Minnesota built for speed

STEVE MacFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

No one has ever accused the Minnesota Wild of playing a wide-open style of hockey.

With the new NHL mandate encouraging more goals, more often, some figure the Wild may be unable to adapt. But even though head coach Jacques Lemaire has been pegged a defensive specialist, Calgarian Wes Walz says the team's identity won't have to change.

"The way we play, I don't see a whole bunch of changes," said Walz over the phone from the Twin Cities.

"We have an identity here in Minnesota. We built a foundation on work ethic and (being) solid defensively.

"Regardless of the new rule changes and everything, that's still going to be the foundation of how we build our team here. I don't foresee that changing anytime soon."

The thing is, Lemaire's group has speed, which is going to be one of the biggest keys to success under the new guidelines. Marian Gaborik is arguably one of the most exciting players in the league and should be able to bounce back from his disappointing 2003-04 season.

Disappointing is a relative term.

The speedy right-winger managed 40 points and a plus-10 rating in 65 games after a pair of 30-goal, 60-plus-point campaigns.

Being able to storm down the ice without an opponent waterskiing with his stick around his waist, not to mention the expected additional powerplay opportunities, Gaborik and his skilled teammates -- including 2004's comeback player of the year Alexandre Daigle, who matched career highs in 2003-04 -- should thrive.

"We've got guys like Marian and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who's very nifty with the puck," said an excited Walz. "Pascal Dupuis is a very fast forward, too. We picked up Todd White and Brian Rolston, who can also skate. We've got some guys who can definitely scoot out there so it's going to be interesting to see how we can use the rule changes to our advantage.

"The guys who can skate and get around the ice the best are the guys who are going to be better off."

That said, you can be assured Lemaire will find a way to keep his opponents' goal scoring down while hopefully improving on the Wild's 188 in 2003-04.

"Jacques is the best coach I've ever had," said Walz. "Everyone calls him a defensive coach but he's just the best coach I've ever had, period."

Famous for bottling up the neutral zone, Lemaire has been accused of slowing down the game.

But Walz says his coach's reputation is unfair.

"We're taught here not to hold and hook, clutch and grab," said Walz.

"He can't stand when guys get hooking and holding penalties. It drives him crazy.

"Jacques has always been about positioning and positional play."


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