Not long after top contender Adam Beckman scored the winning goal in extra time to lead the Wild to a dramatic 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues, every member of the team was waiting in the locker room ready to celebrate .
When 20-year-old Beckman walked in, winger Marcus Foligno showered him with baby powder and the team burst into cheers.
You’d never know it was such a meaningless game. And that’s kind of the point.
“It was just Moose who is Moose,” said goalkeeper Cam Talbot with a laugh at Foligno’s post-game antics. “Just have a little fun with (Beckman). He took it like a champion. He’s a good kid. “
As the savages start a new chapter this season with a new leadership group – Jared Spurgeon as captain; Foligno and Matt Dumba as an alternative – there’s a whole different vibe than it has been for the past decade or so.
“I think we’ve said it a lot over the past few weeks,” said Spurgeon. “Regardless of whether you are in your first year or where you are from, you talk and say what goes through your head when you have something to say, and no matter how long you’ve been here, you listen and somehow have this dialogue. So far it’s been good. “
While it is perfectly fair to wonder how much of this had to do with veterans Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s departure last off-season – along with long-time captain Mikko Koivu’s departure the previous season – this is the only reason why things feel different would be a disservice to the work Spurgeon, Foligno and Dumba did ahead of this season.
“It is part of holding each other accountable,” said Foligno. “You do this by involving everyone. If guys are able to be themselves and the guys are comfortable in the locker room, the team will be better at it. It’s no longer the old school mentality where there is a pecking order. “
Maybe it wasn’t always like that. When asked if it feels any different this season, Dumba smiled and replied, “Yeah, much different.” Most of the players in the locker room agree.
“It’s a great thing to just be yourself,” said Dumba. “Everyone is on the same page. We chirp to each other and all. This team camaraderie is so important. It’s a long way on and off the ice. “
The enthusiasm for the new leadership group begins at the top of the organization.
“I’m really excited,” said Wild owner Craig Leipold. “I found out who they would choose (as a substitute) and said, ‘Wow. That’s great.’ I’m glad they came up with these two guys, Foligno and Dumba, and I think they’re both very passionate guys. They’ll talk in the locker room. I support the move very much. “
However, as General Manager Bill Guerin quickly realizes, the new leadership group works so well because Spurgeon, Foligno and Dumba feel comfortable giving each one a voice.
“I think Spurgey said it when he made his announcement on (Foligno and Dumba) that it doesn’t matter if someone carries a letter or not,” said Guerin. “If you have experience, you have the potential to take on a leadership role on this team. And the young players will learn from some really good guys, and we’re looking for them to give us energy and spark. I think it’s a really good mix. “
It goes back to that moment with Beckman in the locker room. He was extremely relaxed during the training camp because he felt comfortable enough to be himself. He never had the feeling of walking on eggshells.
“We want a culture where every young player feels comfortable when they come in here,” said Foligno. “We know there will be opportunities and guys that will emerge from (the American Hockey League’s Iowa Wild) who need to feel great when they walk into our space. We want it to feel like family. That is the greatest. We want everyone to feel like they have a place in our room. It doesn’t matter if the person has 10 games or 1,000 games. We want everyone to be themselves. “
This is music to train Dean Evason’s ears. He came through the NHL in the 1980s and remembers how it used to feel for a young player.
“It’s not like someone walk over to (Beckman) and say, ‘You’re a rookie. You can’t damn talk like that. Just sit in the corner, ‘”said Evason. “Those days are over. Those days are over.
“It is not a problem that a man has life and a man has energy and a man is loud,” added Evason. “I don’t know what other teams are doing. All I know is that it has changed since the 80s, that’s for sure. You would never have a young person (if things were still that way). You wouldn’t say a word would you? It obviously made no sense then and now. We’re all in the same boat. This is what we’re trying to do. That is the environment that we are all trying to create. “
In the same breath Evason praised Spurgeon for his leadership skills. As much as Evason appreciates what Foligno and Dumba bring into the locker room, for him it all starts with Spurgeon at the helm.
“He allows people to lead next to him, not under him,” said the coach. “That is exciting for us.”
The way Evason leads the team is just as exciting for the players. He has preached accountability from the day he took over former coach Bruce Boudreau – and he has never deviated from that message.
“It was there in the past,” said Foligno. “It just wasn’t always consistent. I think guys can look each other in the eye now and their ego won’t get in the way. I feel like it is now easier to say, “You have to work harder” or “You did this wrong”. There is positive and negative feedback, and now it is being received much better. “
While the locker room may never have been perfect, the hope is that with Spurgeon, Foligno and Dumba at least everyone will feel like they have a voice.
“You have to come together and understand each other, and I think that’s where our leadership group comes in,” said Foligno. “We have to set the standard, and once this standard is set, we can no longer go below it. I think that’s what we’re doing right now. It feels really good. “