Are Minnesota Wild Fans Xenophobic, or is it Something More Sinister?

Now, if we could just get rid of that German guy, we'd be in business.

The Wild blogosphere isn't very big. The number of sites writing about the Wild with any regularity is pretty small in comparison to teams north of the border, and even some south of it. I won't go about naming them all here (they are in the blog roll on the left side of the site), but the ones that post regularly are pretty good, and you should be reading them.

Two of my absolute favorites are First Round Bust and Hitting the Post. The writers at both sites can make a reasoned argument, throw in a dash of lunacy, and are good for information and a laugh from time to time. Plus, you know, the guys at FRB bought me a beer once, so they have street cred.

From time to time, however, there is going to be a bit of disagreement among the brain trust. Nick from HTP and I have had some epic debates on the Twitters. I can't speak for him, but even when those debates get testy, the respect is still there. It is not often I am willing to call out a writer or a post from these two sites.

Today, an exception. Please keep in mind this is all in the furtherance of debate, not an attack.

Today, Mike (the new guy to the scene) says that Wild fans are Xenophobes, and exhibit some sort of Mike Millbury / Don Cherry-esque attitude about European hockey players. Let's take a look at the post.

First, the premise begins with a comment at a game about John Scott being a better than Mikko Koivu. The commenter then says that his answer was that he didn't think John Scott was even in the league anymore.

The comment that sent Mike to the keyboard makes my head hurt. First off, anyone who says John Scott is better than Mikko Koivu is an idiot. The type of idiot you need to just not engage and walk away from. Hell, Scott would be the first in line to tell you he isn't as good as Koivu.

Secondly, to answer that you don't think John Scott is in the league anymore? Yeah... you're only slightly below the idiocy level of the first guy. Not only is he in the league, he plays for the Wild's opponent this evening. The Rangers found his services valuable enough to trade for him at the deadline. I have not seen many complaints from the Rangers fans regarding this move. Scott does get limited playing time, but he still has value.

Basically, the post is premised on the conversation between two people who don't know a lick about what they are talking about. This is where Mike takes us on a trip. You can read the entire post for yourself, but here is a sample:

Seems like a lot of anger is being directed at European hockey players. There was a concerted grassroots effort to oust Martin Skoula, despite how much Jacques Lemaire loves the guy. Same with Marek Zidlicky after he did less than nothing this year in the Iron Range Red.

And I've constantly felt the need to be President of the Mikko Koivu Apologists Association of Minnesota after seeing at the 'SHP or on Twitter that Koivu needs to be traded. Or stripped of the 'C' because he's grumpy after a loss.

Or that John Scott is a better hockey player than Mikko Koivu.

Mike does go on to mention that Wild fans also have gone after James Sheppard, Tom Gilbert, and Cam Barker... all North Americans. Then, however, he lists two more guys Wild fans didn't like much: Filip Kuba, Antti Miettinen, and even Marian Gaborik. He then sums it up with the fact that fans loved Derek Boogaard.

Let's break this down.

  • Martin Skoula - Skoula was, and is, a joke. He was second of the Wild's failed attempts to bring in an offensive defenseman. He is a traffic cone, a pylon on the way to the net for skilled players to use to create highlights. The guy fell down on the goal line leading directly to a goal.
  • Marek Zidlicky - I'm not so sure many people disliked Zidlicky until he went outside the locker room to air his complaints. Sure, people griped about his defense, but as mentioned several times here at HW, that was because he is terrible at defense. His offense forgave the defensive blunders, right up until the offense stopped.
  • Filip Kuba - The guy was on the ice for nearly every goal against in the playoff history of the Wild. You want to know why he isn't liked, look no further than that.
  • Antti Miettinen - Not sure who wanted him gone, or who was making comments attacking Mittens. Mocking his inability to put a shot on net? Absolutely. No one here wanted him gone, we just wanted him off the top line, and that wasn't going to happen unless he was cut loose.
  • Marian Gaborik - I won't pretend I like the guy. He does play for himself. He does suck at breakaways. However, he is an elite level sniper in the NHL, and has the talent to be whoever he wants to be. However, when a team offers you 8 million a year, you turn it down, then get hurt and miss the entire season before signing for less money with another team and griping about how the Wild never even made an offer? Yeah... screw off.
  • Mikko Koivu - The people who want him traded are idiots. The people who want him to no longer be the captain... some have solid reasons, others are just angry. Either way, in my opinion, they are both wrong.

Notice one thing that was not mentioned in any of the descriptions above? Their ancestry. I have seen very few (as in, maybe one or two) comments about European players coming from Wild fans. Bigots exist in every fan base, though. Saying that the entire fan base seems to show xenophobic attitude because they didn't like the players above? I'm not buying it.

Mike fairly points out that fans didn't like Sheppard or Barker, and many (myself included) do not like the game of native son Tom Gilbert. Wild fans also did not like Benoit Pouliot, openly mock AJ Thelen, most were displeased with the drafting of Nick Leddy, don't like the game of Colton Gillies, and a growing number are turning against Dany Heatley (maybe he is a bad example, since he was born in Germany), Devin Setoguchi (oh... Asian decent), Erik Christensen, and Matt Cullen. Brent Burns was getting his fair share of heat before he was traded, too.

All this while the bulk of the fan base adores their Kaptain, and wouldn't want Niklas Backstrom traded away for anything. The same fan base that waits with bated breath for the Finnish savior Mikael Granlund to save them from hockey purgatory, and the Swedish trifecta of Jonas Brodin, John Larsson, and Johan Gustavsson to make the jump over the pond.

One of my personal favorite players to ever wear a Wild sweater is Richard Park. Game 6 OT winner? Yeah, I don't care where you are from, that makes you awesome. The other? Derek Boogaard. Not because he was Canadian, but because he did exactly what was asked of him, despite it driving him into a darkness no one can ever understand. The consumate teammate gets my vote over the attitude riddled superstar everyday of the week and twice on Sunday.

The summation from Mike is this:

Fair or not, there is a current of xenophobia amongst Wild fans. Maybe it's a reflection of how Minnesotans naturally distrust anyone from outside our comfort zone (ie, Minnesota and blood relatives). Maybe it's a lingering effect of The Woog's desire to field a Gophers team entirely of players from Minnesota.

I could be wrong, and I hope I am. Maybe we have no tolerance for crappy hockey players. But it does seem as if our patience is a lot shorter if the player is not from our sacred shores.

The Wild fan base is (over)reactionary, and they are (despite my best efforts) monumentally provincial. But xenophobic? Not a chance. Not even a small one. One conversation between two idiots at one game does not make a solid base for this argument.

The players listed out as the key evidence, save for Gaborik and Koivu, are flat out bad hockey players. And Gaborik deserves everything he gets for the way he left town. The gripes against Koivu, I disagree with, but no one is saying it is because he isn't North American.

I have an admitted bias. I want my d-men to play defense, and I want my forwards to hit the net. I don't rightly care where on the planet you were born, or even if you were born on the planet. If you are a defenseman, your first job is to stop the other team from scoring. If you are a forward, you need to score, or at very least be able to hit the net when you do shoot the puck.

My patience is thin with all players on the ice, right up until they do something that commands some respect, and I think that is the way most of the fan base operates as well. We'll find out in the comments, I am willing to bet.

There are far too many examples of players from North America being reviled by Wild fans for a conclusion of xenophobia to be fair. European, American, Canadian, Asian, Martian... it flat out doesn't matter. If you can play, you can play. And if you can't, expect to be ridiculed.

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