with a dose of improved goaltending.

"You can't win anything at any level, pee wee, bantam, any level, without above average goaltending," Walz said.

"And we're playing better. Guys are paying more attention to details, aren't flying the zone looking for goals and are playing solid defensively."

Of course, you can't bring up success without mentioning the word confidence.

All too often, the Flames have seen their game completely fall apart after one or two bad breaks or breakdowns.

Walz knows the feeling and how the momentum can build when things finally go your way.

"When you start to win one or two games, it changes the psyche of your team, at least it did for us, and we've been that way ever since," he said. "If you're anxious about winning, saying 'We've got to win. We've got to win. We've got to win,' it takes so much out of you, you feel you have no energy on the ice.

"It's a funny thing how it goes."


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